In August, Porsche invited journalists to the Hockenheimring to watch Chris Harris get behind the wheel of a Porsche Taycan to attempt the world record for the longest drift in an electric car. Afterward, Porsche gave journalists a chance to drift the EV around the wet skid pad, and though I had no drifting experience outside of Jeeps in mud and snow, I was never going to turn down this opportunity. The result of this YOLO attitude was a near-crash.
I had just taken a train from Nürnberg to Hockenheim on Porsche’s dime. The automaker had sent my boss a rather cryptic email a couple of weeks prior asking if our European correspondent (that was me at the time since I was temporarily hanging out in Germany to tend to a glorious diesel manual minivan) wanted to “cover a Taycan variant in Germany.” What this meant, I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had to be at the Hockenheim on August 26 to check out and apparently drive, the rear-wheel-drive Taycan.
After arriving at the hotel (again, full disclosure: Porsche paid for it), I joined a few other automotive journalists in a van headed to the Hockenheimring. There, I met former Jalopnik writer, Top Gear host, and widely beloved car Mensch Chris Harris for the first time. We discussed some of our concerns about the speed with which the world is rushing into electric cars, and we talked about the volatile state of the automotive media industry.
But Harris wasn’t there to chat with a nerdy Jalopnik writer, he was at the Hockeheimring to try to set the world record for the longest drift in an electric car, and I had been invited simply to watch:
Shown in the Top Gear clip above, Harris set the world record at 19 laps. Shortly thereafter, a Porsche test driver named Dennis Retera hopped into the Taycan and managed over 200 laps around the >650 foot drift circle. Retera spent nearly an hour countersteering, traveling over 26 miles at an average speed of just under 30 mph, per Porsche.
But Harris shouldn’t feel bad about only doing a tenth as many laps as Retera, not only because the Porsche driving instructor has way more experience drifting the Taycan than probably anyone on earth, but also because here’s what happened when I gave drifting Porsche’s EV sedan a crack (the big event really starts around 2:40):
Early in the Top Gear video above, Harris talks about how intuitive the accelerator pedal calibration is, but then later, as he finishes his last lap, he says “starting to struggle a bit now with the throttle.” I don’t know exactly what Harris means there, but I mention it because I clearly had a hard time modulating the Taycan’s “throttle” around the skidpad.
Without sounds and vibrations from the motor, there wasn’t much to help guide my right foot’s input. As I tipped into the pedal to kick the tail out, I really had little clue how much pedal input corresponded with how much rear-wheel torque. With more time, I’d definitely get a feel for it, but especially without an engine singing alongside those squealing tires, I found myself just stabbing the pedal and waiting to see what the rear wheels would do.
What they did, especially when I dropped the pedal all the way to the floor to induce oversteer, was instantly and violently send the car spinning. With my right foot foolishly on the floor, the Taycan didn’t deliver a smooth wave of torque, it delivered a hammer — just look at how, in the video, the car’s tail instantly shoots out, yielding total chaos.
The video shows the back end pass the car’s nose on two occasions, with one of those losses of control involving me sliding off the track straight towards a barrier. As soon as I lost it, I pressed the brake pedal with all my might to bring the car under control, as I knew there was a wall nearby. The sound of squealing tires gave way to a muffled sound of dirt hitting the underbody, the car leaned hard to the driver’s side, and then fell back down onto all four wheels.
Luckily, a patch of soft dirt had scrubbed off the vehicle’s momentum, bringing the 4,500+ pound machine to rest roughly six feet from the wall.
I gave the car a bit of throttle to continue driving, but the vehicle wouldn’t budge. I shifted the car’s dash-mounted electronic shifter into reverse, touched the pedal, and the car lurched a tiny bit. But it remained stuck. A few attempts at rocking the car between reverse and drive yielded no positive results, so Porsche sent out a Cayenne to tug the vehicle out from the dirt.
Of course, I can talk about pedal calibration all day long, but the reality is that the primary reason why I nearly crashed is that, frankly, I lack skill. Give me an all-wheel-drive car, an open parking lot, and plenty of snow, and I can drift all day, but a rear-wheel drive car on a big wet skidpad? I’m terrible. A total amateur.
I will say that I’m amazed Porsche let journalists with unknown driving experience try drifting a ~$100,000, 400 horsepower EV around a track surrounded by something other than fluffy pillows (to be fair, there was an instructor in the car with me). It could have gone poorly, but I’m glad for the experience, even if I did look a bit silly in the end.