It’s no secret Porsche makes a great sports car. They also make sports cars that can be driven in all seasons; if you have doubts, check out the 959, numerous GT3 rally cars (which sound fan-f*cking-tastic) and the almost uncountable victories in racing amongst the harshest of elements. If you’re in the group that thinks you see more 911s driven on Park Avenue or Mulholland Drive by oral hygienists, Cayennes and Panameras at strip malls — you might have a point. Porsche sells sports cars to every type of person, and most of them will never see dirt, ice or another element other than oxygen. Porsche, however, wants you to know there’s a highly competent chassis in its cars capable of tremendous results with the right instruction and equipment. They make cars that are capable in any season, provided you know how to extract the performance from them.
The problem with winter drivers (and most drivers, for that matter) is their inability to recover from a moment before it’s too late.
Roughly 380 miles north of New York City, as the crow flies, Porsche’s Camp4 Winter Driving School at the Mécaglisse Circuit in Québec, Canada, outside Montreal, is an arctic driving oasis. The fact that Porsches are the catch of the day is just an added bonus.
Flat sixes howl as snow flies in puffy, oversteer-induced clouds; studded tires claw for grip; and the theory of driving on snow and ice becomes the classroom inside high-horsepower 911s and Caymans. Camp4 prepares you for varying conditions by focusing on driving techniques taught by professional instructors who have honed their skills with white-knuckle driving in rallying and sports-car racing.
The problem with winter drivers (and most drivers, for that matter) is their inability to recover from a moment before it’s too late. For a price, Porsche will teach you how to master car-control techniques and put them to real-world use. In a condensed version of their Camp4 three-day program, we got the opportunity to experience the Cayman GTS, the 911 Carrera GTS and the 911 Carrera 4 GTS in a frenetic blitzkrieg of ice and snow track driving. (Porsche also offers a Camp4S, Camp4RS and, finally, the Master Level Ice-Force, which can only be taken once you pass the previous camps.)
If you think the program is all about pulling off your best Ken Block, this isn’t for you.
The program’s focus is to teach you how to control these Porsches in less-than-ideal conditions, while factoring in how surfaces can change dramatically — especially in snow — and how to CPR (Correct Pause Recover) should you get in over your head. With no traffic, pedestrians or other objects to encumber your driving experience, you can let yourself make mistakes and revel in your successes, which is what the instructors want you to do. This is driving at the limit without the consequences of making a fatal mistake in the real world. But if you think the program is all about pulling off your best Ken Block, this isn’t for you, and as a matter of fact, hooning is discouraged. Camp4’s goal is to make you understand vehicle dynamics in the most serious manner.
Originally campaigned in Finland by some brainiac at Porsche to kick off the Carrera 4 model line of Porsches in 1996, with the release of their derived-from-racing 4WD system, the response from journalists was so positive that they decided to offer the program to the general public. Almost 20 years later, the worldwide program offers courses in Canada (now in its sixth year), Italy, Finland, China and more. If you have a sense of adventure for traveling and a knack for driving Porsches, this is Mecca.
Like receiving a verbal beat-down from your parents, you did not want to upset Nierop.
Our instructor, Kees Nierop, offered more enthusiastic views of our performance when we were sideways — actually, he insisted on correctly demonstrating certain techniques — as his instructions made their way through our radio and into the cabin. Nierop was never mad; rather, he was disappointed when you didn’t follow his instructions exactly, prompting a discouraged tone. Like receiving a verbal beat-down from your parents, you did not want to upset Nierop.
Getting the Porsches loose meant understanding how to recover and get yourself out of the situation before it became uncontrollable. The exercises varied from skid pads to learning the famous Scandinavian flick to subsequent lapping on an undulating snow course, where plenty of seat time meant you were able to get more and more comfortable after each lap.
And while all of the vehicles were equipped with Nokian Hakkapeliitta snow tires (basically the Rolex of snow rubber) with 1.5mm studs embedded into the pliable rubber, traction isn’t a given. Actually, if you’re a hulking ogre with the throttle, you can forget about being smooth and successful; instead, you’re likely to become overly frustrated and see the trees spin in your windshield all day. Subtlety and patience is key. Once instructions are met with understanding, you’ll be rewarded with perfect oversteer, linking turns back to back.
Sure, you won’t be rallying professionally after a few days of instruction, but you’re more confident than ever.
Pricing for the programs start at (approximately) $3,815 USD for Camp4 and go up to $4,680 USD for Camp4S and $5,400 USD for Camp4RS. Lodging and meals are included. No driving program is “cheap,” but it’s a worthwhile experience that stays with you forever and gives you tangible results.
There are a lot of things you could buy for the price of the Porsche school, but they aren’t nearly as satisfying: own a pair of highly coveted sneakers (that end up sitting in a box in your closet), book a first-class flight to Heathrow (one way), or buy a nosebleed ticket for the Super Bowl (drunk fans included).
At the end of the day, as you take a hot (err, cold?) lap with the pro instructors, you are brought back down to earth as you realize all the gains of the day still make you human. Sure, you’re not supernatural, and you won’t be rallying professionally after a few days of instruction, but you’re more confident than ever with your abilities and with what a Porsche can do.