There's Nothing Like Driving a Porsche in a Formula One Track
For anyone who has ever been behind the wheel, there’s driving, and then there’s driving. Regular driving is the commute to and from work, a quick trip to the mall or supermarket, and maybe the occasional romantic date, with your significant other riding shotgun.
And then there’s the kind of driving that requires italics. It’s when you do it purely for its inherent pleasures, not out of utility or practicality. It’s when you do it not so much to get from point A to point B, but to enjoy that experience in between. It’s driving for the sake of driving.
This might not have been the core principle behind Porsche’s annual Media Driving Academy, but it might as well have been. The objective of the MDA, according to the Stuttgart-based luxury carmaker, is to improve driving skills within the safe confines of a race track, as well as try out its diverse lineup of cars.
But any car lover would get a kick out of the experience not just because of the shiny new Porsche cars, but because it was at an honest-to-goodness race track that has seen plenty of action from actual professionals in the world of automobile racing.
Lucky participants got to ride the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, a 385hp mid-engine racer
This year, that track was Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, home to the Malaysian Grand Prix of Formula One (but only until 2017). Journalists from across the region gathered for a few days of mingling, ogling at Porsche vehicles, and, of course, flexing their driving muscles on the race track.
A highlight of the most recent MDA was the presence of Earl Bamber, one of the three drivers that took home the trophy at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015 and 2017. One could do far worse getting valuable tips and insight about driving than from a double winner at one of the most prestigious automobile racing events on the planet. Bamber was a nice guy, too, both on and off-track.
Porsche introduced the new Panamera Turbo during the event
“All the classical designs of Porsche sportscars were transferred to this car,” the Porsche rep said as he introduced the car to the participants. “It’s a saloon and a sportscar.”
Highlights of the new Panamera include a new engine and transmission, three-dimensional taillights, four-point LED lights, a low-seat position, intelligent lightweight design, new driver assistance systems and increased luggage volume.
Of course, learning about the new Panamera was exciting, but not nearly as much as actually getting behind the wheel and driving it on the track.
Participants were divided into three groups: Professional, Elite, and Individual (aka Beginners). Those in the Individual group, myself included, were asked to go through four rounds of driving exercises. The first was a standard Moose Test, or Stability Management. We used the all-new Porsche 911 Carrera S to go through a series of cones as obstacles through some light steering. The main takeaway here was that, contrary to most action films that have drivers jerking the wheel with their whole arms almost all the way through in order for them to get out of tough spots, in the real world, all it takes is some light, gentle steering, controlling the motions mostly using the wrists.
The next exercise was braking, and here we were provided a Porsche 911 Turbo S, which was capable of going from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in 2.9 seconds. The instructors condensed the lesson into one simple message: “Where you look is where you drive,” he said. His point, of course, was that, in emergency situations where a hard brake is necessary, it was much more important to look ahead to where you want to go instead of where you actually are.
Porsche cars race across the Sepang Circuit during the Media Driving Academy
The lesson proved useful for the next course, the slalom, for which we put the Porsche 718 Boxster through its paces. Our instructor advised us to steer quickly, but gently. The other version of this instruction was much more poetic. “Hands of a surgeon, feet like a ballerina,” he said. We all tried to remember that phrase as we zipped along the course.
The final exercise was on handling, where participants drove the full course behind the lead car driven by Bamber. We switched among the Porsche Panamera 4S, and the 911 Carrera S, Turbo, and Targa variants. The New Zealander radioed instructions (as well as compliments) to his students all while deftly manuevering the twists and turns of the Sepang circuit. It was just a little bit intimidating following an award-winning race car driver in a Porsche on an actual Formula 1 race track (my sweaty hands worked overtime to drench the steering wheel) but I managed to complete the course without incident, which, in my opinion, was an achievement in itself.
The final treat for participants was hot laps over the entire course as a passenger while the Porsche instructors showed us what the cars could really do. For someone used to the regular kind of driving, it was a heartstopping thrill ride to experience the dizzying acceleration, quick turns and tire-screaming maneuvers of the professionals. And to have done it inside a Porsche made it all the more priceless.
Members of the public interested in experiencing Porsche cars on the track can sign up for the Porsche Driving Experience at Sepang. Visit the Porsche website.