As Canadians clamour over outdoor activities to keep themselves occupied during this unprecedented pandemic – Have you tried buying a bike or renting an RV these days? It’s madness! – there’s no time like the present to get out on the track.
Sure, I’m a bit biased, but I’m a big believer in the cathartic property of piloting a car around a racing circuit. Snaking through an S-bend or blasting down a back straight is more therapeutic than you might think, and that’s something we could all use during these challenging times.
Whether it’s your first time on the track or you’re a seasoned vet after a new challenge, attending a program like the Porsche Track Experience provides an outstanding blend of professional instruction and unadulterated fun – all with social distancing built right in.
Before you even ask, no, this program isn’t for Porsche owners alone (though if you own one and want to learn how to wring the most performance possible out of it, this is a good place to start). It’s not cheap – the basic one-day course costs $1,695, while the two-day programs start at $3,795 – but I promise that if you pay attention you’ll leave a better driver, plain and simple.
As Porsche Experience Canada operations manager Jonathan Urlin puts it, the program fills in the blanks of driver’s education in this country – namely when it comes to driving dynamics and car control.
The program returns once again to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP), better known as Mosport, about an hour east of Toronto. The Canadian program is unique in the Porsche Experience global portfolio in that it’s the only one that uses two race courses on the same campus: the tight and technical Driver Development Track (DDT), and the high-speed Grand Prix Circuit.
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The entry-level course includes slalom and skidpad instruction, as well as guided lapping of the 2.9-km DDT. You must learn to crawl before you can walk, as the old saying goes, though Urlin has a better way of putting it.
“The intimidation factor of the grand prix circuit will curb the ability to learn at an exponential rate,” he said. “The fear, the anxiety, (and) the stress of being thrown into the shark tank smelling like blood is not the best way to learn and progress as a driver.”
Make no mistake, though – the DDT is an excellent track on which to hone your skill set, with a wide variety of corners and just enough elevation change to learn how it affects a car’s balance and controllability. While the straightaways are relatively short, there’s still enough room to hit speeds of 150 km/h or so on the back and front straights behind the wheel of a Porsche. That’s about 100 km/h slower than a 911’s top speed down the grand prix circuit’s Andretti Straightaway, but the DDT provides a better place to learn proper corner entry and exit techniques.
From sweeping uphill left-handers to tight, closing-radius rights, every turn is slightly different and has entry, apex, and exit points marked to help guide you through; call it cornering for dummies. It makes learning the proper racing line that much easier, though there’s always an instructor car in the lead to show you how it’s done.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few different programs like this over the years – some in winter, others in summer – and what stands out about the Porsche Track Experience is the level of detailed, on-the-fly instruction that’s provided. It’s not simply a matter of pre- and post-lapping briefing sessions; instead, instructors are providing feedback (both positive and negative) via two-way radio in real time.
And ultimately, that’s the key to attending a program like this. Because anyone can sign up for open lapping at their local track, but unless you have a friend who happens to be a proficient racer with an intimate knowledge of the track that’s willing to ride shotgun, there’s no way to go home with anything other than the memories of a good time. But here you’re getting that in addition to lessons that will stay with you for years to come.
If that’s not your thing, it’s also not a bad place to put a Porsche through its paces should you happen to be in the market for one.
“Not everybody has the objective of being a racing driver,” Urlin said. “The program progression is also based around a very unique experience (of) the ultimate test drive. You can do things with these cars that you could never do on a test drive ... in a safe environment that’s designed to show you how you can get the most out of these vehicles.”