Slip slidin’ away at Porsche camp

Mont-Tremblant, Que. • “There are a few tricks to building a suspension that take the hitches out of a mid-engine design and teach it manners,” says Walter Röhrl, two-time WRC champion, Italy’s Rallye Driver of the Century and the last winner of the famed Monte Carlo Rally in a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive-only sports car (a Lancia, not a Porsche). “An engine in the middle means the centre of gravity is in the middle … great for turning quick as a weasel, but if you take this too far the next second you’ll be looking straight at oncoming traffic.”

I could use all of Röhrl’s “tricks” today since I’m piloting a Porsche C4S ’round the slimiest of race tracks, Mont-Tremblant, Que.’s Mecaglisse race track, a super-slippery combination of snow and ice that will spin a car quicker than you can say “incipient loss of traction.” And, of course, with two dozen mad autojournalists — including some Latin American fellows who are definitely acting as if this is the first time they’ve seen snow or ice — hooning around the high-speed course, “looking straight back at oncoming traffic” is not the preferred outcome of the full-lock powerslide I’m trying to master.

Truth be told, I have much more confidence in the 911’s abilities than my own. A week recently spent in a 911 Turbo S (See Page DT12) revealed that 530 horsepower can indeed get along in the Great White North’s wintry roads as long as it’s mated to all-wheel drive powering four very grippy Hakkapeliitta snow tires. Save for less ground clearance that reduces (but does not eliminate!) the Porsche’s snowbank plowing ability, there was nowhere an SUV could go that the mega-powerful Turbo couldn’t.

On the other hand, concern for my fellow man and the six points I already have on my driver’s licence meant I was then trying to keep all four of the Turbo’s wheels deliberately in line and the twin turbo’s 516 pound-feet of torque in check. Now, I am quite literally trying to chew up all the ice a particularly cold Quebec winter can muster. The C4S is running on impressively studded snow tires, their little spikes sending a shower of sharded ice skyward every time I let all those horses loose.

And loosen them I do! It all requires a little adjustment, most particularly because Porsche’s most recent version of its all-wheel-drive system is now electronically controlled (as opposed to the first generation’s viscous centre coupling). The new computer-controlled version reacts more quickly, says Porsche, and can transfer almost 100% of the flat-six’s torque to the front wheels in extreme conditions.

And these are, indeed, extreme conditions. We’re flinging the C4Ss around Mecaglisse’s skid pads and, unlike my previous experiences here, said circles are totally bereft of traction-enhancing snow. Standing is difficult, walking almost impossible and, were those Hakkapeliittas not studded, the Porsches would be undriveable.

Still, here we are getting the C4Ss totally sideways. And, true to Röhrl’s admonishments, once the 911s start slewing sideways, it’s easy to spin them like tops — until J.P. Clinging, racer and driving instructor extraordinaire, reminds us that, since this 911’s AWD system can transfer all of the engine’s torque to the front wheel, if the oversteer gets out of hand, flooring the throttle will see the front tires “pull” the car out of the slide. That matting the throttle is counter to every instinct one has when you’re fast-forwarding toward a big fir tree seemingly out of control makes the lesson difficult to apply. But, sure as shooting, as soon as I get the gumption (that should be read “balls”) to actually wring the engine hard, the seemingly uncontrollable slides correct themselves and I suddenly become a powersliding god (hey, it’s my story) circling the skid pad two and even three times in one fluid, controlled power drift.

I have to unlearn it all when I start flinging a Cayman S around Mecaglisse’s “handling” track. Equally as slimy as the skidpad, the cheaper Cayman lacks the C4S’s all-wheel-drive saviour so drifting the littlest Porsche is a much more traditional experience of judicious throttle application and supplication to the great gods of grip that your enthusiasm won’t carry you over the snowbank.

It’s just as much fun, however. Without the front wheels to minimize all the sliding, it turns out to be even easier to swing the Cayman’s tail back and forth in setting it up for Mecaglisse’s tricky series of ess turns. Get it right — hey, even we the untalented can get lucky once in a while — and the screaming Porsche never once has its front and rear wheels in line through the entire course.

Besides all the fun, of course, the main reason Porsche Canada hosted this inaugural Camp4Canada (for consumers and press flunkies alike) is to show that Porsches, suitably equipped (that would be the addition of top-notch snow booties), are perfectly capable of year-round use even here in the Great White Frozen North. Certainly, my experience with both a two-week test of the Turbo in Toronto and now hooning about Quebec ski country says Porsches and winter driving are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Photograph by: Handout, Porsche