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Porsche 911 an ideal starter car for Mosport

Bike buff Steve Bond tries track for first time on four wheels in a sports car.

  • Power supply for electric car charging. Electric cars charging station. Power supply plugged into an electric car being charged.

Passing the start/finish line at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (i.e. Mosport), I grabbed a quick downshift, steered the silver coupe towards the apex and casually mentioned to my passenger, David Empringham, “You know, I’ve never actually driven a car around here before.” And what better way to start than with a brand new 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera worth $110,000?

All my Mosport experience (literally thousands of laps), has been on motorcycles and includes two 24-hour races, one 12-hour, a couple of five-hour sprints, 20 years of solo racing as well as numerous practice sessions and track days.

Empringham’s racing resumé automatically gets him a “bye” in any Quality Individual contest you’d care to administer. He’s a two- time Formula Atlantic champ, Indy Light champion, Grand-Am Cup series winner and has won the Daytona 24-hour race.

Speaking of a “bye,” I was there at the invite of Rick Bye, Porsche Canada’s Fleet Manager and also the owner of an impressive racing resumé. He’s raced just about everything from the Rothman’s Porsche Challenge to NASCAR and is one of the most sought-after high performance driving instructors in North America.

Just the fact that I was driving two 2012 Porsche 911 Carreras (internally designated 991) around Mosport was cool enough, but having Empringham and Bye in the jump seats, giving me personal instruction was like having Clapton sit down and show you a few riffs. It was the icing on a quarter-million dollars worth of exotic German Black Forest cakes.

This wasn’t a big jazzy PR event, but an informal new car evaluation session at one of Apex Driver Training’s track days and as such, full driving suits and helmets weren’t required.

Empringham took a couple of laps to show me the basic lines and explain the rules of the road, all the while calmly chatting about this patch of pavement and that apex while sliding all four wheels in an impressive, controlled power drift all the way around the corner.

I first asked how the seat should be adjusted — hey, start with basics. “Ideally, get your arms as bent as possible while leaving enough room for your legs.” A slowish lap got me familiar with the Porsche’s seven-speed manual box and I started wicking it up.

Riding a motorcycle fast requires trail-braking well into the corner. This causes the forks to compress, tightens the steering geometry and helps the motorcycle to turn.

But when I trail-braked the Porsche over the top of the scary-fast turn two, it got all squirrelly. “We usually don’t trail-brake in cars,” Empringham explained. “Get your braking done before the corner, turn it in and you’ll feel the chassis settle. As soon as that happens, apply throttle and you’ll be able to steer the car with the gas pedal.”

Off the long backstraight I braked, turned the car in and felt the 911 lock into the turn. I fed in some throttle and the car drifted wide, but a bit of feathering pulled it back in. “Now you’re getting the idea,” said my instructor.

With Empringham’s encouragement, I kept pushing harder each lap, hitting my marks and getting on the gas earlier and harder. Through it all, David was a true professional. I only heard one sharp intake of breath and he only hit the imaginary brake pedal on his side once or twice.

Surprisingly, the lines you take in a car are pretty close to motorcycle lines, although if you get the car sliding, those four huge tire contact patches inspire confidence. Break the front or rear loose in the Porsche and the amazing chassis brings it right back. Do the same thing on a bike and there could be hospital food in your future.

I got a little exuberant with the gas pedal once and the thing snapped sideways, but a fistful of opposite lock and a, “Nice save” from Empringham had us back on course. I’ve seen over 250 km/h on the backstraight on some motorcycles, but the Porsche at 225 a couple of times.

Pretty fast for a car.

Next up was the $149,755 Cabriolet, which lists for $123,200 but had over $20,000 worth of options, including the $4,660 Porsche Doppel-Kupplunggetriebe (PDK for short) seven-speed transmission. This is their latest variation of a dual-clutch system and all I can say is, “Wow.” It shifted far quicker than I could with the paddle shifters and even anticipated when I’d need a downshift or two.

In “Sport Plus” mode, the PDK was way above what I’m capable of. In this setting, you almost have to drive at a professional level because the faster you drive, the better the PDK works. You must brake extremely forcefully and then apply foot-through-the-firewall, full throttle after apexing. Drive at 7/10ths in Sport Plus and the transmission just pouts and ignores you until you can get it together.

After a number of laps, I was improving but still not up to “Sport Plus” level, so I pulled in and asked Rick to demonstrate how it’s supposed to work. Whoo-hoo! He accelerated past the pedestrian bridge on the entrance to turn one, turned slightly then braked very hard, clipped the apex and blasted out at Warp 7. Through it all, the PDK system performed lightning-fast upshifts and when downshifting, it even cheekily blipped the throttle.

With motorcycles, it pays to be smooth with braking, steering and throttle inputs. Bye says it works with cars too but his definition differs greatly from mine. On one flying lap coming up the hill into Moss’ Corner, Bye braked the 911 so violently that my socks came out my mouth.

Afterwards, Empringham said I did a great job for someone without a lot of car experience. He said my speed was right up there, my lines were good and I seemed to have a good feel for what the car was doing.

Undoubtedly, my motorcycle racing experience helped a lot.

My sessions really impressed me with how easy and controlled the new Porsche 991s are to drive reasonably fast — even for someone like myself with very little high performance car experience.

  • Porsche 911 an ideal starter car for Mosport
  • Porsche 911 an ideal starter car for Mosport

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