Wel­come to the acad­emy

It's our ul­ti­mate dream come true. We ex­pe­ri­ence what Porsche is truly all about at the Porsche Me­dia Driv­ing Acad­emy.

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Contents - cruz Ja­son dela BY Words

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

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