“Oh no, we’re going to crash,” is one of the last things you hope to think before climbing into a Porsche 911, or any car for that matter.
But if you attend Porsche’s Camp4, those thoughts are almost inevitable. In fact, that’s the whole point, because you’ll be driving on a closed course covered in ice and walled in with snow. It’s a great place to be if taking corners sideways in high-end sports cars sounds like fun.
DRIVING “ON THE ROCKS”
Events are hosted in Finland (when they began in 1996), Italy, Switzerland, China and Canada. The latter of those is entering its fourth year of operation and takes place at Mecaglisse, a facility outside Montreal laced with ice-covered courses people come to drive and slide on. If you flew over it in a plane, the place would look something like the marbling on a raw steak. Only, the fat would actually be areas where feet of snow were plowed aside to create a winding course coated in ice.
“SHAKEN, NOT SPUN”
I don’t know how quickly – or rather how slowly - we were moving at the time. But about halfway through what amounts to an exaggerated hairpin turn, I managed to point my Porsche 911 Carrera 4S nose-first toward a snow bank. Having entered the corner too quickly before overfeeding the throttle, I knew what would happen next without careful footwork and gentle steering.
Winding up in the snowbank was not an option. If that happened, I risked losing driving privileges or worse still; being mocked by other members of the media.
As a side note, that isn’t me in the photo, but that is how it looked.
In my hands, it slid sideways with all the grace of a dog wearing roller skates. I continued careening through the turn as it became clear that my trajectory was too wide and I was going to plow right into the outside wall. Porsche keeps a small team of Cayenne SUVs on hand at Camp4 to rescue beached cars lodged in banks, but in that instant the thought of admitting failure was unbearable. Images of the humiliation flashed through my brain.
Once again, the car surprised me as I maintained a steady steering angle and kept a gentle right foot on the gas. The 911’s droopy rear end flopped into the snowy wall without stopping. It must have shaved a foot of snow off the bank, but the wheels found grip in doing so. A split-second later my gamble paid off as I fishtailed down the next straightaway.
It wasn’t until after a handful of other hair-raising corners that my driving partner noticed that I neglected to turn “traction control” on when we strapped in. Whoops.
The oversight was understandable considering most of Camp4’s driving exercises involve deactivating Porsche Stability Management (PSM) after an initial demonstration. Through the day, Porsche puts participants in three vehicles that change year after year. This time, the company had a fleet that included the 911 Carrera S and its all-wheel drive 4S sibling along with the Cayman, all wearing tires with 1.5-millimeter studs.
Depending on what you’re willing to spend, there are two versions of the course: “Camp4” and “Camp4S.” The former costs $5,195 CAD before taxes and offers three nights of accommodation in a nearby spa resort, meals, two days of driving and transportation between the facilities. Camp4S adds another driving day and costs an extra $1,000.
At that price, you’re really paying more for the privilege to participate than the driving instruction itself. Winter driving classes really don’t need to cost five grand. Despite that, the driving coaches are all highly qualified with backgrounds in performance driving and it’s safe to say you’ll leave a more self-assured driver. Take me as an example.
ICE DRIVING ALA PORSCHE
Until attending the one-day media preview I hadn’t driven any of the cars mentioned above. My time in Porsche vehicles included a short stint in a 996 GT3 in 2013 and a few short runs in a Boxster S two years before that. The idea of driving either a 911 or a Cayman on ice seemed crazier than Michael Jackson’s Never Land hydro bill.
First, we took several laps around a circular course in a Carrera 4. With a generous portion of the car’s 3,120-lbs sitting above the rear wheels, saying it was challenging is something of an understatement. I didn’t manage to sustain any sort of admirable drift. Rather, I managed to spin the car 360 degrees more than once. First lesson: stomping on the gas and calling up all of the Porsche’s 400-hp doesn’t help regain control. At all.
Next, we switched to the Carrera 4S and a slalom course where we slid between cones by quickly stabbing the throttle to induce oversteer. In succession, the cars look like a skier carving down a slope. My heavy right foot caused trouble again and I spun out several times despite having all-wheel drive and studs to help.
A short, winding path completes a circuit between the beginning and end of the slalom and our instructor encouraged us to practice sliding through those corners with quick gas pedal jabs. That practice paid dividends in the end because by the final lap, I managed to slide between all the cones without losing control: a major accomplishment.
That left the Cayman and I’m glad to have spent the first two courses in the other P-cars because in this case we were heading for open laps on a circuit. If there were ever an example of how well-engineered the Cayman is, this is it. The littlest and least powerful Porsche coupe danced around the track with ease. Corners that would have sent either of the 911s spinning seemed easy to handle and suddenly it was tempting to push each lap harder. I credit part of that to the Cayman for being exceptionally well balanced, but my practice during the pervious exercises didn’t hurt either.
Disappointing as it was for that part of the day to end, the final portion was an even bigger treat. We came off the “road” course for a short break so it could merge with the slalom to create a much larger track.
Before leaving Mecaglisse for the day, we had the chance to drive each car on the extended circuit. But there were more rules than usual. We were given a stern warning that PSM needed to stay activated at all times because there were so many cars lapping at once. We would be allowed to take traction control off if, and only if, spin-outs stayed to a minimum. I really didn’t want to be the guy to rob everyone of the chance to lap without electronic nanny controls
Minutes later, I was behind the wheel of a 911 Carrera 4S carrying too much speed into that corner from earlier in the story. Things seemed bad there for a moment and they probably would have been were it not for the day’s ice driving lessons. Thankfully, Camp4 proved its merits where it really counts: the split seconds between losing control and crashing or keeping it together.