Next was the autocross. For me, autocross seemed pretty boring up until then. How much fun could it be running around a fake track with cones filled with kittens (allegedly)? I’ve literally fallen asleep at autocross events in the past. Before the Porsche school, part of the thrill of driving was the danger, the risk. Driving in a parking lot filled with cones instead of trees seemed about as exciting as climbing on a jungle gym covered in expanding foam.
In hindsight, it’s obvious I had the wrong approach. Being able to drive a car correctly, being rewarded by the clock for doing it correctly, and exceeding your own expectations is a thrill. On day one practice, we drove a Boxster S. Light years above the late-’90s era Boxsters, the new Boxster S is a snappy, light and able car. And the course was very, very tight. We got advice from the instructors via radio, and during a few ride-alongs.
On day two, the instructors organized all participants into teams. Our team, Team Thunderchicken, consisted of Glen, a couple from Kentucky and myself. While the Kentucky couple definitely wore slacks and loafers and we were decidedly jeans and Pumas, they were fairly down to earth, though admittedly not a fan of Glen’s team name. The event itself was a team relay. We worked together to complete the fastest time possible for 12 total laps. The car was the Boxster Spyder. Essentially a Carrera GT for the masses, it’s lighter, faster, and sexier than your average Boxster. And like other attractive things, it’s at home with its top off so you are at all times surrounded by 320 hp of classic flat-six sound. I haven’t heard anything quite like it since riding in a friend’s 914/6. The Thunderchickens scored a one-minute lead over the other teams.
The Cayenne S drive came with an unexpected twist. It involved spending a couple of hours driving around the property behind the track. A mix of steep slopes, tight trails, and a small pond, the exercise showed the sport SUV’s true potential. The Cayenne S is equipped with locking diffs, user-adjustable ride height, user-adjustable damping and hill assist going either down or up.
Any production vehicle really shouldn’t be able to climb a hill covered in rocks and mud on Monday and burn down egos of most sports car owners on the track any other day. The Cayenne would do this without a second thought. We encountered small ponds, 45-degree inclines and declines. When the instructor asked Glen what would happen if he turned the wheel on the way down one of the steeper hills, he promptly replied: “Fall to my death.” This didn’t stop another Cayenne driver from completely letting go of the wheel and turning off the course towards a tree. It ended up well, but was the one of two times I thought things might not.
The racetrack at Barber Motorsports Park lends itself to patience and forethought. Both the 911 Carrera S and the Cayman S encourage this type of driving. The Carrera S that we drove was equipped with a six-speed manual. The Cayman was equipped with the PDK dual-clutch transmission. My personal preference is always to be romantically rowing through the gears, but the PDK shifted well, and seemed to hold a downshift into and out of a tight corner.
As things began, the Cayman S was my preferred vehicle, as we weren’t supposed to be shifting in the manual cars. But as time progressed, the limits of the Cayman S, when compared to the Carrera S, became obvious. Neither missed a beat on braking. However, the Carrera S has a clear and distinct handling advantage in the corners, and corner exit power. While we really wound the Cayman out, I’m not sure we ever really found the limits of the 911. I imagine this is partly lack of skill, and partly a bit of fear that the $90,000 car we were driving would ease us into bankruptcy if we eased into a crash.