Published on Sunday, 05 August 2018 08:49
More used to carving up corners on two wheels, the Porsche Media Driving Academy reignites Deyna’s need for speed on four...
STORY DEYNA CHIA
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia – With performance figures of even SUVs and crossovers blasting through the roof, it’s no longer adequate to rely on just the car’s electronic nannies to keep padawan drivers safe.
In case you haven’t realised, Porsche takes its sportscars seriously, and all its cars, from 911 to Cayenne and Panamera Sport Turismo, are infused with the brand’s legendary sportscar DNA.
Porsche takes certain pride in ensuring its intended audience can enjoy the full pleasure offered by its delectable sportscars, and this takes the form of intensive driving programmes that cater to every spectrum of owner ability.
However, Porsche also takes things a step further by ensuring members of the media are capable of controlling (if not taming) its performance machines; after all, if you can’t drive them well or understand their abilities, how can you possibly review such cars?
Enter the Porsche Media Driving Academy (or MDA for short) – Porsche’s driver training programme for the media that comprises three levels: Individual, Professional and Elite. We attended the Professional and Elite levels at the Sepang F1 Circuit, and were let loose in 16 of the latest Porsche models, including the 991.2 GT3, 718 Cayman GTS and Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.
The last time I tracked a car was back in 2013, in a 997 GT3 RS, at Sepang. The Viper Green paint was brighter than Borat’s mankini, while its razor-sharp handling, full-bodied exhaust note and explosive grunt left me grinning ear-to-ear. The RS bared its teeth on several occasions, power sliding through corners and occasionally catching me unawares.
(No Deyna, you don't get to drive the one on the right!)
Everyone likes a challenge, so the purists like to think, and that RS was every bit the supermodel every billionaire wants to hook-up with even though she’s unlikely to be interested in your body or intellect. With that memory time capsuled, I spent the subsequent five years tracking motorbikes, everything from 200hp full-fairing superbikes to upright 180hp supernakeds and 110hp street bikes.
Truth be told, I was a little apprehensive in the lead-up to the MDA, wondering if my dream car, the GT3, would still raise my heartrate, or if the MDA syllabus would allow for unlimited speeds. After all, I’ve spent many years on two wheels (and just the week prior to the MDA) charging down Turn 1 at 280km/h, with the rear wheel swaying left to right under hard braking. Our laps with the MDA were guided, so to answer the second question, speeds were limited, to about 230km/h (with helmets worn) – a decent pace for a car down the front straight to Turn 1.
(Deyna: This is how you make like a snake... and STRIKE!)
I remember explaining the difference between tracking motorbikes and cars to curious friends. The fundamental difference (apart from lines and steering direction), is that with cars, you manage the weight of the car, but on a bike, you manage your body weight, as well as the bike’s. With the bike, you move from side to side (to reduce lean angle and increase grip) and front to back (to reduce wheelieing, increase grip for acceleration).
With cars, you manage the weight of the car with the throttle, brakes and steering. Same same, but very different… but all very pleasurable. And that’s the point of it, isn’t it? Be it car or bike, we lap for fun and pleasure.
With a sportscar like the 991.2 GT3, the mechanical grip under braking and in the corners is phenomenal. On a bike, the initial throttle application needs to be gentle, and then gradually increased to the max as lean angle is reduced. Over-exuberance in a car is met with a panoramic view of the surroundings as the car spins. Do the same with a bike and you’ll have a three-dimensional panoramic view as you’re flung into the air, having been spat off the bike.
Just as you’ve started getting comfortable with the pace and ease with which the GT3 dispatches corners, it bites back. Whilst storming through Turn 7 to 8, I was forced to lift-off the throttle just at the turn-in-point for Turn 8. Carrying about 140km/h, steering wheel turned 90 degrees, around the tail came into a slide. Avid driving enthusiasts will concur that we live for experiences like this – life on the ragged edge!
Perhaps a reflection of my (old) age, I did miss my ear-plugs (worn diligently when riding a bike), finding in particular the mid-engined 718 Cayman and Boxster too noisy. Being used to buffeting and windblast, the car windscreen took away the sense of speed, and a part of the thrill.
Of course, I’m sure I’d get over these points the next time someone throws me the keys and says, “Go as fast as you like”. After two days lapping the Sepang Circuit in an assortment of Porsches, my passion for attacking corners on four-wheels has been rekindled, with the flood of past tracking memories resurfacing.
Porsche should be commended for its commitment to making better drivers out of all of us (customers can apply to participate in the Porsche Track Experience programme). With just a few days (three for all three levels) at the track, we'd be fools to believe our education stops here, or that we’d “levelled up” sufficiently, because commitment to perfecting one’s driving is a lifelong pursuit that never really sees an end.
Having tracked cars and motorbikes at Sepang Circuit for over 300 hours (roughly over 7000 laps), I found the MDA to be insightful, educational and humbling. Now for my dilemma: which grandparent to sell for a GT3...