June 2, Day 2: I arrive at the Porsche Driving School 30 minutes early. I want to review the track before threading someone else’s $100k Porsche through the tight curves that morning. A lone instructor is lapping in the cool morning air at the Porsche Experience Center Atlanta. This is going to be a very good day!
A Most Excellent Retirement Gift
I love sports cars, always have. And while California or Blue Ridge Mountain backroads are a joy to drive, there is nothing, NOTHING, like the track. There is no plumbing truck in front of you, listing precariously through curves with pipes strapped atop, threatening to become javelins at each abrupt start or stop. No darting pedestrians or wildlife. No distractions at all – just a finely engineered car, pushed to the limit that skill allows. Like running, or perhaps golf – you don’t have to be a pro to hit that high of doing just a little better each time.
My retirement gift from Accenture was perfect: a certificate for track time with Porsche. After working at a crazy pace for nearly 30 years, I get to play at a crazy pace for a few days. Thank you, Jean, for suggesting that I would appreciate the sound of crackling exhaust more than, say, the opera. And to Accenture, for following her recommendation!
Momentum and Traction
My instructor for Porsche Driving School is Chase; a stunt-driver turned driving coach. Before we start, he shares exciting stories of driving cars on two wheels, jumping a car into the back of a semi, and such. On the track, however, he’s focused, teaching the art of balancing momentum and traction.
“Imagine a car as a shoebox with a ball-bearing in it,” Chase explains. “Brake, and the ball rolls forward. Turn right, and the ball rolls left. Accelerate, and it rolls back. The ball is where the weight is and where you have the maximum traction.” I learn that, in racing, I should brake HARD in a straight line before the curve so the front tires can grip. Accelerate through the turn to put weight on the back and keep the rear tires planted on exit. I follow Chase on the track, round and round, tires squealing a little more as each lap gets faster.
On the radio, I hear him, “Sweep wide here, use the margins, brake HARD here on the straight, and cut right now for the corner.” This track is about a mile with 15 curves and some elevation change. It’s great fun and an excellent warm-up for the big track at Birmingham on Friday.
I’m Jason Bourne
My favorite part of the Atlanta track is the low-friction handling circuit. It is a twisted ribbon of polished (low friction) concrete with 11 tight curves in about ¼ mile. Here I learn how to steer with the brake and throttle, sliding the rear of someone’s expensive car side to side. I feel like I’m driving in a Bourne movie, tossing the car left, then right, then left again around the 180 sweep. Only once do I get a little overzealous on the throttle and spin out, but I kept it off the grass, and we keep going! Note – this is much more fun with traction control off!
High School Parking Lot on a Snow Day
At the handling zone, I learn car recovery. A kick-plate road jolts the car into a sudden, random skid, simulating an icy road. Quick hands with hard counter-steer recover control and allow me to continue down the road. Well, about half the time my reflexes are quick enough. It’s much easier at 20 mph with traction control than at 30 mph without! I learn that ABS means “allows braking and steering”.
The final section is the hardest – doing donuts on the low friction circle! Yes, I might have done donuts on a snowy high-school parking lot in my youth (possibly, there were no witnesses and no dents). Doing so in a controlled manner though is much more challenging. It requires quick hands, a quick throttle, and a strong will to keep your foot off the brake when things do not go as planned. I managed about half a donut continuously in my best go before spinning out or straightening out. I’m no drift king yet. If doing donuts were only as easy as eating donuts…
Ready for the Big Track
At the end of the morning, I’m beaming from ear to ear, and I’m sure Chase is hoping for a slightly less enthusiastic student for his afternoon sessions. Jean and I hop into our little car and head to Birmingham, AL, and the big Porsche Track.