Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Fasten Your Seat Belts, It's the Porsche World Roadshow 2007 - part 1

PORSCHE…A seven-letter word synonymous with high performance sports cars. From the iconic 911 to its latest Cayman S, this German automotive company has inspired – as well as fulfilled - many dreams and aspirations since 1948, all around the globe.

The Porsche World Roadshow was last held at Sepang in 2003 and now 4 years later, I had booked a ‘privilege’ seat to sample the variety of Porsches up for testing and also understand a little more of the chassis dynamics unique to this well-known brand. Some advance driving techniques incorporated into the day’s programme proved valuable as we get to take the cars to the limits in a couple of simulated emergencies.

The day started off early at 8.30am with us checking in at Sepang F1 circuit. With the sun just dawning up the horizon, it was really a sight to behold, seeing the many variants of Boxsters, Caymans, 911s and Cayennes all lined up at the pit entrance to greet us.
After registration and breakfast, the welcome address was helmed by Auto Eurokars’ CEO, Allan Pillai. We were introduced to the five instructors namely Arnd Stollman (Chief Instructor), Sebastian, Matthias, Tommy Lee and Tengku Djan. Thereafter, we were split into 5 groups: Red, Yellow, Blue, White and Green - with similarly shaded collar bands to match!

All groups were briefed on the correct seating/driving position by Matthias with concurrent in-car demonstration by Sebastian.
Some of the notable pointers here include:
1) NEVER hold the steering with both arms fully stretched out. Placement of both forearms should reach the top rim of the steering wheel at the wrist flexures. As such, the elbows should be bent and arms relaxed when you hold at 9 and 3 o’clock positions. These would enable better steering control.
2) The knees must remain slightly bent with the brake pedal fully depressed. Such limbs positioning enables a more forceful ‘kick’ of the pedal in emergency braking. It also reduces the risk of crushing orthopedic injuries to the lower limbs and joints should there be an intrusive crash into the foot well.
3) The driver’s seat should be as vertically comfortable as can be. So as to enable good support – both at shoulders and flanks – into corners as well as to provide proper backrest support should an accident occurs.
4) Last but definitely not the least - the most basic but important safety aspect of all: Buckle up before you drive!

That taken care off, my Red group headed by Mr. Stollman headed for…no, not the track…but off-road. Thank goodness I skipped the heavy nasi lemak of the buffet spread! After a briefing on low gearings (Gear Reduction in Porsche speak) and highest suspension setting, we took off in 2 Cayenne Turbos, 2 Cayenne V8s, and 2 Cayenne V6s to the Sepang Off-road ‘track’. Never dreaming that we’d be able to do things like steep hill ascent and descent, lateral 30degrees slopes tilt and SUPER-sized multiple potholes in a luxury SUV like the Cayenne – all in reasonable comfort - we came away suitably impressed! This exercise demonstrated the Cayenne’s impressive 4-wheel drive capabilities on rough terrain.

Next up was the much anticipated Slalom event. With a quick briefing on how to tackle the many confusing cones, we have a Cayman S to snake around in this ‘converted’ parking lot. I found myself somewhat like in an episode of ‘Fear Factor’ because our runs will be timed. Hence, I had waited for many others in my group to go first just to familiarize better. After a demo lap with Arnd in the car, we were allowed two laps each, in the wonderfully agile and well-balanced Cayman S. The trick to doing these is nice, smooth and slow around those little cones… not nailing them or licking them – for there would be a time penalty for such errors. Our group was second quickest for the day, losing just by 1/10th of a second. Darn!
Collectively, we had wished for more attempts to improve our skills and timings…if only there was one more Cayman S with the help of another supporting instructor!

After the invigorating slalom, we took out a mix of Cayman, Carreras, Boxsters on the road to Sepang, Nilai and Dengkil. With traffic police escort in a white Proton Waja patrol car, we were made to feel like royalty or VVIP for an hour, where we just drove almost unhindered while we broke speed limits – and no speeding tickets! I took a yellow Boxster S fitted with Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB - in matching yellow brake calipers) and I have got to admit the braking performance and pedal feel is truly magical. My driving partner Mr. Peter Lee and I were initially taken aback by its 6-speed MANUAL gearbox but…Alas! It was actually great to shift through the gears to truly savour the 295bhp and 340Nm of the 3.4litre boxer engine. Even in 5th gear and with the mid-engined motor spinning above 4000rpm, this lovely roadster was ever willing to overtake the Carrera 4S in front! But sadly, it was something banned during the Road Tour convoy but for the right safety reason. Tracking stability of this Porsche is superb, while the ride and handling composure were unruffled by the undulating road surfaces. The wind-in-the-hair feeling in a Boxster was really nice seeing that there was hardly any turbulence – nor excessive wind noise - even at 145km/h! Strange but pleasantly true even in topless mode. Hmmm…Must be all the hard work done by Porsche AG in the wind tunnel.

