Originally called “Porsche Camp4”, the esteemed German manufacturer’s winter driving experience has been re-badged “Porsche Ice Experience” for 2019. Taking place in just four places around the globe (and just one in North America, the Mecaglisse Circuit northeast of Montreal, QC), it puts attendees through a selection of winter driving experiences on a completely frozen track. It’s offered at three levels, each level representing more complex manoeuvres in faster cars: Ice Experience, Ice Force, and Ice Force Pro. We’d be taking part in an abridged Ice Experience curriculum, but considering what we experienced, I can only imagine how extreme the entire three-day Experience would be. What follows is a rundown of the cars we drove, as well as some of the tips and tricks we learned.
The Porsche 911 remains one of the most popular and high-performing sports cars of all time. Even today, on the eve of the release of the next generation 992 model, the previous-gen 991.2 continues to impress in Carrera T (370 hp, 331 lb-ft), S, and 4S forms (420 hp, 368 lb-ft), which is what we were going to be driving. While they may look stock, our cars were different for one important reason: they would all be fitted with Nokian Hakkapelitta tires – sprouting 1.5 mm studs. Righty-o.
Watch where you’re going
It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to ensure you keep your car on the straight and narrow – even in slippery conditions like these – is to watch where you’re going. Porsche’s instructors maintain that as long as your eyes are looking at the right thing, your hands will instinctively follow. It may seem obvious, but as things start to get faster on a paved track – or more sideways on a slippery one – our eyes often fall to the ground immediately in front of us as opposed to 30-50 feet down the track, where they’re supposed to be. That gives you the time you need to properly set up your car not just for the next turn, but perhaps the turn after, too.
Know your physics and your brakes are your friend
“You really want to work with the weight of the car,” said Kees Nierop, former professional race driver turned instructor at the Ice Experience. “If you’ve seen rallying on video, the car is always loose, the car is always sliding.”
One of the key ways to manage the weight transfer of your car is by using your brakes. Granted, the number one job for brakes is to slow the car, but here, it also helps get more traction to the front wheels as more weight gets transferred forwards, so the car can better rotate through the turn. A perfect turn on snow will have the driver lift off the throttle, turn the wheel, and apply the brakes. That gets the weight of the car working for you, instead of against you.
If you don’t get the weight working in your favour, you risk causing an understeer event. What happens there is you’re too eager with the throttle, which forces the weight off of the front wheels and the nose will then start pushing wide. At that point, no amount of steering angle will save you because there isn’t enough weight over the front wheels for the grip required. We took to a snowy skidpad to learn how to avoid understeer; essentially, once you feel that nose start to push wide – much easier to detect than you may think – you want to get off the throttle, sending the weight forward and back over the front wheels. Now, you have the grip needed to get you through the turn.
The opposite side of this, of course, is oversteer; you’ve turned in too much, the rear end has stepped too far out, and you’re risking a spin scenario. At that point, your eyes once again come in to play.
“You got to look where you want to go. Steer in that direction,” said Neerop. And what is that direction? Well, in an oversteer condition, you want to steer in the opposite direction that you’re currently heading. It’s not about where the mass of the car is headed; it’s about where the front wheels are pointed, and how much throttle you’re inputting. Too much, and you’ll be around; too little, and you’ll just keep sliding into the not-so-warm embrace of a snowbank. A proper throttle input will get the back end in line, and your car continuing in the direction you want.
Art of the drift
Drifitng; we all know about it, whether it’s from watching your favorite car chase scene for the 100th time, or Formula D on YouTube, or…well, you get my…never mind.
While you may think you know all about it – I know I did – and that you can carry a drift over a complete “lap” of a snowy skidpad, you’re probably wrong. You’re probably wrong because while you may think — again, as I did – that a tour of a skidpad is just one extended oversteer scenario, it’s actually not. It’s not because ideally, there’s no steering done whatsoever. The stability control systems in these cars are so advanced that a perfect tour of a skidpad is not done by constantly steering into the drift; oh no. A perfect tour of the skidpad happens with almost no steering input whatsoever, but plenty of throttle modulation.
Also known as the “Scandanavian Flick” or the “Rally Flick”, this was perhaps the most challenging exercise of the day.
Essentially, it combined everything we had learned during the day – from throttle manipulation, to weight transfer, to braking and steering – and put it all in one, single move. Once again, it’s all about weight transfer; the goal with a Scadanavian Flick – so named for the flying Finns and Swedes who perfected it on the rally stages of the ‘60s and ‘70s – is to get the car rotating through a slick turn as quickly as possible. That means applying the lift, turn, brake method one second, inducing a spot of oversteer the next to get the rear end swinging back ‘round (there’s your pendulum) and a dab of throttle and countersteer to pull you through the turn exit. It may sound simple, but when you’re on snow – or worse, ice, because this is kind of what happens as the snow gets compacted over the course of a day – it isn’t. G’head. Get it on your first try, without Kees Nierop yelling at you through the walkie. I dare you.
While pulling off the perfect – OK, near perfect…OK, as near to perfect as I’m going to get – Scandanavian Flick is rewarding, the open course is probably the most fun event of the say. Picture a World Rally Championship Super Special Stage or rallycross course – just without the pressure of a timer – and you’ve pretty much got it. Just you, a walkie, a drive partner (in my case, it happened to be my intrepid Wheels.ca colleague, Jim Kenzie) a Porsche and the course. Elevation changes, chicanes, and the encouragement of a team of red-jacketed trackside instructors telling you to go more sideways are the orders of the day, and it’s absolutely addictive. You find yourself trying to perfect small sections of the course – maybe you want to hang a drift around the entirety of that hairpin, or swing your tail just so through that one fast right-left-right sequence; whatever. It’s all here for the taking, and it’s wide open. Hard to imagine a better way to have fun on four wheels in the snow, this side of an ATV in the backcountry.
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