Vikrant-Venkat, I’m sending you to Dubai. Porsche is conducting its sport driving school experience and I want you to attend and improve your driving.
Me- holding poker face and voice-Okay superb, I’m very excited thanks for the opportunity.
Vikrant- Excellent now go and become a better driver! Bye
Me-Oh my god, oh my god (cue teenage girl screaming). I’m going to drive Porsches in Dubai!
And that is how my adventure began for one of the best driving opportunities that I have ever come across in all my 28 years of existence. I’m not best driver in the world or for that matter in my team and this was a chance for me to earn my team tattoo (figuratively).
Our story begins at the Dubai Autodrome on a lovely desert winter morning. As we pulled in to the parking lot, what I saw laid out instantly made my special places very happy. In front of us was every single Porsche ready for us auto journos to thrash on the track!
After getting all fanboyish around the cars we were ushered into a conference room and briefed on the driving school, track safety and most importantly the different driving experiences we were going to undertake that day. Briefing done, we were divided in to groups and headed off to various parts of the track to begin the proceedings.
Our first exercise was to understand emergency lane change situations. Bundled into the Macan and Cayenne, we were asked to approach a grid of cones designed to look like a large obstacle on the road and manoeuvre around the setup.
Many of us struggled to initially master the manoeuvre and fumbled. This prompted, Swen and Klaus, our instructors, to pour some water on the spot near the ‘obstacle’ cone as marker to give us a better idea of where to place the wheels while going past. This small tip helped most of us clear the challenge successfully.
What I thought was a really tough task turned out to be quite a bit of fun but equally challenging as I had to maintain a balance between speed and momentum when it came to achieving a good time on the track. As for the second lesson of You will go where you look, I still have phrases like ‘Look at the road and not the cones’ and ‘keep the throttle constant’ in Swen’s German accented English playing in repeated loops in my head whenever I recollect the entire slalom episode.
Boss Level challenge.
The first three words that popped into my head when it came to the wet circle challenge. In gaming terms this describes the hardest challenge in the whole setup. This was my boss level, my Everest, the middle button on my shirt after a heavy lunch and I was determined to emerge out on top.
Its aim was to teach us how to react to understeer and oversteer. You had to drive round and round the laid out wet portion with the traction control (TC) switched off to induce over and understeer and learn to react to them.
I moved to the wet pad and made multiple attempts to induce understeer but could not do so. Finally Klaus came and did a small check and realised that the TC had been switched on when I restarted the car.
Things got real this time around as the car reacted in a completely different manner. I was able to achieve a minor level of success when it came to understeer but only after three tries. The aim is to get off the throttle when the car is understeering allowing you to bring it back in line.
We were then given a point and told that this was the reference for where we could attempt to induce oversteer and catch the car. You have to mash the throttle and catch the back of the car as it steps out. Sounds easier said than done…as I was told on every attempt to go faster and faster eventually spinning out and facing the other way. I even tried to repeat the feat in a 911 Carrera 4S and was successful on my last try.
After lunch we moved to the final activities for the day the first of which was the braking test. Lining up the cars, we were told to head in to the cones at 80kmph and then stand on the brakes. If we did not stop before the ‘obstacle cone’ then we had to manoeuvre around the object till the car halted completely.
We headed back to the pits and after gearing up, were divided in to groups- fast and faster (As there is no concept of going slow in a Porsche- Swen’s words, not mine). Given my lack of track time, I chose to go with the fast group which turned out to be just me and another auto journalist (Oh yeah!)
Bundled into the Macan S, we followed Swen in the Boxster S for the sighting lap which gave us an idea of the racing lines. The Autodrome’s 2.4km club circuit included a rising chicane section as well as flowing corners.
This is perhaps the most fun I have ever had in my life and I could not have asked for a better set of cars to be in. It was unbelievable how the Macan S was able to hold the line every single lap and despite quite a bit of tyre squealing,
I was able to follow Swen lap after lap. We even got the chance to sit with him in the Boxster and watch him attack the corners but still be ice-cool and give tips on how to improve our lines.
As the laps progressed, the pace began to get quicker and it got to a point where I managed to hit 195kmph on the main straight. This is not a huge number in a controlled environment but when you consider that the car is a hefty 1.9 tonnes, this speed can give you jitters and more so when you have missed your braking line and have to stand hard on the brakes to not end up becoming trackside damage.
After about 10 laps, we switched to the 911 Carrera S. Sitting lower down and in a far more capable car, the track came alive and soon I was able to keep up with the lead car on a continuous basis. I was hitting the racing lines and able to blast out of the corners with much ease.
For me the highlight of this part of the driving school experience was about five laps in when Swen buzzed me on the radio and said ‘Venkat, catch me’ and took off. It now dawned on me that the previous laps and all our exercises were preparation for me to respond to a challenge like this.
Unfortunately my shoulder gave way just before my final two laps and I had to call it a day with my consolation prize being an aural and visual treat of 911s blasting their way down the main straight.
At the end of the day, we wrapped up the session and headed up to the conference rooms where we did pictures, felicitations and even prize distribution where I won myself a Cayman GT4 scale model and most importantly a certificate that would allow me to go for the next level of the Sport Driving School.
I had arrived at the track a (seemingly) young and inexperienced driver full of hope, fear and quite a lot of energy. 12 hours later , I left it tired but now a confident and mature man thanks to techniques and chance to experience what is undoubtedly one of the best handling cars in the world.