Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 7, 2019
BOWMANVILLE, Ontario - What childhood boy hasn’t dreamed about driving around a racetrack? Ask any racing driver today what inspired them to get into motorsports, and it always begins with a passionate sighting of a sports car. You see, cars, racing, and dreams have gone hand-in-hand long before the turn of the century, and the Porsche Track Experience aims to translate that dream into a reality. Available all around the world, these specialized track events allow any kind of driver to aim, hone, and develop their driving skills behind Porsche’s latest fleet of sports cars. From effective braking maneuvers to mastering load-changing scenarios, these lessons cater towards both beginners and experts, and their hope is that by the end of the day, you’ll walk out a better, safer, and faster driver.
It just so happens that Porsche hosts one of these events in our very own backyard in Bowmanville, Ontario, nestled within the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Formerly known as the Porsche Sport Driving School, the Porsche Track Experience runs on summer weekends and is broken down into five classes: Warm-Up (half-day, beginner level), Precision (one-day, beginner level), Womens’ Precision (one day, female-only, beginner level), Performance (two-day), and Master, each progressively stepping up the skill development ladder. I had the opportunity to attend the entry-level Precision program for a day, and join a group of seven avid enthusiasts, some of whom have never been on a track before.
The day began with a brief introduction to track and safety rules, followed by a short lesson on driving physics and the importance of lateral forces and contact patches. While science isn’t my expertise, the instructors taught us in a way that anyone with even the slightest bit of IQ could understand. They even run through basic principles that drivers might be too embarrassed to ask about like the correct seating position, where to look, and how to properly steer.
We were then led out onto the Driver Development Track (DDT) to be introduced to our dancing partners. There were three tastings on the menu: a 911 Carrera 2S (rear-engine, 420 hp, 0-100 km/h in 3.9s), a 911 Carrera T (rear-engine, 370-hp, 0-100 km/h in 4.2s), and a 718 Cayman S (mid-engine, 350-hp, 0-100 km/h in 4.2s). All three were 2019 models loaded with the PDK dual-clutch transmission, so beginners don’t have to worry about learning how to operate a manual, and instead focus on learning the track.
I first hopped into the Porsche 911 Carrera T, nestled my way into its heavily bolstered bucket seats, and ignited that beautiful sounding 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six. Draped in a not-so-inconspicuous Racing Yellow paint, the T is a lightweight variant of the standard Carrera with reduced sound deadening, a sports exhaust for maximum theatrics, thinner glass windows, a sport suspension, cloth door pulls, and a rear seat delete. Think of it like a track-oriented GT3-lite. After the thumbs up, we headed onto the DDT in a lead-follow formation, driving directly behind the instructor car and trying our best to mimic each of his movements on the racing line. Each successive lap gradually picked up the pace, with tips and tricks pouring into our ears over the radio.
Most beginners heading to these events end up focusing less on the cars, and more on familiarizing themselves with the track, stressing out when to turn, how much braking and acceleration is required, what’s beyond that blind crest, and simply trying not to fall behind the lead car. Here at the Porsche Track Experience, we lapped the DDT, which takes roughly a minute and a half depending on speed, at least fifty times over the course of the day. The track layout was engraved into my head. I went to sleep still seeing every corner and apex, and I felt like I could drive a lap blindfolded.
One piece of advice that the instructors kept repeating over the radio was the importance of directing your vision on where you want to go, rather than what’s directly in front of you. And while it’s natural to have tunnel vision on the upcoming corner, you should be actually looking beyond that. Steering motion and control comes more naturally using this method. “Horsepower and torque mean nothing, if you don’t have the focus or vision to control it,” said Keith McIntosh, one of the veteran Porsche instructors. He has been racing and teaching for longer than many of us have even had our license, so I take his advice as gospel.
After breaking a sweat at the DDT, we were put up in a slalom course, essentially an autocross setup with pylons showing you where you need to go. Here, we had the 718 Cayman S at our disposal, and its mid-engine setup was perfect for the multiple turns and apexs that we needed to master. It was here that I learned the most important lesson of the day: that the least amount of movement wins, meaning gentle throttle and braking, and controlled and measured steering input, is the best way to achieve a fast lap time.
At the end of the day, I left the track with a wealth of knowledge, a fulfillment of a childhood dream, and a newfound appreciation for drivers and racers that have explored the depths of the 911’s DNA. Of course, I had only scratched the surface of what those Porsches were capable of. While you won’t walk away a GT3 Cup hero or a qualified Le Mans driver, the Track Experience opens a new door for beginners and experts alike to learn, self-develop, and acquire new driving skills. It allows you to experience a side of the 911 that you would never uncover on a public road, and only then would you begin to understand the hype and zealotry behind the brand. It’s more than just racing. It’s about fulfilling that childhood dream.
You can sign up for the Porsche Track Experience by hitting the link here. The next available dates for the same Precision course I did are August 10th, and October 5th, 2019.