My biceps would rival Arnie’s in his heyday thanks to the workout they’re getting. No, I’m not at the gym screaming “feel the burn” with a pair of 50kg dumbbells in either hand.
I’m at the Porsche Driving Experience centre situated at Silverstone Circuit, the home of British motorsport and I’m manoeuvring the fat steering of the new Boxster S, trying to correct a slide that I’ve been put into by a kick plate.
It’s proving as painful as pumping iron. Turning the wheel as quickly as I can to the left, then the right then the left again has caused veins which I didn’t existed, to pop out from my forearms. Stallone would be impressed.
But, as I try and fail for the umpteenth time to try and keep from ending up in an imaginary ditch, I can sense the previously mild-mannered and polite Mike Dumville, my instructor for the day, begin to crack. He’s grinding his teeth in frustration at my ineptness.
I try to break the tension. “I don’t have to worry about rain or black ice anymore, Mike. I left the UK for the UAE!” He’s having none of it and wants me to try again until I get it right. I shouldn’t be surprised at the level of commitment he’s showing to the (lost) cause because at this purpose built centre, erected in 2008, the whole point is to make you, the proud owner of that new Porka, drive it better.
But, as Mike pointed out earlier at the Porsche Restaurant, overlooking the 3.1km long track and parts of the imposing stands of Silverstone located a stones throw away, this place is for anyone who wishes to improve their skills, whether they have a Porsche or not.
You can even bring your own car on specific days throughout the year. I don’t think I’d want to risk getting a scratch on my Trans Am out here, but since this Boxster S is not mine, I’m well prepared to place it in a hedge.
It has to go through a variety of checks such as the pressure of the tyres, the brake pads, steering fluid levels, the amount of fuel that’s in the tank right up to how many Watts the battery is producing before I’m allowed to set off. I’m not just impressed by the meticulous attention to detail here. I’m amazed.
It’s been drizzling all morning and I’m wondering if my session will be cancelled as part of the track seems flooded. “You wouldn’t take the day off work if it was raining would you?” pipes up Mike. “Couldn’t I,” I retort. The fact it’s wet will help simulate proper road conditions. “Unless it’s absolutely chucking it down and the whole place is under water, we’re open.” We head out to the track and though I want to bury my foot into the carpet and unleash all 315 horses from the 3.4-litre flat six, I’m told to go slowly and study the circuit. He’s looking for precision and wants me to slice through corners with minimal steering inputs. “When can I floor it and try and hit the 277kph top speed?” I ask.
He responds by screaming, “BRAKES!” I slam the anchors and the Porsche skids to a halt. “Guess what that was?” he asks. “The brake test,” he smiles. So far so good as he places a little tick on a sheet of paper and we make our way to the ice hill. This section features a seven per cent downward slope with a pair of water fountains which act as chicanes. I’m supposed to drive between them and keep the tail from sliding out.
I negotiate the first fountain and cut the steering hard to the left and… the tail slides out. We slide backwards down the slope and Mike puts a cross on his piece of paper. The lesson here is simple. No matter how good stability and traction control is, it’s no match for black ice.
We move on to the low friction surface which simulates driving on snow. I’m warned that it’s just as slippery as the ice hill and not to overcook it. But with ESP and a host of other acronyms engaged, there’s no chance I’d be getting another cross. No sooner have we entered, I’m going sideways and have spun to a halt.
My next attempt proves more fruitful as I kick the tail out but keep it in check by feathering the throttle and going easy on the steering. We drift along for yards and it’s a moment of magic. Walter Rohl eat your heart out! And finally, I’m at the dreaded kick plate. Now, me and Mike had been getting on pretty well but I was testing his patience during this last test. He couldn’t wait to get out of the car as time and time again; I was flung helplessly in one direction and unable to bring the slide under control.
I was looking for an excuse that would sound technical and impressive. Spouting something about the chassis or suspension would score me a tick! But, all I could muster was, “the wheels must be wonky”.
Before he could fail me, I decided to give it one last go. We approached the long, slippery path. The kick plate tossed the rear end out to the left. The Boxster began to slide out of control but as quick as a flash I applied opposite lock and we drifted sideways for a good 30 metres.
Then with a dab of the throttle and with a little twist of the wheel back to the left and I’d steadied the car and finally got through this tricky test. Following a brief demonstration of the Cayennes off-road capability on a special section with 45 per cent declines and ascents, rough terrain and side slopes, it was time to say goodbye.
The wealth of knowledge and skills I had benefited from should stand me in good stead… if I ever encounter black ice on our sizzling roads. One thing’s for sure – my arms are so big I won’t need to lift any weights for some time.
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