ESTÉREL, QUE.-You can’t quite believe Mecaglisse when you first see it.
In summer, it looks like someone built a beautiful race track on the moon.
Except for all the trees.
In winter, it looks like someone built a beautiful race track at the North Pole.
Except for all the trees.
The 280-plus hectare property about an hour and a half due north of Montreal in the eastern Laurentians is a former gravel pit that was transformed by the father-and-son team of Vincent and Frank Kirchhoff into a world-class driver training centre.
Porsche uses it for its Camp4 program, designed not only to show off the all-weather capabilities of its cars, but to help its customers, employees and — yes, us media — learn how to better handle these cars in inclement weather conditions.
Three programs are offered, and you complete one before advancing to the next. All programs include accommodation at the Estérel Suites hotel, and most meals.
(A remarkably good lunch at Mecaglisse, I must say …).
The prices indicated below were for the 2017 programs which have now run their course. The 2018 schedule will be announced later, but the prices are expected to remain the same, or very nearly so.
Camp4 ($5,295), a two-day, three-night program, starts with the basics, including how to sit and where to look.
A series of exercises illustrates how the laws of physics apply to a vehicle in motion, and how you as a driver can bend them to your will.
Or else the laws of physics may bend the car to their will.
There are huge advantages to learning this stuff on snow. You can make the car do crazy things at speeds which still allow you time to recover.
And of course, snow is way softer than concrete walls or steel guard rails.
Camp4S ($6,495) is one day and one night longer, and ups the speed and complexity of the exercises to further explore the limits of both car and driver.
Camp4RS ($7,495), back to two days and three nights, raises the level even further.
The two earlier programs run on Nokian winter tires, equipped with 1.5-millimetre studs. Camp4RS lengthens those studs to 3 mm so you can experience how much grip these add, and how much more challenging these exercises get as the speed increases.
Chief instructor Jonathan Urlin has assembled a staff of teachers, most of whom are current or former race car drivers, some young, some — well, getting up there.
One such is the still-youthful 59-year-old Kees Nierop from Kelowna, B.C. (Happy Birthday this past Thursday!), who won the first-ever Rothmans Porsche Challenge Series back in 1986.
It has always amazed me how these people can get into cars with complete strangers and ask them to toss the cars sideways, usually having little knowledge of how good a driver the student is. The more experienced instructors like Nierop can usually tell from the very first application of steering input to the car.
All have been trained to give just the right amount of advice to their students — criticize when necessary, back-pat as needed.
A huge fleet of Porsche sports cars — rear-drive Caymans and Boxsters, rear- and four-wheel drive 911s in a variety of models — is on hand to give you the opportunity to see the differences in drivetrain behaviour.
The students are organized into groups of six or so, and each group attacks different exercises in different order to keep everyone as busy as possible. Nonetheless, a fair amount of time is spent watching your fellow students hopefully looking worse at it than you were … bring warm clothing.
Typically, the cars run the exercises one at a time, maybe two, if the handling circuit being used allows enough space.
Judging entry speed into a corner, initiating understeer (plowing) or oversteer (fishtailing), learning how to recognize each and how to correct each with throttle and/or steering correction — these are skills which in the real world can be the difference between a near-miss and a real miss. A ‘near-miss’ of course is a ‘hit,’ which, especially in a Porsche, can be very expensive.
The most fun exercise was the ‘Scandinavian flick,’ a technique used by rally drivers (who disproportionately still are from Sweden or Finland, hence the name).
Sure, the fastest way through any corner is the classic racing line — wide entry, steer in toward the apex, steer out and apply the power, all to keep the radius of the corner as large as possible so you can maintain the highest speed possible coming out of the corner.
But this assumes you know where the corner goes.
In rallying, this isn’t always the case. So they came up with this technique:
You generally know if it’s a right-hander or a left-hander you are approaching. If it’s a lefty, then the ‘flick’ starts with a quick but decisive steering motion, non- intuitively to the right, this to initiate the weight transfer on to the left wheels.
Once they take a bit of a set, then a quick steering motion to the left causes the weight to shift to the right wheels. Done correctly, this will apply more force than those tires can handle, and you initiate a tail-out slide with the nose pointing into the corner.
If the corner tightens up, you maintain the slide which scrubs off speed. If the corner opens up, unwind the steering, apply the power and off you go.
(For a right-hand corner, obviously, reverse above procedure …).
Done right, it’s a thing of beauty. Done wrong — well, that’s why we’re all here to learn.
