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It's our ultimate dream come true. We experience what Porsche is truly all about at the Porsche Media Driving Academy.
We drive Porsches flat out at Sepang International Circuit!
Two years ago, I participated in the Porsche World Roadshow when it was held in the country. The proceedings couldn’t have gone in a better way. The weather was pleasant— about 29 degrees Celsius, cloudy without rain in sight. Which meant the air was thin, giving us ideal driving conditions. Plus, the group I belonged to started with the road tour, then progressed to the highlight of the event: driving 911s and the Cayman GTS around the track. To this day, I can’t wipe the smile off my face.
Two years later, I’m at the Sepang International Circuit for the Porsche Media Driving Academy ( MDA). My thought bubble: “Don’t forget your Aquazorb towels. It’s going to be scorching hot!” I’ve been here five times to watch the Malaysian GP, and never has the track temperature gone below 42 degrees Celsius. Even in the covered grandstands, you’re bound to get sunburned. It’s the hottest race on the calendar for the Formula 1 circus.
Well, the gods must love me because the weather is just as pleasant as it was during the Roadshow, and I start with the basic exercise once again, working my way up to driving the full course of Sepang in 911s and the brand-spankin’-new Panamera 4S and Turbo! It’s the first time the sedan is making an appearance in this event.
The MDA is an exclusive program under Porsche Asia
Pacific, intended to teach and raise the driving skills of journalists from the region, and allow them to grasp what these cars are capable of. It is divided into three levels— Individual, Professional, and Elite—with participants progressing to the next level the following year.
A highlight of this year’s driving clinic is the presence of Porsche works driver Earl Bamber, fresh from his second 24 Hours of Le Mans win. I first met him in 2015 at a Porsche event in Singapore, and I’m stoked he remembers our initial encounter. A genuinely nice guy—no airs whatsoever, and you know he enjoys sharing his racing experience when he invites you to have coffee in the paddock after being interviewed and continue the conversation after the day’s driving. Also making its first appearance in the program is the Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR. A lucky participant will get to ride it around Sepang with Earl behind the wheel.
But before we head out to the track, head instructor Matthias Hoffsuemmer explains the theoretical side of hard driving so that we may better understand and manage the tires’ friction circles. Tires are important because they keep the car in contact with the ground. They take the load under acceleration, braking, and cornering. Matthias points out how to handle these aspects all together. Basically, it’s all about understanding how much grip is available: Go beyond the circle and you’ll mess up, stay within and you’ll keep the lap nice and tidy.
The group I belong to kicks off the program with the moose test. It sounds simple, but this could be a life-saving maneuver. We floor a 911 Carrera S and probably reach 75- 80kph, then swerve suddenly to the left to avoid an obstacle and back to the right to return to the correct lane. The key is to look where you want to go. This test requires a sharp and sudden change in direction, but the 911 remains composed.
We move on to the acceleration/ braking test. If there’s one Porsche that has crazy acceleration but can stop on a dime, it’s the 911 Turbo S. The launch control on this thing is just
‘It’s the first time these two Porsches are making an appearance in the MDA’
nuts. Standstill to 100kph takes 2.9sec. With ample time to reach the century mark, we jab the brakes to avoid a cone dead center, then decide to go left or right before coming to a complete stop.
Before lunchtime, we take the 718 Boxster on a slalom course. It sounds easy, but in order to be quick, throttle-steering coordination is key—that is, feathering the accelerator and being light on the wheel. Our instructor tells us to imagine having “the hands of a surgeon, the feet of a ballerina.”
The afternoon is when things become even more exciting.
We have guided hot laps with Earl on the north side of the circuit, consisting of Turns 1 to 5 and the main straight. It’s in this session where I reflect on my experience in the Roadshow. By comprehending how the 911 behaves when pushed, it gives me more confidence.
It’s my first crack at the Panamera, however. Because it’s bigger, I’m keen to know how this one handles. It feels planted, which is confidence-inspiring, and fast—like bat- out- of-hell fast! It’s amazing how composed it remains on the limit.
Turn 1 presents a challenge as you brake hard carrying all that speed from the main straight (Porsche brakes are always good). After Turns 1 and 2, the track opens up toward the right-bender turn 3, prompting you to floor it before you brake hard for Turn 4. Turn 5, meanwhile is a nice left-sweeper. With safety in mind, Earl only goes as fast as the participants can manage. The more you can handle, the faster he’ll go.
Having a taste of this short course pushes the adrenaline for the full track. What makes Sepang so exhilarating is that it’s primarily a Formula 1 track. It’s very high-speed, with a lot of sweeping bends. But what’s it like to actually do laps around here? Surely, driving Porsches around an F1-spec track presents its own unique challenge.
We pick up where we left off after the short course. Turns 6, 7, and 8 stand out because you take them as one sweeping right-hander. The run toward Turns 11 and 12 is nice and tricky. Get 11 right and you carry good momentum approaching 12. A colleague has warned me about the hard-braking Turn 9, but Turn 14, the last corner before the back straight, proves to be the most challenging—I don’t take it quite as wide as I should.
Sepang’s long straights, sweeping bends, and tight corners truly let you experience the performance of the Porsche lineup. To validate what we’ve learned around the full track, we copilot our instructors for a hot lap. No, I’m not the lucky guy who rides the Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR with Earl Bamber. Still, I’m treated to a proper lap in a 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet.
Come evening at our hotel, I spot Earl and Matthias at the lobby lounge. I approach them to say thank you and goodbye, and Earl says, “Ah, we were just discussing how to make the program bigger next year.” To that I reply, “Bring it on!”
Earl explains the magic behind this Cayman
The proper driving position. Dom Toretto wannabes, listen up