A fantastic number of electronic traction-optimizing systems are at work in today’s performance cars to help drivers stay in full control at all times. However, sometimes there’s a good reason to switch these off. After all, slipping, sliding and wheel spin are awesome, especially when they’re used as learning tools.
“More throttle, Justin. Remember: Turn and blip, and turn and blip, and turn and blip.”
It sounded like a bad ‘80s exercise video, but Porsche Camp4 driving instructor Kees Nierop was watching me drive a rear-engine, All-Wheel Drive (AWD) Porsche 911 Carrera 4S through an ice-covered slalom course, and this little jingle helped me use the throttle to help steer the car through. Timed and executed with precise finesse, drivers can use controlled pokes on the throttle to turn the car on its axis. Too much, and you’ll spin out. Not enough, and you won’t slip at all and you’ll just go wide. Get it right, and you can feel the frisky, slippery and active handling built into the 911 as you, literally, steer it with the gas pedal.
It’s not easy, even frustrating at times, but this lesson is fundamental in teaching drivers to use the throttle to control vehicle attitude, where its weight sits, and what angle it’ll corner with.
We repeated the lesson with a two-wheel drive copy of the same car, illustrating the differences when there’s no help from the front wheels. You re-strategize when and how hard the throttle blips come, and realize you’ve got to be plenty quicker on the steering to keep things under control.
Camp4 started in Canada a few years back as a way for its participants to learn performance driving on snow and ice. Many participants are Porsche owners and hopefuls, interested in learning how to drive high-performance cars the way such cars are meant to be driven. Numerous copies of numerous Porsche 911 and Cayman model variants are used for instruction, and participants break into groups led by one instructor to try exercises like the above in various cars.
Another exercise? The skid-pad. A great big circle, where you drift perpetually round and round, while your instructor watches from a vantage point and provides pointers over a handheld radio. You’re to stay sideways here, in a big, never-ending drift. The circle has grip-y spots that make the 911 or Cayman want to stop drifting, and slippery spots that make it want to spin out. You’ve got to manage the throttle, steering, and even brake pedal to keep the slide going. You’re working for it -- and when you get around the full circle sideways, Kees comes on the radio with a genuinely enthusiastic congratulatory message, and you grin, ear-to-ear.
This exercise is all about looking ahead, thinking ahead, being gentle and calculated with the controls, and knowing where your ride’s weight, steering and traction are at all times. And forget that thrash-y, stabby-looking driving you see on Top Gear or Fast & Furious: in real life, gentle, easy, and controlled inputs are the name of the game.
Once drivers have learned the basics on the skid-pad and slalom, they’re let out on two full-track surfaces with varying traction levels, higher speeds, and more challenging driving. You put all of the lessons together, building speed and confidence. The day concludes with a rapid lapping session, where participants drive the largest track on site at speed, moving between rear-engine 911’s with rear or all-wheel drive to mid-engine, rear-drive Caymans, to exploit their new skills while driving varying Porsche models with very different handling characteristics. There’s no comfort zone: get the hang of a rear-engine AWD car, and it’s time to switch to a mid-engine, rear-drive machine to try again.
And therein lies the learning experience at the core of Camp4: by applying the lessons and nearly constant feedback between varying cars, you learn how to use what you learn in any car, any time of year -- and not just in a Porsche driven on an ice track. Further, with an instructor that gets to know you, and your strengths and weaknesses, throughout the day, the advice and tips drive true improvements in your driving. You leave Camp4 with a real skillset, not just a few hours of rock star powersliding experience while playing musical Porsches on an ice-track.
Whatever you’re driving, in whatever season you’re driving it, a course like Camp4 builds driver confidence and skill, and will let drivers exploit higher performance from their sports car, Porsche or otherwise. A driving course like Camp4 might be the best performance upgrade you can make for your sports car.