Sliding through a winter wonderland in a pair of 911s.
– Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, Canada
Nestled in the mountains about 60 miles north of Montreal is a place called Mecaglisse. A sprawling, all-season motorsports park that plays host to all manor of two- and four-wheeled fun. Whether you want to practice your skills on tarmac, dirt, gravel, or ice, it’s a perfect venue.
But that diversity of vehicles shrinks for the month of February when Porsche takes over the facility to host its winter driving programs. One might expect such an event to be all about the Cayenne and perhaps the Macan – not the case.
No this program, Camp4 Canada, is all about the 911. As I roll up to the log-cabin clubhouse overlooking a fleet of brand new Porsches parked on an icy race track, I can’t help but laugh at how wonderfully absurd my day is about to be.
Upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the fleet has been winterized appropriately. Some 911s have pampered lives – getting safely stowed away in the garage for winter – but not these. These are brand new rear-drive 911 Carrera Ss and all-wheel-drive Carrera 4Ss with grilles removed, wearing studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires. Both variations sport 420-horsepower, biturbocharged, 3.0-liter, flat-sixes in the back.
Even though these are six-figure cars, instructors seem cavalier about the cost of potential damage. When someone asks what happens if they end up in a snowbank, one of our hosts gestures to a handful of Cayennes and Macans parked just out of the way, then chuckles and says in a thick French-Canadian accent that students who get too cocky will have to wait just a bit longer before they’re pulled out.
My day begins with big long drifts in a 911 Carrera 4S coupes. This first bit is all about understanding how the car feels when you’re understeering and oversteering. Gratuitous dumb fun, pure and simple. There isn’t much finesse necessary, just keeping the gas steady and the wheels straight.
Next up it’s time to tackle a slalom, using the throttle to keep the rear end loose through every cone. The overly aggressive students seem to have a lot of success here. Give the car enough gas and the rear end steps out, but the instructor keeps hammering on that I need to keep wide, carry speed into the cones and use the momentum, not just power.
The second half of the day takes place in rear-drive Carrera S coupes and it becomes immediately clear why the instructor was so adamant about learning to use momentum.
The first thing I do in the rear-drive car is the famous Scandinavian Flick maneuver. The basic set of commands mirrors what I learned about entering the slalom. However, once I enter the flick I can’t save myself from spinning out if I haven’t set things up right. The setup’s the same in both cases: build up speed, turn, brake, get back on the gas to upset the balance of the car, and then put the tail out. The difference is that going into the slalom I can just point my wheels in the right direction and overpower the rear end with the gas, the tail steps out and the front pulls me through.
Compared to the all-wheel-drive cars, the rear-drive versions require more control and more forethought. Eventually I get the flick mostly right, but it takes me more than a few tries, as you can see in the video above.
Turns out the 911’s famous rear weight bias only adds to the fun: you can feel the way momentum pulls the car around you, but at these speeds you can react accordingly. Of course it’s harder to catch the error once you’ve really begun to spin out, but thankfully soft pillowy snow is the only crash barrier in sight.
Understanding these physics in the classroom and on the track are very different animals. Experience is the key to making good use of the information. Feeling a 911’s rear end step out like a pendulum and using that weight transfer to slide around an icy chicane might seem like a microcosm of rally-racing, but it’s certainly a good way to increase driver literacy. I better understand what the seat of my pants is telling me and that’s valuable on any road, in any conditions.