Winter in Canada makes you think pond hockey, hot chocolate or maybe... not going outside at all. But if you have a 2018 Porsche 911 C4S and a frozen skidpad to yourself, trust me, it’s worth braving the cold.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche wanted me to come to its Canadian “Camp 4” and drive 911s through the snow so badly that arranged to have me flown to Montreal and taken care of for a few days. I’m not sure if Patrick is fully healed from me running him over to make it out the door.)
Professional Porsche driving instructor (there’s a cool job) Pierre Des Marais, who’s apparently been teaching people the fine art of extreme driving since we were all still stuck on the first Gran Turismo, took me and a small group of other drivers in a convoy of C4Ss down a snowy tree-lined service road terminating at a 260-foot skidpad.
Now, who wouldn’t be fired up at the opportunity to drive someone else’s $100,000 Porsche on $2,000 tires on a patch of pavement made for, basically, doing donuts on?
I’ve had plenty of experience putting traditional front-engined, rear-drive cars through their paces on a skidpad, but this was my first time in an all-wheel drive vehicle with its engine in the trunk.
Des Marais had me take to the track with the traction control in Sport Mode. Several laps later, the best I managed was a flaccid putter of embarrassing understeer.
Sounds like the start to a bad drug ad. “Do you suffer from embarrassing understeer? Then ask your doctor about more horsepower. May cause flatulence and also death.”
What I hadn’t expected was, as opposed to having to hang on to the rear-biased Porsche (since the cars were once notorious for lift-throttle oversteer) on an icy skidpad, my problem was that the C4S has too much grip.
Even on a snow packed surface with the PSM in Sport, the AWD C4S on Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 studded tires was just too planted to break loose no matter how well or poorly I thought I was driving. On the next go-round we were told to turn PSM to Sport+ and work on including oversteer.
OK, no problem. I got the car rolling at 40 to 50 mph, turned in, threw on a big dollop of throttle and– what do you know, we’re drifting! And then Porsche’s PSM system, sensing that I was having entirely too much fun, sent a bunch of my precious power to the front wheels reeling my drift back to safety.
I added even more gas, stepped out again, but the process kept repeating itself.
After much chuckling by the instructors, who clearly love watching another pro driver look like a complete moron, it was explained to me that in order to get the car to maintain a continuous drift, you need to hold the wheel more or less straight and control the slide with the throttle.
The car’s traction control system senses the driver counter-steering into a slide as a signal that they’re trying to straighten the car out, so it sends power frontwards to help regain control. This has the effect of killing your shenanigans.
With that little tidbit of information in hand, third time’s the charm right?
I managed to pull of a drift that lasted for several laps around the skidpad, but if I’m honest, it was certainly not a cool enough run to make my audition tape for the next Gymkhana video.
It was really more of an “elliptical” than circular donut as the notion of “keeping the wheel straight to go around a circle” was completely counter-intuitive to me. Every time I put even a small bit of steering input in, the corresponding power at the front wheels would pull the car forward and tighten my arc.
The thing about this “problem” is that this is precisely what you would want the car to do in almost every situation other than playing around at the skidpad. The fact that I’m complaining about struggling to get the rear to step out in a Porsche is still kind of mind boggling to me, as I grew up watching a seemly endless stream of 911 owners end up backwards in ditches due to the inherent imbalance of a rear engine paired with rear-wheel drive. But studded tires are gifts from the driving gods and Porsche’s AWD system is pretty damn smart.
To mix it up, I climbed into a rear-drive 911 CS to run through Porsche’s “Scandinavian Flick” course.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a Scandi’ Flick is where you start driving in a straight line, then as you approach the corner, make a slight turn in the opposite direction to transfer weight off the outside wheels, then turn hard with a small dab of the brakes in the direction of the corner.
If the dance is done correctly, this transfer of weight should rotate the car into a perfect slide through the turn.
The Camp4 instructors weren’t going to make things that easy for us, though. Instead of just having us make one turn using the ’Flick technique they set up an “S” shaped series of cones, barely wider than the width of the car, forcing us to almost immediately turn back in the other direction, using what the instructors call the “C-P-R” method.
Now C-P-R isn’t what you’ll need after having a heart attack from watching yourself slide toward snowbanks. In Porsche parlance it stands for: Correct, Pause, Recovery.
You turn the car in quickly and correct the oversteer as the back end comes around. But then comes the hard part: You have to pause, meaning no steering input, as you wait for the car to settle.
When you feel the car start coming back around, then you enter the recovery phase and counter-steer into the slide going the other way.
Fortunately, being back in a rear-wheel drive car made this test feel a lot more natural to me. And having so much weight behind the rear wheels made getting some pendulum-action going a breeze. Getting it going back in the other direction to complete the “S” took a lot of patience, though. Turns out the P is the hardest part of Porsche C-P-R.
That being said, it’s still amazing to me how well-balanced and drivable the current crop of Porsche 911s are in low grip situations. At least, as long as they’re running studded tires. Even the RWD CS felt predictable and far less dramatic than I would have thought.
Porsche’s Camp4 is all about letting you find a performance car’s limits in adverse conditions in a controlled environment, which happens to be a hell of a lot of fun. The company has been running these programs teaching people to play with its cars in winter since 1996. Today you can get the Camp4 experience in Switzerland, Italy, China and Canada plus an elite longer version at the original site in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Beyond the sliding moves we talked about, campers run through slalom and higher speed cornering with the focus on things like vision skills, effective braking, ascents and descents, stabilizing braking and accelerating out of a bend.
More advanced sessions cost more money, but the Canadian Camp4 runs 5,495 CAD which translates to about $4,200 right now.
It’s a more money than a beater-with-a-heater and a random frozen parking lot, but professional snow driving instruction is also a lot more useful than whatever you might learn doing handbrake turns behind Wal-Mart. I’d highly recommend anyone looking to improve their driving skills look into it.