Lunch break was a sumptuous spread of Italian, Chinese and Western delicacies with the usual fruits and ice-cream desserts thrown in. We had a 45 minutes break before we were taken to the track (finally!) and this where I was shaken…by the menacing black 911 Turbo. Thinking I would ace this exercise since I had previously done it elsewhere in Audi A8L 6.0 W12 Quattro…I was shockingly WRONG! When Arnd took me for a demo lap, I was pinned to my seat when he suddenly rocketed from 40km/h onwards - the moment the twin-scroll turbo kicked in. It felt like I was riding a roller-coaster…on a down slope!
My heart percertibly dropped for that one second, not unlike the feeling of Space-Shot ride at Genting outdoor theme park. A fellow partner-in-crime attested to feeling his eyeballs pushed deeper into their sockets when the 997 Turbo blasted away. Gosh! Imagine a sports car capable of 3.7secs to 100km/h and an equally arresting (literally)…100-0 km/h in 2secs!!! Man, those PCCBs are really awesome.
The emergency braking manoeuvre demonstrated the beauty, logic and necessity of ABS, in avoiding an obstacle during hard braking and maintaining the ability to steer at the same time. Following this, we found ourselves inducing an oversteer i.e. the tail of the 997 Turbo going wide – upon sudden lift off of the accelerator after a brief but lightning quick period of hard acceleration into a right hand corner. Needless to say, with the guidance and instruction of our superb instructor, I was able to execute a counter-steering manoeuvre on my second attempt. We were told that Porsche Stability Management (ESP equivalent) intervenes later in this 911 Turbo because of the Sports Chrono Package Plus fitted. Tasted some drifting here and it was nice, cool and fun…no wonder it is something of a cult among the rear-engined 911 owners.

Following this was the Handling exercise. We hit the track soon after a brief lecture on cornering lines i.e. tips on entry and exiting an apex of a corner. Once again we were given a demo lap each by Arnd in another Cayman S. Thereafter we took two laps each in a Carrera S and Carrera 4S consecutively - where we found ourselves more confident around the bends with each subsequent lap - around this magnificent F1 track. Our understanding of a vehicle’s weight transfer upon throttle input, braking and steering input were revised and improved upon after this ‘racing’ exercise.

It was then time for the final on-track programme where we were herded together again. Each participant could choose on a demo lap by any one of the instructor. This was where it got a little out of hand but more on this later. The outstanding vehicle here (apart from the later-included 911 Turbo) must be the Powerkit boosted Cayenne Turbo with 500bhp! Sounding like a growling beast, it had no sweat keeping up with the rest of the pack of Carreras, Targa and Cayman S. I had my ride with our Malaysian famed drifter Djan at the helm of a manual C4S…man, drifted like an insane person at the wheel he did!
One thing that marred this first day of this Malaysian leg of PWRS 2007 at Sepang must be the shameful ‘kiasu’ attitude of my fellow delegates. Some of them can be seen jostling for Demo laps over and over again…up to 3-4times even - in succession - thereby displacing others who had not even got their well-deserved one-ride to each person. Imagine this happening at a premium event where everyone is paying the tune of RM2,200 each. C’mon, grow up guys and gals!

An award ceremony was held to present certificates and trophies to the winners. After this, we bade farewell to the Sepang F1 circuit…secretly hoping that one day we’d be able to rent, borrow or steal one of these magnificent machines.

The next leg of PWRS 2007 would be in Thailand in end January 2007, followed by in Singapore by end February 2007. The screeching and screaming tyres were sponsored by Michelin.

Written by: Dr. S.P. Long
9th January 2007.

Note - This article was featured in NST-CBT on 14th January 2007

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