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Porsche Winter Driving Experience: May the Ice Force Be with You

Owning a sports car is pure luxury. To move a sports car in an appropriate manner is the high art of driving. But where can you do that nowadays at all? On the German Autobahn?
Porsche 911 Turbo S (991) 41 photos
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As a German author, let me disappoint you: our highways are far worse than their reputation because the advertised mobility for free (and fast) citizens is no longer entirely accurate and, between ourselves, driving at high speed in a straight line becomes boring after a few miles.

On a race track? Good approach, but modern sports cars are such marvels of technology that most of us - blessed with average driving skills - are not able to drive them to the limits but just under the limit imposed by last electronic safety wire. That hurts most of the time, not only in a monetary but also in a physical way.

So, what you want is a reserve where you can hoon cars undisturbed and where you can only dent your own ego and not the car's bodywork if you go off the track. Sports car manufacturer Porsche is aware of this problem and provides a beautiful solution: "Come to our Driving Experience Winter! Our latest 911 Turbo and Turbo S are waiting for you with studded tires."

Studded tires? At first glance, it sounds utterly absurd to fit 305-millimeter-wide winter tires, provided with four-millimeter long iron pins, on a masterpiece of driving dynamics like a "Neunelf turbo." But a set of sticky UHP tires would be much more absurd in the freezer of Europe.

At the top of Finland, above the Arctic Circle 


If you want to Google it: Levi is the name of the village. Anyone who gets there is interested in only one thing: winter sports. Most people are using a pair of skis in this area, but some use a Porsche.

But why on snow and ice? Because having 520 or even 560 horses in the back is much more predictable on slippery surfaces than on dry asphalt.

A paradox? Not at all, even if you know from your own experience: ice usually means no traction and incredibly long stopping distances. Not to mention that we're talking about Porsche's mightiest 911 with far too much power. Not even studded tires should help when the boost of two turbochargers kicks in, right?

On the night before the event, I had an adrenaline rush instead of an endorphin release by thinking of a hellish mixture of Swabian engineering, Finnish ice, and steeled rubber.

But a day at the Porsche Driving Experience has a rather restrained start, which is also in complete darkness due to the time of the year. During the first meeting, the instructors are flooding your brain in the shortest time with technical terms: Circle of forces, grip limit, lateral traction, yaw moment, wheel load distribution, understeer, oversteer, etc.

Before it started feeling like my head would explode the sun had risen and that was the signal. Because the days are short at the Arctic Circle, daylight must be used until the last minute. So we got out of the classroom, got into the perfectly warmed-up four wheel drive coupé and learned how to drift, to waltz and as a triumphant finale to control a Scandinavian Flick in the snow.

Snow plowing with a Porsche


On the first handling course you approach the machine carefully. There is this respect-commanding rumble, ascending from the deepest depth of the back from the Zuffenhausen sports car every time you give the accelerator a tiny bit of a sharper eye.

The massive 700 Newton meters (516 lb-ft) of torque and the person behind the shift paddles are coming closer, until step by step my senses are getting sharpened and re-calibrated. So the feast for my seat-of-the-pants feel is picking up speed, but then the inevitable comes out of sheer personal arrogance: the "departure" into the snow wall.

Stuck deep in the white powder, you are ashamed to call a Cayenne via walkie-talkie to tow you back on track. But I was told not to feel embarrassed because only those who exceed the limits of physics realize exactly where this thin line between grip and slip is running.

On the other hand, you should have listened to what the instructor yelled on his radio a little bit better. But unfortunately, you're still too engaged with yourself and your out-of-control snow plow to handle the "counter-steer, counter-steer" or "hit the gas, gas, gas" messages.

Yes, the power of the bi-turbo monster is huge and constantly demands your highest concentration. Otherwise it snaps and then you are caught by the all-wheel-drive system docked to the flat six.

This drivetrain is impressively smart and is calculating the optimum force distribution so you can accelerate or counter-steer. So you have to outwit the power going to all four wheels, although it is still your best friend and actually pulls you out from the most abstruse drift angles.

Finally, you can realize how to trick the system and you are able to destabilize the 991 on the big circular area course by a short burst of acceleration. You can then stabilize the car in a fraction of a second by not counter-steering and opening the steering until all four wheels are pointing in one direction.

And when you are close to the rev limiter, you twitch the flappy pedals until the dual-clutch transmission has reached fourth gear and then it happens: the speedo needle trembles close to the 200 km/h (124 mph) label and the snow flies in a wonderful white long trail behind you while sliding slowly sideways. In reality, you are traveling at half the speed, but that doesn't make it less impressive, and yes, I had massive goosebumps and had to shout for joy like a little boy.

Just like a child, you are starting to play by controlling the radius with the right foot, because you have learned something today: more gas is producing more slip to let you drift in a slower motion.

After this experience, suddenly, it all makes sense. You finally understand the statement of rally legend Walter Röhrl, who said that the most stable driving condition is with an unstable car on ice. But then a squawk is heard again from the walkie-talkie: "How long will you stay out there? Until you run out of gas? You'd better come to section number 10, which is the best handling course we have out here on the ice."

Oh yes, you cry with happiness and the sweat evaporates on your forehead. The air con is working hard against the steamed-up windows. Outside it is bitterly cold, but inside your 991 is hot like in a sauna.

You fought, you spun the steering wheel like hell, you tried to always look where you wanted to go, and most of the time, these views went through the icy side window, and at the end of it all, you are completely exhausted. But when the last sun ray disappears in the Finnish woods, a wonderful cozy feeling of deep satisfaction is rising in you. And your instructor nods in agreement.

Equipped with studded tires, the Porsche 991 Turbo, and Turbo S are simply incredible animals in this wonderful sports car reserve that the Stuttgart-based company has created.

But does one need a 911 in his own garage to get to live these experiences? No, but the approximately 4,000 Euro (approx. $4,356) are well-invested money to take a plunge on the ice of the Porsche Driving Center in Levi. Because the Ice Force driving experiences gained are simply priceless.

 
 
 
 
 

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