This is it. Welcome to the 2012 Porsche World Roadshow.
Here we are at the Clark International Speedway, getting ready to go out on the track. This time, however, we're not driving some new family hatchback or tuned Japanese compact car. We're driving Porsches. All of them.
The last Porsche World Roadshow in the country took place 6 years ago. Back then, I was still on my rookie year at this job, so I wasn't able to go. Having had to listen to A.G., Chris and Inigo's stories about their Porsche experiences for every lunch-break for the better part of a week only fueled my desire to go... if they ever did come back.
A few weeks ago, we got a message from PGA Cars, the official distributor of Porsche in the Philippines, that the Porsche World Roadshow was back in town, and that they would like to invite us to come and experience what makes a Porsche... truly a Porsche. Is there a quicker way to say 'Yes'?
Before I knew it, there they were; the Porsche's gleaming in the hot, pre-summer sun. It was a beautiful day, but the weather can only come so close to how great this collection of cars looked. Representing the Boxster line was the new Boxster Spyder in black. The Spyder is the latest version of Porsche's entry level model, and we'll get to try out her great driving dynamics on the tight and technical slalom course.
A yellow Cayman was present in S trim, though there was the newer Cayman R, but that was for display purposes only. The Cayman, as many of us agree, is truly best balanced Porsche, and we'll get to see what she can do on the original short track of Clark Speedway.
The new generation Cayenne also joined in on the sportscars, and were available as either the Turbo, the S or even the new Hybrid, and we'll get to try them both on track and on the off-road course they specifically designed to test its abilities.
For the more gentlemanly amongst us, there's the new Porsche Panamera. Admittedly, I never found it to be a beautiful car, available here in either the Hybrid, the S or the Turbo. As we would realize later on both on the road and on the 2nd half of Clark Speedway, it's what underneath that counts.
And then there's the 911; a car that needs no introduction... unless you've been living under a rock for the past 50 years. There were actually two generations of the 911 in attendance: the 997 and the 991. The 997 is the older of the two, originally launched in 2005. There are several of the 997 variants here in higher spec trims with a red Carrera 4S, a white GT3, a green Turbo Cabriolet, a variety of Targas and other Carreras.
The star of the Roadshow, however, has to be the new Type 991, launched just last year. The new 911 is sleeker, faster, more efficient and more high tech than the outgoing 997. The ones here are still the starting points of the 911 line: the Carrera and Carrera S. We'll get our chance to drive them later on during the handling exercise at the original Clark Speedway short track.
As I said, the Clark International Speedway was split up into several different sections: two short tracks, a portion of the main straight for the slalom exercise while the old rallycross track next to the stream was converted into a daunting off-road course.
We were divided into several groups based on the colors on our I.D. tags, and from there we were assigned a particular Porsche instructor. Our group was led by a former Formula One driver, Mr. Patrick Freisacher. Having a guy who drove at the top tier of motorsport -even if it was just for Minardi back in 2005- certainly made it all the more exciting. In fact, all of the instructors at the Porsche World Roadshow are highly experienced motorsport personalities, and towards the end of the day, as the icing to this Porsche cake, they'll be taking us out on some demo laps to show us what these cars can really do in the hands of the pros. More on that later.
After a quick brief on the day's festivities, err activities, we set out for the first part of our Porsche experience: the Road Tour. For this part, we were to drive a varied collection of cars from the 997, the Panamera and the 991. On the backroads of Clark, we got a real world experience of how Porsches behave as everyday cars. We started off in the 991, and sampled the different controls and functions in it.
Of course, knowing us, we immediately switched on the more exciting modes of the transmission and the suspension, activating Sport Plus, opening up the exhaust and raising the spoiler. The difference is profound, making the 911 feel like a very track-oriented car rather than an everyday car. Since it was a tour, we reverted back to comfort mode; Philippine roads are not made for Porsche's most exciting functions.
We then proceeded to rotate to the other models in the convoy. The difference between the 991 and the 997 is quite noticeable, especially in terms of interior design. There were two 997 variants in the line up: thethe 911 Targa, something that my co-driver swears by, and the Turbo Cabriolet.
Afterwards, we hopped in the Panamera Hybrid, and concluded that this is something that we want to ride in. Smooth, supple and comfortable, the Panamera Hybrid does impress in the interior and ride department, especially with that center console that resembles a Vertu. Like in other hybrids, the gas-electric drive system displays where the power is coming from, showcasing the very latest of Porsche's technologies.
Upon our return to the racetrack, we then hopped out of the cars we took on the Road Tour, as we're about to get started with the next phase of our program: Off Road. Georges Ramirez, of the Ramirez racing clan, was the man in charge of designing an off-road course to truly challenge the abilities of the Cayenne as well as the drivers.
Patrick then gave us a quick briefer on what systems the Cayenne has to make off-roading easier and safer, even comfortable. Just below the shifter are several toggles and buttons. We were told to activate all: raise the ride height of the air suspension, activate hill descent control and lock the differentials for off-road use.
First off was the drop. It daunting, to say the least, a drop of about 40 degrees, maybe more. Georges instructed us to allow the systems within the Cayenne (we were in a Turbo) to detect the incline. When it does that, hill descent control engages automatically, allowing the driver to give his feet a break and just let the Cayenne take care of the rest, descending at a safe 3 km/h. Impressive.
The articulation test was next, showcasing the ability of the advanced Porsche Traction Management system. With dips that just let two wheels have continuous contact with the ground, PTM takes over, allowing the driver to keep his foot on the throttle and let the system allocate power to the wheels that can use it, powering the Cayenne out of the section. It's so easy it's cheating. With style. In luxury.
