Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila
MOTORING journalists, like the box of chocolates Forrest Gump talked about, are an assorted bunch. Yes, you never know what you’ll get next. Contrary to what you probably think, ours is not a homogenous group — at least as far as driving skills go. Entertaining that premise begs the question: How then can we properly or comprehensively write about cars that push the performance envelope?
Stuttgart-based supercar maker Porsche, with its pantheon of track-bred vehicles, decided to help remedy that veritable disconnect.
Porsche Asia Pacific first unveiled the Porsche Media Driving Academy (MDA) in 2015 at Bira Circuit in Pattaya, Thailand, to allow “media to experience the maximum performance of Porsche cars through consecutive courses designed to sharpen driving skills in a safe environment with world-class Porsche instructors.”
This year’s recent staging (third overall), was held at the pristine 5.5-kilometer, Formula 1 venue that is the Sepang International Circuit in Selangor, Malaysia. Participants who came from 10 countries across the Asia-Pacific region were classified into Individual, Professional or Elite categories. So that you know, the Individual module “focuses on the fundamentals of vehicle control, including the slalom, braking, drag race and cornering exercises… [and] provides insights into the basic laws of physics relating to driving and handling as well as an introduction of various Porsche electronic driving aids for the use on and off the race track.” The Professional program teaches participants in “tackling bends accurately,” and allows them to complete full laps. Aside from exercises in braking and lane changes, instructors “integrate the curved slalom, as well as complex cornering exercises.”
Finally, the Elite program is tailored for journalists who are “accomplished drivers,” and is devised directly to support “sport-oriented driving.” Trail braking, controlled over-steering, and driving exercises allow participants to “gain insights and experience the full performance of Porsche cars.”
Along with track activities, participants were administered theory workshops, including a motor sports conditioning session, driving physics workshop, and a Q&A session with Porsche-certified instructors.
To be experienced were Porsche rockets; from the mid-engine 718 Boxster, to 911s, and, significantly, the all-new Panamera Turbo and 4S.
This being my first time at the Porsche MDA, I was classified under Individual and was thrust wide-eyed into the action, following a short briefing at a Sepang function room. Heading our expert Porsche guides was Matthias Hoffsummer, who taught us the basic concepts of vehicle control. He told us about (nerd alert) the friction circle (also known as the circle of forces or traction circle), which basically shows the maximum forces you can transfer to road via the vehicle’s tires.
Also in attendance for our day of lessons and exercises was race car champ Earl Bamber, who arrived fresh from a victorious stint at the legendary and longest-running endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Along with teammates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley, Mr. Bamber piloted the Porsche No.2 919 Hybrid LMP1 onto victory — Porsche’s 19th win and third-straight at Le Mans overall.
Our batch of journalists was divided into groups of six (or so), and ushered off straightaway into action. First up was the so-called “moose test,” to sharpen our lane-changing ability in an emergency situation — as when an obstacle (such as a, well, moose) suddenly appears on the road. Cones did the trick in our exercise, of course. We were given a number of runs — first with the PSM, or Porsche Stability Management, switched on, then later with it switched off. After gaining speed, we were instructed to let off the throttle and (without braking) make a lane change to the right, then left. The Porsche 911 Carrera S handled the abuse well. With the PSM on, the car was kept nonplussed through the maneuver. Disengaged, there was some steering effort to keep things stable, and I felt more play and protest on the body. Lesson: Keep both hands on the wheel at all times (if you didn’t know that already).
Next came the braking exercise — make that hard-braking exercise — aboard a tasty Miami Blue 911 Turbo S. After asking us to floor the throttle, we were told to brake as hard as we could until the ABS engaged. If you didn’t know it yet, the ABS feature keeps the wheels from locking up and skidding even during harsh braking at speed. You’ll know the ABS kicks in when you feel a throbbing. The 911 Turbo S, which can zip to 100kph from standstill in 2.9 seconds, was surely near that figure when I stepped hard on the brake pedal. The ABS kicked in, and I was able to safely avoid a line of cones (well, okay, I tipped one over — my bad) even in this adverse situation.
After this, it was time to stretch the legs of some Porsches via guided driving with Mr. Bamber. This portion of our hands-on training allowed us to appreciate handling. Among the points driven home: When tackling bends, take them slowly in and safely out; brake (hard) and correct the car’s speed before turning; accelerate smoothly after the apex and “open” the steering wheel as you exit the turn, where you look is where you drive.
The rest of this exercise was much about enjoying the handling of the Porsches — and the rare pleasure of reaching 210kph and faster aboard these Stuttgart rockets. And, of course, as one among us correctly opined, driving on Sepang is bucketlist stuff.
Definitely a highlight of the day (at least for me) was the slalom exercise using a 718 Boxster. Quick tips when doing a slalom, from the people at Porsche: Steer quickly but gently, do not rick the car (keep it balanced), sometimes less is more, and avoid under-steering. Our skilled (and funny) instructor Admi Shahrul reminds us to have “the hands of a surgeon and the feet of a ballerina,” to keep us relaxed and steady at the wheel. It seems to have worked as I was able to eke out the quickest time in our batch. Wonders never cease. I even got to savor standing on the highest step of the podium, uncorking a bottle of bubbly while wearing a victor’s wreath around my neck. How cool is that? Can’t think of a better way to cap off my Porsche MDA experience, which ought to help me become a better piece of, well, motoring journalist chocolate.
PORSCHE TOPS APEAL STUDY
PORSCHE said it has retained its status among US customers as it topped the 22nd Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study conducted by J.D. Power. The company said it has bested the overall ranking for the 13th consecutive time.
The APEAL study determines how attractive vehicles are to the American market by examining 77 characteristics across 10 categories. Along with driving dynamics and design, a vehicle’s day-to-day usability and comfort are considered.
Porsche said its 911, Cayenne and Macan models took the top positions in their categories.
More than 69,000 new-car owners were interviewed in the survey that assessed 243 models coming from 33 manufacturers.