Porsche Camp4: Ultimate romp in the snow
Somehow, a splash of snow had artfully and annoyingly sprayed across my driver’s side window.
Usually, that wouldn’t bother me at all.
But when you’re sliding a Porsche sideways, shuddering across a sheet of sheer ice at speed, you tend to spend as much time looking forward through the side windows as through the windshield, scanning for an exit strategy, searching for salvation and just generally aiming your eyes in “the direction you want to go!” as our instructor was repeatedly hammering into us over the squawking two-way radio.
Sometimes, this whole sliding-sideways-thingy, with the snow flying, wheels spinning and engine roaring, can be totally unintentional, part and parcel of what we refer to as an “Oh #@*&!” moment (feel free to insert your favourite expletive).
Those moments are admittedly less frequent these days, thanks to modern innovations like all-wheel-drive and increasingly sophisticated ABS, traction and stability technologies.
But it can still happen.
Which is why it’s a good idea to occasionally do these things on purpose, to hone the instincts and to train mind and muscle memory for the quick and correct decisions of braking, acceleration and steering.
Like, for example, at Porsche Camp4 Canada.
Porsche has a variety of Sport Driving Schools around the world, along with winter experience schools in Finland and, for its third season in 2013, the Camp4 Winter Driving Experience in Canada.
Camp4 attendees stay at the Esterel Suites Spa & Lake, a resort located about ninety minutes north of Montreal, just south of Mont-Tremblant.
The Mecaglisse Motorsport Park, a winter driving facility with two circuits, a large skidpad and two challenging road courses, is just a short bus ride from the resort.
Porsche Canada usually books up to 30 participants per wave in sessions running through January and February.
Those participants range from individual car owners (Porsche or otherwise) from Canada, the U.S. or around the world, or corporate teams of executives enjoying company reward programs. No helmets or racing suits are required and, with paired drivers rotating through the 20 cars in the fleet, plenty of seat time is available with only a limited amount of standing around.
Our particular group of automotive journalists probably had more performance driving experience than average but I find it’s always best to feign ignorance, pretty well my natural baseline setting anyway. That way you refresh what you already knew and always pick up a few more tips and tricks.
A brief introduction included vehicle overviews, the “function circle” and a review of wheel load stresses—acceleration, braking and cornering g-forces that affect the traction of those four tire contact patches that are no bigger than the palm of your hand.
And after a few stern safety admonitions ($5,000 deductible, yikes!), we talked about some of the drifting techniques that we would learn—braking to encourage a slide, using the gas pedal to break the rear end loose, or the famed Finnish flick, shifting mass briefly into the opposite direction before oversteering rally-style into the turn.
Normally, Camp4 hones these skills over the course of three days. A next-step Camp4S extends the learning curve during a more advanced four-day program.
Our quick one-day media intro would briefly touch on all the disciplines and, upon arriving at the track, our group was broken into three subgroups, with each heading off of a different activity.
Under the tutelage of Porsche team racer Kees Nierop, we started in 2013 Boxster S models, a perfect vehicle for “breaking the ice”, so to speak, dusting off our drifting skills and learning traction limits within the well-balanced performance of a mid-engine rear-wheel-drive lightweight. All of the vehicles in the fleet mounted studded Nokian winter tires for at least some semblance of control.
After that short course intro, we shifted to a circular skid pad carved from a frozen lake. We also shifted into 2013 911 Carrera S models with a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration perfect for the art of extended sideways drifting.
For the better part of an hour, we rotated around and around that icy circle. Aiming for consistency, these were the skills that would be applied on higher speed road course corners later in the day.
As drivers progress, some of the assistive technologies can be turned off, including Porsche Stability Management (PSM, also known as Please Save Me). Drivers also bumped up gradually through the performance settings, into Sport mode and, eventually, into the unassisted Sport Plus setting.
We moved into new 2013 911 Carrera 4S models for our final exercises.
The all-wheel-drive models raise the traction and control quotient but they also demand different drifting disciplines.
Rather than letting up on acceleration to correct a skid, you have to learn to stay on the gas, harnessing the power from the torque shift to the front wheels in order to control the drift. Sounds technical and it feels oddly counterintuitive at first, but it’s really just a different way to have the same amount of fun at a faster rate of speed.
Finally, the day’s training culminated with open lapping, applying our skills on an extended road course with hairpin corners, elevation changes, chicanes and slalom sections, our speeds and confidence levels climbing as the laps clicked past.
And then more practise, practise, practise.
There’s something particularly thrilling about going into a drift through a corner, the systematic mayhem of wheels spinning and snow flying, the engine surging as you search for the balance and knife-edge limits that lie somewhere between control and utter chaos. It’s about as much fun as you can have playing in the snow.
Anyone interested in that kind of a thrill ride can find more info online and, although this year’s sessions have pretty well run their course, for Porsche fans, or for any kind of performance driving fans planning next year’s challenges, the Camp4 program offers a unique driving experience and a whole new way to enjoy winter sport.
Rob Beintema is a Black Press contributor.