James Hinchcliffe, the Oakville-born Indy car driver, still maintains he can’t dance even after finishing second on that TV show. And he’s a racer, not a rallier. But you should be able to see that understanding where the weight goes and how to manage it is as important to a fast car driver as it is to a dancer.
I have attended an average of at least one driver-training program a year during my entire career, either as a student or as an instructor, and have never failed to learn something new every time.
OK, so, maybe I have more to learn than most …
The one tidbit I picked up here was how different four- and rear-wheel drive cars need to be handled when sideways.
When a car is sliding sideways and you want to correct that slide, the basic rule always applies — look in the direction you want to go, and steer that way.
But if you are trying to apply power, remember that when some of the drive torque is shifted to the front wheels in the four-wheel drive car, that’s going to try and pull the car in the direction the wheels are pointing. So, if you are countersteering to correct a rear-wheel slide, take it easy on the loud pedal or it can pull the car to outside of the corner and into an unfortunate coincidence in time and space with something hard.
Courses like this aren’t cheap, but I think they are great value, from at least two perspectives.
First, if they save you one fender-bender, they may pay for themselves right there should you severely damage or write off your car.
True, insurance may cover the immediate cost, but you know which direction your premium is going …
Second, we all have a budget for entertainment. For many of us, that budget doesn’t stretch this far.
But here is a three-word testimonial from a friend of mine whose entertainment budget does stretch that far, and who completed Camp4RS this year:
“It’s a blast.”
LEVI, FINLAND-Levi is Finland’s largest ski resort, situated some 170 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Porsche started our two-day tour of Lapland which included a visit to their Finnish winter driving experience and a test-drive of their latest Macan variant, at this spot.
And no, it is not where they make the jeans.
There are a few things you should know about Finland, if you don’t already. First, it’s a small country, with only about five-and-a-half million people, i.e., fewer than the GTA.
It produces a wildly disproportionate number of world-class athletes, in motorsport, hockey, cross-country skiing and other traditionally Nordic enthusiasms.
Their language, which has way more vowels than any language really needs, apparently is related only to Magyar from Hungary — I’m not sure anybody really knows why.
And the Finns do a lot of things extremely well.
Their prison system really does rehabilitate wrongdoers, it doesn’t just inventory them. Their recidivism rate — prisoners returning to prison — is among the lowest in the world.
Their public school system outperforms just about everybody in the world, too. Those two statistics may not be unrelated.
Three things they do well which were of specific interest to us on this trip.
First, we departed the hotel in Levi at 7:30 in the morning. It had snowed quite heavily during the night (although it actually was colder in Toronto that morning than it was in Levi). But even at that early hour, in this tiny town maybe 10 km from where Santa Claus is supposed to live, the roads had already been perfectly plowed. Even the lay-by parking areas where truckers can take a rest were cleared. Impressive!
Second, these trucks and most buses are equipped with massive driving lights on their roofs, the better to see and avoid hitting elk or reindeer. You could play night baseball under these things. Of course, it is illegal to buy and use these lights in Canada. We don’t have any deer or moose on our roads, do we?
The third thing the Finns do well, perhaps too well for our purposes on this visit, is enforce speed limits. We were constantly warned about speed cameras, and how there really is no ‘buffer’ — you get caught at 110 in a 100 zone, you get nailed for 10 over.
And we had heard stories that traffic fines in Finland are not fixed, but are based on a percentage of your income. Apparently (and possibly apocryphally …), the CEO of Nokia got hit with a fine of many thousands of dollars for one speeding infraction.
Given that publishers take the term ‘free-lance journalist’ too literally (my concept of ‘expensive-lance journalist’ not having caught on as I had hoped), that shouldn’t have proved a huge issue for me.
And when we got home, someone told me the fines are based only on your income earned IN Finland, which for me is absolute zero.
I could have sped scot- and cost-free. But, I really didn’t want to test that penal system, no matter how progressive …
Our drive from Levi to Kemi on the Gulf of Bothnia from whence we would fly to Helsinki and home, was split between Porsche’s fastest SUV, a Cayenne Turbo S, and the new Macan Turbo with Performance Package, more details about which follow.
The midway point was Porsche’s Arctic Winter Driving centre in Rovaniemi, just 6 km south of that Arctic Circle.
Time constraints meant we had but a taste of the driver-training exercises similar to what we would experience in more detail in Camp4 a few weeks later.
