New Zealand track day with Porsche
The 911 first rolled off the production line in 1963. Originally numbered 901 (but had to change do to another car brand laying claim to having a zero in its name) it was a more powerful replacement to the 356. This 2+2 sports car had a 1991cc flat 6 engine that was rear mounted, air cooled and generated 96kW’s. In essence that’s all she wrote – in over half a century the fundamental design has remained the same (a 911 is instantly recognizable) and all Porsche have done is ‘fine tune’ the original – sure they have!
I was invited to Hampton Downs on a Continental Cars/Porsche customer drive day, it was a chance to get acquainted with the new and improved 911 plus get a behind the scenes look at some of the people that drive these sports cars – both were eye openers. The lineup of cars was impressive, from GT3 and 2’s to Cayman’s, Carrera’s to Cabriolets, from customer owned to drive cars unfortunately the storm clouds had decided to tag along too (should be interesting). Thankfully we were under the expert guidance of Tim and his team at Downforce, experts at keeping us out of trouble.
The large group was split into three teams – some went off to try their hands at negotiating minimal traction the skidpan while others took to giving slalom a go on the rain sodden track, I took the chance to get to know more about the third group of owners that drank flat whites, at cinnamon rolls and patiently waited their turn. Now I’ve done this before so I should know what to expect by now but it always comes as a bit of a surprise, you see they are virtually all like you or me – who would have thought! Yes they are possible more financially successful than several of us but then again maybe not. They are not necessarily more driven either but one thing that is almost immediately apparent is that they certainly know their cars and their motor racing. 0-100 speeds, top speeds and track times are brandished around like phone numbers and even if you decide to take out a hint of bravado they really grab your attention. The other thing that was notable was that for most of the owners this wasn’t the first time of attending these drivers days – in fact one of them does around 5-7 a year, these are people that want to get the most out of their cars on and off the track.
With the exercises out of the way it was on to the laps and with the rainfall increasing we had a speed limit of 160kph – don’t groan, 160 in the soaking wet is more than enough to raise the pulse. Continental had two cars available for me to drive, the Carrera 4 (all wheel drive) and the Carrera S (rear wheel drive), so it was hair nets and helmets on and off to the pits.
First up for me was (thankfully) the 4 – all wheel drive in the wet does give you a hint more confidence! I won’t go in depth on the new 911 right now as I will be reviewing them soon, but the moment you slip in behind the wheel you feel at ease. Hard to describe exactly but it’s like slipping on a pair of perfectly fitting gloves. Don’t think ski gloves or mittens, think fine Hairsheep Cabretta leather or Peccary on the outside with a Cashmere or Chamois lining, think perfectly formed around each of your digits with zero excess at your fingertips and think handmade to exacting standards. The Carrera 4 has a 6 cylinder 3 litre engine at the rear that delivers 272kW’s at 6,500 rpm and 450Nm from 1,500 to 5,000. 0-100 is a shade over 4 seconds and a top speed of 290. With a downforce instructor comfortably beside me it was time to head off, out of the pits and off towards turn two. A blast of acceleration as we hit the track and not a hint of a wiggle, the 911’s traction handling the wet conditions with ease; before heavy braking as we ran below the overbridge. It’s been a while since I’ve been behind the wheel of a Porsche and I had forgotten how well these cars pull up. It’s been described as a pendulum effect (as the weight of the rear mounted engine raises it pushes down on the car’s front wheels – meaning the 911 crouches under braking) it’s a very reassuring feeling – in any weather. Set up well for the right hander and I turned in and started to get into the rhythm of the track. The Carrera 4 felt sweet on the corners and could more than handle the main straight at 160(ish). Three or four laps later and it was time to hit the pits for a change of car.
The Carrera S is quite a different beast. It looks and feel the same 9 (or at least similar) inside and out but things change under motion. 6 cylinders and 3 Litres again but this time 309Kw’s and 500Nm – these numbers attached to only 2 wheels changes the dynamics considerably. With a 306kph top speed and a 0-100 rate that bridges the 4 second mark; it feels a lot friskier. Quite rightly; I gave the S a little more respect but by the time I got to turn 6 I assumed I had it all under control – wrong. The tight left hander drops down and turn speeds are slow, there is a long straight ahead of you as you exit and if you decide to be a bit enthusiastic (both in power and timing) on the accelerator the result is an adrenaline rush producing tail wag. The Carrera S was totally controllable and the smile it put on my face is well worth doing but it certainly held my attention from then on.
Despite the nasty weather the day at the track was a pile of fun and it’s very easy to see why the owners keep coming back for more. It’s a hint of madness in a controlled environment, it’s a chance for them to stretch the legs of their high performance machines without having to keep them at 100 and it’s a chance to share stories and numbers with other Porsche driving enthusiasts. The day proved that it’s a sports car that only constantly changes but also remains the same.
So to sum it all up; it doesn’t matter if it’s 901, 912, 930, 964, 993, 996, 991 or 997 the numbers all add to the same thing – the amazing Porsche 911.
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