Who says a sports car must hibernate when the roads are covered by snow and ice? Certainly not Porsche AG; the company has been running winter driving school experiences for several years now in Europe.
Just so you know, Porsche sports cars with their rear- and mid-engine configurations are actually ideal vehicles for winter driving conditions. With more weight at the rear of the car, the effective traction from the rear tires is enhanced, and the primary focus of the front tires is directional control. This creates a superior driving dynamic, allowing the driver to more easily utilize the physics of weight transfer under low-traction conditions.
From 2011, Porsche decided to expand its winter school operations to Camp4 Canada at the Mecaglisse Motorsport Complex in the heart of Quebec’s Laurentian mountains. Ninety minutes northeast of Montreal, Mecaglisse has several kilometers of ice tracks and is the perfect place to begin learning the art of fully controlling a Porsche in cold and slippery conditions. Fortunately, you don’t have to enjoy winter sports to love this adrenaline-pumped activity.
The class begins with the students meeting for dinner at the Fairmont Resort in Mont Trembant, Quebec. Students can mingle with Porsche and Porsche Sport Driving school staff throughout the evening. The next morning, everyone loads into the shuttle bus to Mecaglisse. After a short classroom briefing on safety and basic vehicle physics, students are put into three groups and paired up; as you share your car in each of the three exercise areas with another student. All the cars used at the course are equipped with PDK automated manual gearboxes and snow tires with 1.5mm ice studs.
My group started with the Caymans at the short ice track. This course has some brilliant elevation changes, greatly enhancing the fun. A lead-and-follow session behind the instructor’s car with the traction control system switched on allows everyone to safely grasp the lay of the land. After this, running two or three cars on the track at once, the students can begin to probe the limits of traction and practice their lessons in weight transfer, while the instructor provides suggestions and encouragement via radio. Grip is surprisingly good with the studded snow tires.
Subsequent lapping sessions become increasingly more difficult as you run with traction control switched off; ever-quicker runs follow this with the “Sport Plus” system activated. Sport Plus wakens both the engine and transmission for more aggressive power delivery; students can shift manually via the steering wheel paddles or allow the transmission to take care of things automatically. A final lapping session is run on the short track in the reverse direction. Fun? Oh yeah.
After lunch we were shifted over to a longer ice track where we jumped into 911 Carrera 4 Coupes. This area employs several track configurations, starting with the shortest, which incorporates a long slalom run to get the feel of the 911’s greater rear-end weight bias. Again, you begin with a lead/follow session behind the instructor, followed by lapping sessions with increasing challenges: Traction control on, off, and Sport Plus activated. The Carrera 4’s greater power output and greater rear weight bias make it extremely easy to get sideways and enjoy controlled power slides through almost every corner. To up the challenge even further, the track is expanded to the Stage 2 configuration—more corners and longer straights that result in even greater entertainment!
On the final rotation we ended up at the skidpad exercise area in Carrera 4 Cabriolets. The area contains two icy skidpads, one small (about 160 feet in diameter) and one large (about 250 feet) placed beside each other with no physical boundary between. Students are alerted to the potential danger when one car is running on each skidpad at the same time; keeping your vision up and being aware of the other car provides more than enough of a safety net. The different sized pads allow students to experiment with car control in a slow, tight circle, or a faster, wider circle. Again, the exercises are done progressively, with the traction control on, off, and with Sport Plus. This allows a student to work up to controlling steering and throttle inputs to enable continuous power slides on each pad. Once you grasp the concept, the entire area is then run as a “figure 8” with one car on the surface at a time.
Day 2 was more of the same in the three different exercise areas, starting where we had left off the day before. Practice, practice, practice is the order of the day, allowing one to develop “muscle memory” skills to enable instinctive reactions to correct car position and attitude deviations in the slippery conditions. Further enhancements are added to each of the exercise’s time: learning the “Finnish flick” with the Caymans, again lengthening the long track for more variation with the Carrera 4 Coupes, and running the hourglass perimeter, and a cat-and-mouse game on the skidpads with the Carrera 4 Cabriolets. By the end of the day you’ll likely be totally comfortable negotiating each exercise completely sideways.
Camp4 Canada is an amazing experience for drivers to develop their skills in a safe, low-speed, low-traction environment. If you’re up to the challenge, be sure to sign yourself up for school sessions in February and March.