Nothing puts a big dumb grin on your face quite like getting a car sideways. If you want to learn how to get sideways in a rear- or mid-engined Porsche, and you’ve got the cash, there’s one place you should go: Porsche Camp4.
(Full disclosure: Porsche flew a videographer and myself out to Québec, fed us and housed us two nights in order to experience a preview of the Camp4 Porsche Driving Experience, one of which was in the swanky resort hotel used for the Camp4 program itself.)
Porsche started doing its Camp4 program in Finland in 1996, and has since grown to include multiple levels of winter driver training in five countries. I attended the one in Canada.
Drivers can progress to the Camp4S, Camp4RS and Ice-Force programs as they complete the lower levels, where more complex skills are taught, and larger studs on the tires allow participants to reach higher speeds.
It’s the driving equivalent of a hockey fight, but with pillows. You’re constantly busy, struggling to keep the car moving in the direction you’d like to travel, only the course is set up to be as forgiving as possible.
The school is held on a dirt track where they flood and smooth down the surface each night to turn it into an ice course. The surface is wide, and the worst thing you’re likely to hit is a big, forgiving snowbank.
It’s okay to push the cars here and occasionally exceed the limits of their traction and your talent. The Camp4 staff realizes that you may be coming from an area of the world that doesn’t get any real amount of snow. They know they’re not teaching Walter Rörhl and there’s no expectation that you’ll come in with any skills or grace whatsoever. (As you can see, I have neither.)
Instead, the instructors are here to teach you a few things and let you loose to have fun.
Camp4 uses the GTS models of the Carrera, Carrera 4 and Cayman to teach drivers how to handle the slippery stuff, all fitted with 1.5 mm studded Nokian tires for the beginners’ course.
We were most interested in the rear-wheel drive cars, though. Those are the most intimidating for most drivers to handle in winter weather, yet they actually end up being the most fun on the ice. If I can learn neat rally driving maneuvers in these cars while dressed in as many layers as that kid from A Christmas Story, anyone can.
Ice driving is pretty simple and straightforward if you keep things slow and steady. Keep speeds down, make smooth inputs, keep your eyes up for any obstacles on the road, and you’ll survive.
However, this isn’t a class on How To Get To Tim Hortons, You Hoser. Porsche wants you to leave Camp4 with the skills needed to regain control of your car in the hairiest of winter driving scenarios, so they intentionally push you past your comfort zone to learn how to deal with it.
All of the Camp4 cars have PSM, which officially stands for Porsche Stability Management but is derisively also known as “Please Save Me.” It brakes the rear tires to stop a spin, and is a useful tool for daily driving. Our task here at Camp4, though, was to learn how to handle situations even if PSM is off.
Porsche’s instructors teach CPR: correct, pause, and recover. As soon as you get into a slide, start countersteering. Pause and wait for the weight to settle across all four wheels, and then look where you want to go.
Those are the basics of holding a sweet little drift, and it’s a good thing they gave us many, many attempts to do so because it’s way harder than it sounds.
Every cool little trick you’re taught at Camp4—which for us, included drifting donuts around an iced-over skid pad, inducing oversteer with the brake pedal and practicing Scandinavian flicks—involves weight transfer.
Cars distribute their weight among four tires, and it’s not always an equal distribution. When drivers say a car is “loaded up” in a corner, they mean that the outer wheels are bearing more of the car’s weight than the inner ones.
Braking shifts the car’s weight forward, and accelerating puts the car’s weight on the rear. If you’re already loaded up on one side in a turn, braking or accelerating often forces even more weight on one wheel. This is a common reason why cars start to slide or spin, and why many novice dry-tarmac track day instructors hammer on the idea of braking and accelerating in a straight line. That’s the safest way to handle a car at high speeds.
Camp4 is not a high speed course, though. You’re on a giant ice slick that gets progressively slipperier as cars pack it down all day long. The limits of the car’s traction are hilariously low here.
If you want to try stabbing the brake abruptly in a turn to move the bulk of the car’s weight onto one front tire, make the opposite rear corner of the car exceptionally light, and initiate a graceful, slow drift, you can! That was perhaps my favorite exercise of the entire program because it was something I had learned to do in rallycross to get a nose-heavy Subaru wagon sideways on dirt.
For the brake-stabbing exercise through the slalom, though, I was in a Porsche Cayman GTS: a beautifully balanced car that conventional wisdom says will be a hot unmanageable mess in the winter. That “wisdom” is wrong.
Sure, the 911 is Porsche’s flagship, and rear-engine fanboys are correct that the weight over the drive wheels is great for traction. Traction isn’t as fun as sliding here, though, and it’s the lovely little Cayman GTS that I wanted to give back the least. It was the easiest car to slide around, and a worthy descendant of my beater 944.
Once in a drift, you still have to correct it. Add too much power in the rear-wheel-drive cars—especially if it’s the off-camber spot on the skid pad—and you will spin. Add too much power in the all-wheel drive Carrera 4 GTS and it just wants to plow forward. It’s a delicate balancing act.
The Camp4 instructors didn’t physically sit in the car with us, but rather, they radioed over instructions to a handheld unit in the car. I found it easy to get distracted by the radio’s scratchy voice and forget what to do. You have to stay focused on the task at hand and carefully feather the throttle at just the right amount to hold a slide, or you’ll spin.
Never fear: there’s the Cayenne of Shame of to pull you out if you get too stuck. Everyone’s fumbling through the program along with you, though, so there’s not even much shame to getting a tow. Learn from your mistake, and back off next time until you find that sweet spot of opposite lock.
Camp4 isn’t a rally or ice racing school per se, but rather, a Porsche Driving Experience. If your goal is to conquer frozen rally stages out in the woods, you’re probably better off attending a more specialized program like Rally Ready or Team O’Neil.
But if you’d rather slide around brand new Porsches in a low-consequence environment and pick up some useful winter driving tips in the process, Camp4 is right up your alley.
As a Texan who only really gets to drive in snow whenever I plan to race in Dallas, the speeds during the one-day abridged press preview of Camp4 were plenty fast. In fact, learning to cope with shiny polished ice is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
The entry-level Camp4 program includes three nights at the extra-cushy Estérel Suites and Spa, two days of winter wonderland driving classes, meals and transportation out to the track. The total cost? $5,295 Canadian, or about $4,080 U.S., plus tax.
It’s a full, inclusive resort package where you get to hoon a bunch of Porsches, and accordingly, not cheap.
Overall though, it’s not a bad getaway at all for someone looking for a neat combination of rest, relaxation and flat-six ice shenanigans. This particular location in Canada is beautiful; I’d never seen this much snow outside of a ski resort in my life. It’s a great site for such a school.
I also need a Cayman now. There’s no more convincing sales pitch for a new Porsche than to let you play bull in a china shop in one, and it’s pretty obvious that’s a big reason why Porsche keeps programs like Camp4 around.
If you need me, I will be living in a Cayman down by the river.