Porsche's "Licence to Thrill" [PTG]

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Porsche’s quest to find its Asia Pacific Driver of the Year culminated in a driving competition with a few massive twists

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SEPANG F1 CIRCUIT - We’re no strangers to track driving events, having done a few in our time, but sometimes the format can get a bit stale. A slalom here, a drag race there, and then some warm laps at a pace no faster than the slowest driver can manage.

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And then along came the grand finale to Porsche’s Licence to Thrill campaign, which was so far out of left field it might as well have been communist. It must have been either an inspired, crazy or drunk person (or a combination of the three) who came up with the challenges for this driving competition, as they were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

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The 2017 Porsche Asia Pacific Driver of the Year competition started out with a theory test on obscure Porsche history. More than 3,600 people from 13 countries across Asia took part, but only 30 got through to the finals at Sepang International Circuit.

The winner, Mohd Elyas Bin Zakaria from Malaysia, won a sponsored trip to the Porsche Experience Centre in Los Angeles, USA, but first he and the other competitors had to go through a gauntlet of decidedly creative driving challenges:

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Braking challenge / 911 Turbo & Turbo S
You know how they say you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs? Well this challenge probably broke enough eggs to make an entire frittata. The brief was simple enough: Accelerate from a standstill and then brake hard to stop as close as possible to an egg-topped cone; points would be awarded depending on the final distance from the cone. The catch was, we had to use maximum throttle and brakes or we’d be disqualified by the instructors – so no modulating of the brakes to alter our braking distance!

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As with many things though, this was easier said than done, (no) thanks to the differences in both cars. Not only did the blue 911 Turbo S accelerate faster, it also stopped harder thanks to its Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes option. As a result, many drivers (myself included) who made our first attempt in the red Turbo ended up overshooting the mark and smashing the egg when we hopped into the Turbo S, while those who started in the Turbo S came up well short of the mark when they got in the Turbo.

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It also didn’t help that there was hardly any time to think. The savage acceleration of both cars meant my mind was still left behind at the start line, not ideal when you have to slam on the anchors less than 3 seconds later…

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Panamera Challenge
For some, this might have been the most stomach-churning activity of the entire day. The first part of the challenge was innocuous enough – two laps of Sepang’s south circuit in a Panamera 4S or Turbo. The second part though, involved us riding shotgun on a couple of hot laps with the instructors, where we would be presented a “secret challenge”.

Unfortunately, that task was to draw a picture of the Panamera’s booty. Difficult enough under normal circumstances when you have all the artistic talent of a potato, nigh-on impossible when you’re being thrown around in the back of a two-tonne sports sedan going full pelt around a circuit. Unsurprisingly, my final jumble of lines and squiggles resembled a creature of the deep rather than a luxury automobile.

Still, it could have been worse – my group was fortunate to tackle this challenge before lunch. There’s an off-chance that a combination of g-forces and regurgitated pasta could create an abstract splatter that would make Jackson Pollock proud, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the masterpiece Porsche would have had in mind.

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Painting Challenge / 718 Boxster S
Porsche ensured our creative juices continued to flow for this activity, where we were required to “write” the name of the car on the ground, using the car as our “paintbrush”. Naturally, we’d be using one of the 718 models, a Boxster S (because can you imagine trying to spell out ‘Panamera’ in a Panamera?).

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Naturally, we weren’t able to see exactly what we were writing – that would be judged via photography from a camera suspended five storeys above our “canvas”. This left many of us deep in thought about which number was best to start with, and when and where best to move forward or backward. The image you see here was deemed the model result of the day.

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Track Challenge / 911 Carrera 4S
At last, here was a challenge I was familiar with and could easily understand: hot laps of the Sepang north circuit in a 911 Carrera 4S Coupe, Cabriolet or Targa. Except, as with everything else that day, things weren’t quite as simple as that.

Everyone went out for two two-lap sessions on track; the first was to learn the circuit and get comfortable with the cars, as well as for the instructor to observe our driving. For the second session, the instructor would set a target lap time for us to hit, and the goal was to lap as close to that target as possible, not necessarily as fast as possible.

Then again, when presented with a 420bhp sportscar and 2.7km of empty race circuit, it’d be rude not to make the most of its prodigious performance. And so it came to be that I went hell for leather in the 4S Coupe, cutting kerbs, braking late and revelling in the extraordinary handling balance, and beat my target lap time by more than 5 seconds. Was it worth the points penalty to experience the full might of that fabled 911 magic? Oh, definitely.

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Off-road Challenge / Cayenne Turbo
If there was one challenge that added the most grey hairs to my still-very-young head, it was this one. Unlike almost all the other activities, this one was a test of restraint rather than speed: Two Cayenne Turbos, one motocross off-road track, and one bucket stuck to the bonnet, filled to the brim with water; the more water remaining in the bucket, the more points scored.

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I can’t remember the last time I felt so helpless, seeing the water continuously sloshing out of the bucket. Never mind that the course included a descent, ascent and side-slope too steep to walk on, most of the water managed to escape its plastic confinement on every single bump in the terrain.
 
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What a shame then that it started to rain only immediately after we finished the challenge; I certainly could have done with some divine intervention to put some water back!

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Reverse Gymkhana / Macan GTS & Cayenne GTS
It’s a gymkhana, but not as you know it. As the name suggests, the twist here is that we had to do the short, oval-shaped gymkhana course completely in reverse. This task was made that little bit harder by the fact that the rear windscreen was completely blacked out, and we had to use the wing mirrors and reverse camera to navigate the course; every cone hit meant a 5 second penalty.

It definitely messes with your mind, having to steer while not being able to face the way you’re going, as well as having to temper your speed as a reversing car becomes hyper sensitive to steering inputs. Thank goodness I grew up playing racing games at home – I’ve finally found a use for all those hours spent reversing away from the cops in Need for Speed and Grand Theft Auto!

This challenge was practically made for the Singaporean participants, since unlike most other nationalities, we reverse into almost all our parking lots by default! Or at least, that’s what the other participants remarked when a Singaporean contestant logged the fastest time of the day...

STORY JONATHAN LIM
PHOTOS PORSCHE / JONATHAN LIM
TopGear
Author: TopGear
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.

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