Porsche makes superbly drivable cars, but it’ll also sell you something far more valuable: The skill and experience to bring out the best in those cars
Photos: Zotiq Visuals
-Porsche Singapore’s smorgasboard of driving experience classes open to all drivers
-How the driving experience teaches you about driving – and about Porsches – at the same time
-Participants get to sample 16 cars from Porsche’s dedicated driving fleet including the latest models launched
-Total driving instruction, from theory, to practical, and even human performance, to make you a more complete driver
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
There’s an explanation as to why anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers are more likely than the rest of us to remain black holes of fundamental idiocy.
It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, the initials ‘DK’ are entirely a coincidence and not related to contributing editor David Khoo at all. Wikipedia states it’s “a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.”
In other words, if you are a moron, you have a harder time understanding what you’re doing wrong, and will continue along that sad trajectory. It probably also explains why all of us humans get a driving license and immediately think we’re awesome drivers.
Psychological studies from the University of New York have also shown most of us consistently over-rate our own driving skill, despite the majority of drivers never having taken any advanced driving lessons.
That’s where Porsche comes in. Its Porsche Experience series of events held at Sepang was introduced for the region last year, and it’s an extension of Porsche’s other driver training/improvement programmes it holds in other parts of the world.
There’s a smorgasbord of varied options for every level of driving skill (see box), and these classes can theoretically take an average Joe/Josephine from fresh-outta-driving-school (Warm-up) to driving a real race car on track (GT4 Clubsport MR) – or even beyond.
So far the Driving Experience has been a success for the brand, with a strong turnout this year, and last. Porsche’s booked Sepang for 40 days in 2018, with more than 900 participants signed up for the courses.
Owning a Porsche isn’t even a requirement to join in the fun, in fact, Porsche had to open up more spots for Porsche owners themselves, as the slots for the classes open to the public were quickly filled to capacity.
It’s easy to see why: The choice of Sepang as a venue is particularly convenient for Singaporeans, so much so that some participants make it a community event.
“So far we’ve been very pleased with the turn-out for the Driving Experience. The Porsche Club Singapore members are naturally very enthusiastic about it, for example, and have organised it as a club event and road-trip,” said James Wong, Porsche Singapore’s PR executive.
While driver training events aren’t unique to Porsche – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and other luxury European brands all have their own programmes – the Porsche Experience at Sepang is the closest one to home, with the broadest range of activities, and is arguably the most accessible in terms of travel and cost.
Full Spectrum Warrior
In just over a decade at this job, I’ve done quite a few driver training events. Most of them make me realise how much more I have to learn about driving – in a good way – but also imparted valuable skills too. But the Porsche Experience stands out not just for the wide range of skill levels (see sidebar ‘You Need Schoolin’) , but also the depth and substance of the programmes.
We attended Porsche’s Media Driving Academy Elite, which is the rough equivalent to the Performance training level, aimed at advanced drivers.
Besides the actual driving sessions the other big draw is for attendees to experience life behind the wheel of almost the entire Porsche range (see sidebar: Horsepower Buffet) The drive experience fleet consists of 16 cars used and maintained expressly for the event (shown below), and includes all the major models (Macan, Cayenne, 718 Cayman and Boxster, Panamera, 911) and different variants, from base model, to S, GTS, 4, Turbo, and more.
In fact the various systems and models are integrated deeply into the syllabus, so participants don’t just find out what helps them drive better, but also what makes each Porsche different from the other.
Another particularly interesting aspect, and one that we’ve only seen with Porsche, is the focus on human performance – our training course came with a session on wellness, lead by Porsche’s on-site fitness guru, Roman Engels (see sidebar ‘Winning Formula’).
Participating in the Porsche Experience at Sepang is well worth the while of any driver. Those of us unafflicted by the Dunning-Kruger Effect know that learning is a lifelong process, but advanced driving schools like this one will make you realise you’re capable of much more than you ever thought. Teach a man to drift, in a safe, controlled environment, and he will smile for a lifetime.
Porsche’s advanced driving classes at Sepang are listed below, and will take you from embryonic to expert. For those who want even more driving fun, there’s also courses held by Porsche in Europe and the USA, including the Master Cup where you can drive the 911 GT3 Cup cars. The top flight of this is the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia racing series, whose Singapore leg is part of the supporting race for Formula One at Marina Bay.
A one-day course teaching the fundamentals of car control, including seating, vision, braking, slaloms, load-change and more.
One-day course building on the fundamentals from Warm-up, including basic racing line, oversteer/understeer, effective use of ESC/PSM systems, guided driving and feedback
Advanced level reinforcing what’s learnt in precision, including advanced oversteer/understeer, finding and following the racing line, guided drives, open lapping.
Choosing your own line and following, developing alternative lines, individual laps with one-to-one coaching, learning chassis and tyres dynamics, open lapping
GT4 Clubsport MR (Professional)
Drive the Cayman GT4 Clubsport racing car on the full Sepang Circuit for half a day, debrief, video and data-analysis of driving style
The basics of the class are familiar to us: Plenty of easy-to-understand theory, the track broken up into sections, practical driving exercises in the morning, followed by an afternoon of open lapping, all with constant support and advice from the instructors.
