A trip to (what we thought was) the ragged edge of control
Track Day: At the Fringe with Porsche & Pirelli
It’s hard not to love Porsche. They just get it right.
But there are detractors. Ladder climbing managers drive them with bloated entitlement. Opinionated pundits love hurling insults at them. Jeremy Clarkson called one “a glorified Beetle”. But we’ll stand our ground: Porsche makes (and has always made) fantastic cars. In fact, we sealed our own stance by naming the 2014 Porsche Cayman S the Gear Patrol car of the year.
MORE PORSCHE HOT LAPS: 50 Years of the Porsche 911 | Gear Patrol Car of the Year: 2014 Porsche Cayman S | Breakdown 2015 Porsche Macan
The only problem is that no one within spitting distance of a populous region enjoys them the way Porsche engineers intend them to be enjoyed: driven at the fringe, that tiny realm between totally in control and totally screwed. The fringe, that ragged edge, is uncharted territory for many driving enthusiasts (and cars), but Porsche lives here, creating vehicles that provide enough forgiveness and performance for novices to drive like pros and pros to drive like heroes.
Most drivers, including Porsche owners, spend little time at the fringe. Daydreams of record-time morning commutes and stomp-it highway ramp exercises are one thing, but precise, high-speed driving is rarified air for most. Porsche has a solution: driving school. At Porsche Sport Driving School you won’t come away with points off your license or a lower insurance rate — in fact, Porsche will gladly sell you a car that ratchets you into a higher one. What you do come away with is a crash-course in precise driving at high speeds. Naturally, you’ll reconsider your finances after.
Our latest Track Day found us in Leeds, Alabama, attending the Porsche Precision Driving School as a guest of Pirelli tires, who supplies the ultra-high-performance Pirelli P Zero tires that sheath Porsche’s bread-and-butter performance cars. [Side note: Pirelli is offering a chance to win a driving class of their own on their Facebook page.]
Despite bitterly cold temperatures occasionally reaching single-digit temperatures with windchill (our class took place at the cusp of the South’s recent bout with the Polar Vortex), our class was hardly deterred as we began the Precision Driving Course ($1,800). Our curriculum would be studied at the helms of Porsche’s latest performance wares: the 325 horsepower Boxster S, the 400 horsepower 2014 911 Carrera S and the face-warping 500 horsepower Porsche 911 Turbo. In fact, the school prides itself in only using the latest Porsches under the purview of highly vetted racecar drivers.
Class is held at the breathtaking Barber Motorsports Park, whose facilities, motorcycle museum and 2.38-mile track are worthy of pilgrimage alone (some of our classmates came from as far as Australia). The class’s short but informative curriculum included a review of dynamics, safety and handling at speed. Soon after, we made our way to the track, where the class separated into varying levels of skill and re-acclimated to techniques like proper driving positions (arms bent, just enough to move your left hand from 10-to-2 o’clock) and understeer compensation (sharper braking before entering a corner and easing on the brakes) under actual driving conditions. Soon after we were making our way through a rapid-fire series of stations: skid-pad lessons, high-speed laps, performance driving techniques, and this author’s favorite, an autocross circuit. College electives these are not.
Daydreams of record-time morning commutes are one thing, but precise, high-speed driving is rarified air for most. Porsche has a solution: driving school.
At the end of seven hours of intense driving, bodies aching from muscle fatigue, our group was still clocking impressive numbers, passing other groups on the track and firing through the autocross circuit without any cone knockouts. The adrenaline was pumping and keeping us warm despite the sub-freezing temperatures — it felt as if we were driving the car to its limit, 95 percent, at least.
But like any great meal, dessert comes last. The wrap-up to our day would be a series of hot laps with the class instructors. In other words, this meant Porsches driven flat out, with students sitting shotgun. I had the privilege of hopping in with lead instructor Cass Whitehead, who made me realize that hot laps are also a time for humble reflection. As we pulled back into the pit — tires hot, muscles tense, times shattered — I asked Cass how hard, in percentage form, I had been driving the car at the peak of my day. His answer came in a soft but firm drawl. “You did well. One of the best today I’d say. Let’s call it 60 percent”. Well, damn.