Now it was time for a little competition. Now normally they wouldn't let participants out on a track to duke it out for fastest lap times, so instead of a full track, they set up a small slalom course on a section of the main straight. Sounds straightforward.
The car for this little contest is the latest, and arguably the coolest, version of the Boxster: the Spyder. The new Boxster Spyder just looks good, and that's coming from a guy who was never a fan of the Boxster to begin with. Unlike the standard Boxster, the Spyder has a manual soft top roof; in fact, you have to get out of the car to take it down, and stow it away. Inconvenient as it may be, having no electric retract mechanism, aluminum doors and a minimalist interior bring the weight down considerably, allowing you to enjoy the 320 horsepower from the direct injection flat six even more.
Our instructor took each one of us out on a demonstration of the slalom, teaching us the finer points on handling the mid-engined Spyder. After our demo runs, we then took on the course ourselves.
Off the line, the Spyder comes alive. Weaving in and out of the cones was easy, but our instructor advised me to use less steering input. At the turnaround come, I just let it rip, powering out a little sideways just to get out on the return slalom a little quicker. Back in the stop box, we were told our times, and started heading back to the main hospitality area. Hopefully my time would be quick enough as Patrick wanted someone from our group to take the win.
Another sector done, and on to the next one we went as it was time for the main event: the Handling tests. Like I said before, Clark Speedway was split up into two distinct sections. The newer, northern section of the track comprised one short track, while the original southern section was another.
The northern part of the speedway was Handling 1, and for this exercise we were handed a pair of Cayennes and a pair of Panameras. Leading the pack was a 997 Carrera 4S, and immediately we can see how we can easily keep up on the straights while behind the wheel of the Panamera Turbo; we had, after all, 500 horsepower at our disposal from the twin turbo V8 under that long bonnet. The long straight leading up to the mini corkscrew that comprises turn 1 of the full Clark Speedway was easy in the Turbo. The turns were a different matter but nevertheless, with all the sport modes on, it handles itself very, very well for such a heavy German machine. Same goes for the Panamera S Hybrid.
The Cayenne Turbo was the surprising one, especially since we just tried it out on the off road course. After switching on sport mode and lowering the ride height to bring down the center of gravity a bit, we head out on the track again. It's still heavy and tall, but it does have the power of the twin turbocharged V8 in the Panamera, as well as four wheel drive, so it handles itself very well too. The Cayenne S Hybrid was also in the line, and does about the same in the handling department minus the straight line thrills of the Turbo.
The best part was coming up still, as this time, for Handling 2 on the original short track of Clark, we hopped into what made Porsche such an icon for the past 50 years: the 911. All the cars in Handling 2 were various versions of the naturally aspirated 911 with the 991 Carrera, 991 Carrera S, and even the 997 GTS, with the addition of the mid engined Cayman S.
Leading the pack in the hands of our instructor, Patrick Freisacher, was the one we all wanted to drive: the 911 (997) Carrera GT3, the most hardcore of the cars in attendance. Like Handling 1, we were to follow his lead and his line which, as the way Clark Speedway was designed, comprised of late apex corners.
Gradually we built up speed, getting a feel for the 991 that we were driving right behind Patrick. With all the sport electronics on, it really does feel like a track car and just as well, because Patrick was really starting to give his car some go. The throaty rumble from the flat six with the exhaust fully opened is intoxicating; you just want to keep accelerating just to get more of that sweet sound.
After a few laps, we then rotated to the other cars on the line. The Cayman S was my favorite. I love the 911, but the Cayman with its mid-engined layout simply felt more balanced on the track. How I wish they made a Cayman Turbo, but something tells me they're afraid it might hurt the 911 Turbo's sales... based on it's driving dynamics, a turbo Cayman will.
With the end of handling exercises, the day's driving was done... but Porsche and the instructors had another treat for all of us.
To fully demonstrate what Porsche's cars can truly do in the hands of the pro, we'll be riding shotgun with them on an all out attack of the full Clark International Speedway. More to the point, they wanted to give us a white knuckle ride. Bring it on. We drew out of a bowl which car we'll be riding in: the GT3, the 991, GTS or the Boxster Spyder. I drew the Boxster, and, as luck would have it, Patrick was the guy behind the wheel. Time to see what an ex-F1 driver can really do with the baby of the Porsche line... I'm sure i'll learn a lot by watching his line and braking points.
We enter the main straight, and he's letting the engine rip it up, shifting all the way into the redline, maxing out every single gear. His braking point coming into turn 1 was earlier than what I remember, but I realized that we were well over 220 kilometers per hour at this point.
Driving Clark in a race-prepped compact car is very different than driving a Porsche with 320 horsepower. What was very remarkable was the balance of the car at speed, as you can see Patrick just ease the car into every corner and power out of every exit. Judging by the slide angle (and tire smoke) of the rear-engined 911 GT3 drifting in front, they were having probably having more fun, but we were just going neat and, more importantly, fast. Very fast.
At the end of the lap, I just took a second to absorb every sensation I had just experienced whether it be while standing at the side of the track, sitting on the passenger seat or behind the wheel. This was indeed an experience unlike any other... and so ends our day at the Porsche World Roadshow.
As it turns out, Brent Co (AutoIndustriya.com) had the 3rd best time in the slalom while James Deakin (C! Magazine) had 2nd place. My time of 18.47 seconds was good enough to take first. I love this day. Thank you Porsche. 'Til we meet again.
- For interested parties, the Porsche World Roadshow runs until Sunday, February 12. Slots are limited, so give PGA Cars a call. The fee for a day of high octane fun? Just PhP 15,000.