A feast of Porsches
Porsche media drivers complete an elite course; more driving opportunites open up for Asean customers
Among the “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moments of motoring, this counts at the top: blasting down the main straight of the Sepang Formula 1 circuit, strapped into a Porsche, with none other than two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Earl Bamber behind the wheel.
As Earl brakes hard, from 250 kph to less than 100 in the blink of an eye, with the Cayman GT4 remaining straight as an arrow, we experience a vision—not our life flashing before our eyes, but a time-lapse of the day’s Porsche-fest.
Rewind eight hours: We are greeted with the sight of two rows of Porsche’s finest road cars, gleaming in the early morning sunlight.
This was the menu for the day: Porsche Panamera 4S and Turbo, 718 Boxster S, and Cayenne GTS and Turbo, and of course, the Porsche 911, in Carrera S, Targa, and Turbo guise.
There was one other intriguing machine, bodywork decked out in chrome. Neon yellow letters spell out its complete name: GT4 Clubsport MR.
First, a bit of healthy routine before all the sinful indulgence. Sports Science consultant Roman Engel stressed the importance of having a healthy driver as the center of performance.
Just as the Porsche team looks after the race cars’ mechanical well-being, so too must his team ensure that the drivers get the proper nutrition and fitness routine.
We sampled a fraction of this, as Engel took us through the basics of stretching, particularly the neck and core muscles.
Feeling properly loosened up, we came up to turns 5 and 6 of Sepang, where a pair of Panameras are waiting.
This latest version of Porsche’s four-door sports car gets turbocharged engines, with the top turbo variant boasting 550 hp and 770 Nm.
Acceleration is brisk for a large four-door. Here we learned the nuances of balancing and steering the car using only the throttle.
From the driver’s seat, the car felt uncannily receptive to sharp inputs, belying the two business class-like rear seats.
Then came a bit of liquid refreshment. Turn One was continually doused with water from a fire truck to produce a slick surface despite the noontime heat in Sepang.
After accelerating down the main straight of Sepang, we flicked first the 911 Carrera 4S and then the 718 Boxster into the corner, deliberately inducing understeer, or having the car’s nose slide out away from the corner.
It took some effort to override the instinct of adding more steering instead of unwinding the wheel.
We recalled the earlier classroom session where we were reminded that as there’s a limit to the tire’s adhesion, and only by gently releasing the steering could we regain control.
Then came the activity that we had been waiting for since the first Media Driving Academy (MDA) two years ago: full laps of the Sepang circuit.
Following the instructor’s car, we had to take the corners at speed and without exceeding the cars’ limits.
This tied in all the previous lessons as we had to brake at the proper spot, then steer to clip each corner’s apex while accelerating smoothly out.
To give an objective measure of our progress, we were thrown a bit of a curve ball. From the sports cars, we climbed into the Cayenne.
The Cayenne is no doubt the SUV to have around a race track, but it was still tall and heavy compared to the sports cars.
A video camera tracked our driving around the corners. Porsche MDA instructor Admi Shahrul revealed where we were cornering properly, and where—which was more of the time—we were going all over the circuit.
The video lesson helped with the second round of lapping Sepang.
By this time we were feeling the pressure of the helmet on our head, and the pressure to keep up with the instructor’s car.
Finally, it seemed, all the lessons were coming together as we drove first the 718 Boxster, then the Porsche 911 Carrera on track.
As an exclamation point to the afternoon’s activities, Earl strapped into the Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR and took us on a quick lap around Sepang.
As fast as Porsche’s road cars were, the GT4 is tuned to be on a different level.
The noise was exhilarating as Earl calmly carved his way around the track.
The Porsche MDA coincides with the launch of Porsche’s customer driving experience for the region.
A fleet of cars will reportedly be based at Sepang for customers to experience the performance, and improve their driving skills.
Several other Porsche driving experience centers are operating worldwide, including in Los Angeles and Silverstone, UK.
Customers who enjoy the thrill and building up of skills to race professional could use it as a potential stepping stone to participating in GT racing events.
Porsche is also introducing its License to Thrill campaign (www.licencetothrill.asia) as it gives the chance to one of 30 drivers to drive at Sepang, and win a trip to the Porsche Experience Center in LA.