Porsche is arguably the most driver-focused car manufacturer in the world. Their cars are not always the fastest and most powerful, but the carefully balanced and intelligent performance has helped them win the most number of races; 4000 victories attributed to the 911, plus 19 wins at Le Mans says a lot.
And this technology trickles down to making highly capable, useable and enjoyable high-performance road cars.
With a huge focus on driving, Porsche contributes to improving driving skill and road safety by launching the Porsche Media Academy (Porsche MDA for short) to train journalists to drive better, safer, faster and more efficiently.
Porsche also offers the Porsche Driving Experience in select locations worldwide to driving enthusiasts. Similar to the Porsche MDA but offered to the general public, this allows enthusiasts to enrol and get to drive the latest Porsche models in safety around a race track under expert tuition. To date, there are 16 Porsche Driving Experience facilities worldwide including Malaysia, at the Sepang International Circuit to cater to the Asia-Pacific Region.
I had the great pleasure of attending the ELITE Level driving program for the Porsche MDA last week. I had previously attended the PROFESSIONAL Level driving program at Bira Circuit in Thailand in 2015, and had also attended the Porsche Sport Driving School in Aldenhoven right outside Dusseldorf in Germany. The Porsche MDA mirrors the Porsche Driving Experience curriculum in that it offers driving courses for beginners, all the way to Porsche’s race car driver training program.
Even if you’re a veteran, driving, just like any other skill requires constant practice to stay sharp. Years of daily driving bring out bad driving habits. A refresher course in high-performance driving in a Formula One Grand Prix race track is always welcome. As a bonus, we would be driving some of Porsche’s latest models, which include the 991 GT3 mk2, the 718 Boxster GTS and Cayman GTS and the Panamera Sport Turismo, plus the 911 GTS which now feature turbocharged engines.
Our day started early with a short classroom session to explain driving theories, safety reminders and what to expect from the day, then we headed out on track.
First exercise was throttle-steering. In Sepang’s corners 4-7 turn sequence, braking here would allow your opponent to overtake, and could unsettle your car causing a spin-out. By carefully modulating the throttle, the cornering behaviour of the car changes, allowing you to turn a tighter line with minimal steering input, resulting in faster speeds. Simple but it requires a lot of careful prodding and concentration to get right, especially in a big, heavy GT such as the Sport Turismo. On a smaller car such as the Cayman GTS, the car would change behavior very quickly, which brought about its own challenges. My take-away from it? Be careful how heavy you adjust your throttle input, and never jump on or off it as it will cause a spin.
Next was trail-braking, being the most difficult. Normal driving teaches us to brake progressively: ease into the brakes but keep applying positive pressure. Proper trail-braking (or braking through the turn) requires you to find the limit as to how hard you can initially stomp on the brake, while the wheels are turned, without causing a spin-out, then gradually releasing the brakes to allow you to carry as much speed through the turn. This got me really scared as the speeds were high, the sweepers were banked and it was a crucial section of the track as we were using turns 11-14, right before hitting the first of the twin straights of Sepang. After a few near spins though, I sort of got it. No wonder it is an advanced skill.
The third activity was the moose test or emergency lane change maneuver from 100km/h, then fully stopping immediately. Many of today’s cars have sophisticated electronic driving aids to keep you in control. Porsche does it one better by removing all driving aids to see how you can control the car. We went six rounds in two different cars: first time was with the electronic aids on, second time was with the electronic aids in SPORT Mode or Sport Plus (+) allowing a bit more slip and slide depending on the instructor and the vehicle, and the last round was with every driving aid off. This is perhaps the single most useful skill we should practice in our own cars as it simulates emergency avoidance of a stopped car, road debris or a pedestrian jaywalks in front of us while driving.
The last activity was guided lapping around Sepang’s full GP track. Following an instructor coaching us via radio, we had a chance to try the 991 GT3 mk2, the 911 GTS, plus the 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS. The GT3 was the fastest, sharpest and most intense experience with the highest cornering and braking limits but with a very small leeway for mistakes. You really had to have your wits about in the GT3! We were hitting 220km/h on the main straights and 140-180km/h through the complex sweepers despite the instructors intentionally slowing us down for safety. Here all the previous exercises we did came alive. Afterwards, the mid-engined Cayman and Boxster GTS felt much more playful, but surprisingly, felt more benign, easier to catch when you breach the limits and easier to drive fast. In total, we did about 30 high-speed guided laps on the 5.5km circuit, which is roughly 165km of high-speed track driving. The following day, my entire body hurt from all that exertion and banging around!
We also had a short fitness session, where a sports doctor gave us tips on how to limber / loosen up prior to driving, with a huge focus on neck exercises. The massive g-forces our head goes through on track, coupled with a helmet is no joke!
The icing on the cherry was a shotgun ride with Will Bamber in a proper Porsche GT3 Cup Car. Will is the younger brother of Porsche factory driver Earl Bamber, a Le Mans champ who drove the 919 LMP1 Hybrid in 2016 and 2017. It was an intense, white knuckle-ride that banged me up good, but felt so eye-wateringly fast and satisfying!
Overall, the experience was truly one for the record books! Learning new things, driving hard and fast, and trying out the latest Porsche models–will always be a memorable event. I’m just sad that this is the final program in the Porsche MDA. Truly, there is no substitute for proper driver training on track. Interested in doing similar activities I did? Inquire at Porsche Philippines for the Porsche Driving Experience at Sepang in Malaysia.
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