No, it’s about driving style, and I do mean that in the artistic, not the scientific sense of the word – though there is a lot of science behind it all.
Yes, you could shell out the cash to attend the winter driving course at the Mecaglisse track an hour north of Montreal, QC to zip though the slalom faster than your classmates, colleagues and friends. Or, you could slide through the pylons sideways, with your foot on the throttle and more steering than the joints in your arms will allow.
Trust me, you will find the second option the far more rewarding one.
A driving school unlike any other, Camp4 is really more of a lifestyle adventure and officially billed as an “experience” rather than a strict driving school.
And that makes sense because it’s unlike any other driving school available either. Taking place on a series of man made handling courses, a massive ice-covered skid pad and, best of all, a lengthy snow and ice race track, it presents an entirely unique set of challenges and rewards.
ICE, SNOW AND STUDDED WINTER TIRES
The cars, which for my one day compressed course consisted of a Boxster S, Carrera and very new Carrera 4S, also all came outfitted with Nokian winter tires with 1.5 mm metal studs.
“That’s certainly cheating” I thought to myself on the shuttle bus from the hotel to the track on a mild February morning. “It’s in no way representative of how a car would handle in the real world.”
As I learned throughout the day, that’s not really important. The snow and ice provided all the slip to get out of control and without the studs, getting back into control would be nearly impossible. Besides, after 30 minutes of driving even a snowy surface with some decent grip is quickly transformed into a slick sheet of ice.
After some brief instruction on how to rotate a car’s rear end, putting it into action became an incredibly difficult task at first. With stability and traction control engaged it becomes an issue of flicking the car’s momentum around, trying to apply throttle without engaging the onboard safety systems. Producing a pendulum effect isn’t very easy either when you’re piloting an extremely well-balanced mid-engined Boxster.
LEARNING TO COMMIT
Step into a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive Carrera, however, and it wants to lead with the tail, which is a good thing if you’re on a skidpad the width of a football field. With all safety systems off, achieving a prolonged drift is a rewarding feeling, as you do put to use important on-track skills like balancing the throttle and working on your vision, looking as far into the turn as possible. If anything, mastering this section is an exercise in commitment and feels like an intro-to-drifting course. As the saying goes, you’ll drive where you’re looking. That’s an easy one to cheat on when you’ve got a fast car on a dry track on a warm summer day. It’s a lot more challenging to keep your eyes looking into the distance when you’re already sliding sideways on a surface with almost no grip.
Do it though, and you’ll be rewarded. Look at the snowbanks and you’ll be headed there too, in a big white poof of snow. If you’re lucky, back out, car unscathed. If you’re not, get ready to be pulled out by the Cayenne of shame.
One of the great joys of driving on a snow-covered track is that the barriers are big, soft (mostly soft) snowbanks, meaning you can push the limits of grip and not be penalized too harshly. A word of warning came from one instructor, however, commenting that they get harder the deeper you go into them.
In an ideal progression, we then moved to the road course to combine techniques. With more ability for speed and, therefore, more possibility of error, our cars changed to suit the circumstances as well, as we hopped into very new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S models.
Engaging a drift early in a corner and keeping it steady throughout, touching a snowbank doesn’t mean you’re adventure is over. Stay on the throttle and power along the curve and they can be your friend.
SLALOM WITH STYLE
Perhaps the most rewarding of all, however, is combining the practiced techniques with the new Carrera 4S’s grip. Sliding past each cone in the slalom fully sideways, first left, then right, then left, then right, managing throttle, steering and keeping my eyes where I want to go and committing to my instincts.
Having just strung six corners together, fully sideways, I can’t contain my excitement, hollering celebratory profanities and high-fiving my co-driver.
And that, perhaps more so than the skills learned, is the best part of Camp4 Canada. There’s plenty of fun, and a large dose of camaraderie, cheering on your codriver when its your turn to sit shotgun.
We were even blessed with perfect weather, with the thermometer sitting right at the freezing mark, meaning time spent outside the car was completely livable – especially as February in Quebec can certainly get a lot more bone-chilling.
A word to future attendees: you might not want to drive with your heavy winter parka on as swinging around the wheel like a drunken sailor steering in a hurricane can certainly work up a sweat.
Unlike any driving program I’ve ever attended (and I’ve done my share), it may have been the most fun too. Having spent just one day behind the wheel, the actual course is a two day driving program that retails for the not insignificant price of $4,995 CDN (inclusive).
While that price might put it out of the realm of some Boxster owners, it’s not hard to see the attraction as a corporate event or a reward for top performers. After all, it combines concepts like looking ahead, trusting your instincts and building camaraderie with the excitement of sliding around a Porsche and the reward of accomplishing something truly special.
Graduates of the Camp4 Winter Driving Experience can attend a more advanced Camp4S course in either Canada or Finland. Camp4 events are currently held in five countries around the world, including Canada, Finland, Italy, Switzerland and China.