Because our mounts this time were SUVs rather than sports cars, the activities were more oriented toward safety than going fast — a Cayenne or Macan is more likely to have other family members in the car.
Still, we were encouraged to shut off the stability management control system during the slalom exercise to get maximum sideways attitude between the cones. Really, done right, you could hear a Strauss waltz playing in the background. I wish we could have run three or four cars together on that course, going in counterpoint order through the cones. Would have looked lovely.
An icy hill also showed how various settings of the traction control system could make the ascent easier or more challenging. Given the grip provided by the studded tires, the cars really had no problem negotiating the hill, and the fastest way up was actually to just nail the throttle.
You had to make sure you, the ABS, or some combination thereof was able to bring your speed back down to handle that tight left-hander at the top of the hill.
All of which went to prove that despite the advances in chassis management over the past couple of decades, you still have to drive the car. The technology gives you more leeway for mistakes, and will bail you out under a remarkably wide band of lousy driving.
Best you learn how to drive, and not use up all that safety bandwidth.
ROVENIEMI, FINLAND-The mid-size Macan SUV has been exceptionally popular for Porsche.
Using the already-excellent Q5 from corporate cousin Audi as a starting point, the Macan has been thoroughly “Porsche-ized,” adding styling details inside and out, as well as increasing levels of performance commensurate with the brand.
The base model with a four-cylinder engine is also by far the least expensive entreé to the brand, with an MSRP of $54,100.
Of interest today is the new range-topper, the rather inelegantly if appropriately named ‘Macan Turbo with Performance Package.’
It starts at a healthy $97,600. Toss in a few options — on a Porsche, there are always lots of options — and you could buy two base Macans for the price of one of these.
‘Performance’ starts as it always does with the engine. Essentially the same 3.6-litre, twin-turbo V6 in the regular Macan Turbo (non-Performance Package, the poor dear …), has the screws tightened to deliver 440 horsepower and a peak of 442 pound-feet of torque, increases of 40 and 36, respectively.
This reduces the 0-100 km/h time by 0.4 seconds, to 4.4.
The seven-speed PDK (Porsche doppelkupplungsgetriebe, dontcha know, meaning Porsche’s twin-clutch gearbox) has been massaged for faster, crisper shifts.
A new air suspension system lowers the car by 10 mm in static mode, and a self-levelling feature keeps it on an even keel, regardless of load.
A new brake system brings larger front rotors, and the calipers, six-piston at the front, are painted a can’t-miss-it bright red.
The Sport Chrono package and a sportier-sounding exhaust system are both included in this model.
That option list includes things like the ‘Premium Package Plus,’ which for $4,100 brings you lane-keep assist. OK, I don’t much care for that either, but doesn’t a $16,000 Toyota Corolla have that as standard equipment?
Can’t get ceramic composite brakes on a Corolla, although the $9,300 option charge gets you two-thirds of the way to buying one.
As noted elsewhere today, Finland’s draconian enforcement of speed limits means it might not be the ideal place to try the highest-performance variant of the Macan model range.
Then again, playing in the snow at Rovaniemi allowed us to get a whole lot more sideways than we ever would have dared on public roads, and it proved that the added agility afforded by the improved suspension made the Macan even more entertaining to drive than it already is in its lesser forms.
The confident handling, comfortable supportive seats (even if the rear is a bit snug) and strong performance mean Porsche probably isn’t pushing credibility too far when it dubs the Macan the “sports car of SUVs,” although such as the Jaguar F-PACE and Maserati Levante might vie for that title as well.
The question higher-end Macan prospects will have to answer for themselves is whether the increases in performance are worth nearly 12 large more than the already very impressive Macan Turbo ‘without,’ which seems like a fairly substantial hit.
Would be lovely to be in a position to have to make that decision.
2017 Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package
Body Style : 4-door, 5-seat, mid-size SUV. Full-time four-wheel drive.
Price: base — $97,600.
Engine: 3.6-litre, V6, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection, twin-turbocharged.
Power/torque: horsepower / lb-ft: 440 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 442 @ 1,500 — 4,500 r.p.m.
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters.
Transport Canada Fuel Consumption City / Highway (L/100 km): n/a. Premium fuel.
What’s hot: The fastest, best-handling, best-stopping Macan you can buy, and that’s a pretty strong field; particularly excellent steering.
What’s not: Rear seat a bit snug like all Macans; price hit over the ‘normal’ Macan Turbo seems a little steep
Score: 8.0 / 10