Accelerated Learning: Inside The Porsche Track School
The problem with owning a Porsche is that if you drive it as fast as it wants to be driven, you’ll be arrested. Not at track school.
Finding out how crap you actually are at doing something you love can be surprisingly enjoyable, and even more so if the person pointing out your failings can actually teach you to fix them.
While this might sound like I’ve had an illuminating meeting with an ex-girlfriend, it was actually something far more exciting; a day at the Porsche Sport Driving School in Queensland.
This magical place is a boon for those who actually own Porsches yet never get to enjoy them the way their maker intended, and an even more wondrous experience for those who simply dream of owning one.
The School offers various levels of training, from the “Woo hoo, no speed limits!” Level 1, right up to the Level 4 track day we tried, which is more like “Oh my god, a bloke who won Bathurst is teaching me how to race a car, I must not weep tears of joy in my helmet”.
Our classroom was the viciously fast, track-focused 911 GT3 RS, and Luke Youlden, who won the Great Bogan Race at Mt Panorama this very year, was our teacher, and we also had a dedicated race engineer, who would download the data from each of our 40 laps over the day and then sit us down and talk to us like we were the slow kids at the back of the class.
Even this was enjoyable, surprisingly, as he overlaid the telemetry of my lap with one driven by an actual racing driver, and I could see just how far too early I was braking, and how slow my resulting corner speeds, and lap time, were.
It all makes perfect sense on a screen, of course, and in your mind you know that going faster is as simple as braking a bit later as you approach the first turn of the Queensland Raceway circuit at 190km/h, and then taking the corner at around 140km/h.
The problem is that I’m not a racing driver, which means that I feel something called “fear”, which is clearly not an emotion the slightly unusual brains of these unique sportsmen ever experience.
You start the day by doing a lap with your instructor, during which Youlden made driving fast look about as stressful as eating cheese. Fortunately he’s a great teacher, because otherwise he’d be really annoying. His practical instructions on not fighting the wheel and being gentle rather than mental with the brakes quickly add to your feeling for the manic 911, and your lap times genuinely, and satisfyingly, do start to fall. It soon becomes clear, however, just how much driving fast is a matter of mind over matter.
As Tomas Mezera, the Porsche Sport Driving School’s chief instructor, and a Bathurst winner himself, explains, you are basically fighting your fear.
“Our human reactions, they’re not good for driving, they’re good for walking, but not for driving fast,” he says.
“And you’ll find your body tensing up as it fights what you’re trying to do, and that tension is your biggest enemy. You need to relax in the car, because if you’re tense, it’s just a matter of time until you spear off.”
He’s right, too, because I think I was genuinely too tense when I almost killed myself, and the precious $300,000 Porsche I was driving, late in the day.
I was, as Youlden immediately told me (he watches you from a distance, chatting to you through a walkie talkie, because he’s not stupid enough to get in the car at speed with amateurs), “too greedy with the throttle”, and tried to go too fast when the car was still slightly sideways coming out of a bend.
The result was that the searingly fast GT3 911 RS I was in suddenly slid sideways, towards the dirt at the side of the track, at around 140km/h. I think I may have sucked part of the seat into my intestine at that point, but somehow a combination of not panicking with my hands, and the intervention of clever traction software, kept me on the road. Just.
That was probably the lowlight of the day, but there were too many highlights to mention. Every single lap in a car as sharp, solid, shouty and almost mind-readingly fluid as this Porsche, at speed, was a hoot.
It’s easy to see why people are happy to pay $3850 for the experience (after having paid $1485 each for Levels 1 and 2, and $1870 for Level 3), and why some people even go on to Level 5, which costs $6600 and gets you a day in an actual GT3 Carrera Cup race car.
At the end of one of these days you’ll be closer to being a proper racing driver than you’ve ever been, but you’ll also realise just how unlikely it is you’ll ever actually get near them.
Published 21 December, 2017