The famous Moose Test: Get speed of 80-90km/h, lift off, swerve, back to a straight line, then brake. For those who’ve never done it, it’s an illuminating display of how much agility modern cars have. I’ve done the Moose Test at least a dozen times before, have never had to use it real life, but I’m damn glad I know how to do it. The Moose Test isn’t tricky until the end – that’s when the cars wobble and swerve, a result of the sudden direction change at high speed.
This time, we did it with two different Porsches: The Cayman GTS, and 911 Turbo S. If you were to guess which car would be harder to drive, it’d be the latter: Big power, rear-engine equals more momentum, more wobble, more for the driver to do.
Since it’s an advanced course, we do the maneuver with PSM (Porsche Stability Management, aka dynamic stability control aka electronic stability programme) on, in PSM Sport, and with it entirely off.
To our surprise, it’s the Cayman (as you can see above) which requires lots of elbow work and happy swearing to get wrestle back into a straight line with PSM totally off. That’s because the 911 Turbo has (optional) all-wheel steering, but also is more progressive in its weight transfer.
“The mid-mount engines like the Cayman and Boxster are very agile in normal driving,” says one of our instructors, Hamdan Alif, a Malaysian racing driver who’s also done PCCA, “but that also means when it comes around, things happen faster too.”
Our second exercise also taught us two things at once. Trail braking, which is the practice of braking deeply into the corner for maximum stability and better weight transition and turn-in. It’s something that works on some cars, the Porsche 911 being one of them thanks to its rear-engine layout.
It’s very hard to explain on paper, and it took up more than a few passes before we got something vaguely reflecting what the instructors demonstrated. But it was amazing how much braking power could be had with the steering wheel turned, going into Sepang’s very challenging Turn 14.
Left to right: Porsche Cayman GTS, Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid, Porsche 911 GT3
Porsche 718 Cayman GTS – $385,688 w/o COE
365hp, 430Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre flat four
0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds, 290km/h
As we found out in the Moost Test, the mid-engined Porsche 718s are fantastically agile, but things happen quicker, which is why the Cayman GTS engenders, and rewards, a smooth driving style. The flat-four burble is bassy and distinctive, the 718 had no trouble keeping pace with 911s either, no surprise since the GTS the most powerful 718 right now. Out on Sepang, the baby of the Porsche coupes shines less than it would on a tighter track – it eats into the lead of more powerful cars at Turns 1 and 2 – but is still an involving, plugged-in experience.
Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid $835,888 w/o COE
680hp, 850Nm, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 with electric motor
0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds, 310km/h
Our first out lap in the mack-daddy of the Panamera range had us complaining of understeer during fast corners. Then we remembered we were driving a two-tonne plus luxury limo after the 911 GT 3! After re-calibrating our brains, it’s astounding how quick this thing is, even in the corners. But once on the straight, it’s in-gear accelerative pace is simply huge. In direct contrast to the 718 GTS, the lead car’s (911 Turbo S) gap simply disappears down Sepang’s start finish straight, and we saw the highest top speed of any car – 210km/h.
Porsche 911 GT3 PDK $671,688 with COE
500hp, 460Nm, 4.0-litre flax six
0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds, 318km/h
This car is pretty much born to the track. The 911 GT3 leaves every other car we drove at the event in the dust. It’s not just for the obvious reasons either: The ripping howl of the non-turbo flat six is astounding, inspiring a joy that turbos, no matter how powerful, simply can’t match. The handling is precise, the body control spot on, you could drive the GT3 in isolation and never want for more. But it’s also forgiving, intuitive, and easy to control – no turbo torque to manage, less prone to violent weight shift too, more downforce making faster corners easy. We didn’t drive it on the road, but colleagues who have say it’s entirely liveable there too. In short, Porsche should never stop making a 911 GT3.
One notable aspect of the Porsche Experience is its focus on human performance. At our event, we had a short training and seminar on how to be quicker out of the car. Heading this was Roman Engels (above), a driver and fitness trainer, works with Porsche Human Performance, and has trained LeMans winner Earl Bamber, F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, amongst many others.
“We recognise that the driver is one of the most important factors to sporty driving,” he says.
There are multiple facets to this as well (see below), but Roman says one of the key things newcomers to sport driving need to get used to are the forces.
To that end, he recommends neck and core exercises as one of the most important, and he also taught us a super-useful neck stretch, which isn’t just useful for preparation to do a track day, but also to relieve tension from daily stress. Simply turn your head sideways with your ear towards your shoulder, keeping it in line with your body and not facedown. Take your opposite arm and make a pushing movement downwards, hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Overall fitness: Including blood pressure, BMI, body composition analysis.
“These are like your version of the car’s technical specifications.”
Motorsport fitness: “Things that make the body suited to the conditions of driving.”
Strength and conditioning, sport psychology, speed and agility, hand-eye coordination, heat resistance
Diet and Nutrition: “Very, very important – if you put bad engine oil in a car, it may not work properly. It’s the same with your body.”
Weight management and fat loss, increase energy level, fuel for sports and exercise.