Learning the unnatural at Porsche's Camp4 winter driving school

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Pierre Des Marais’ voice cracked over the radio as he screamed, “Yo-el! Why do I hear throttle and see brake lights multiple times?”

“Turn. Brake. Accelerate,” he said loudly into the radio.

In most track situations you are told to brake hard, turn, then accelerate out of the corner. At Porsche’s winter Camp4 driving school, you are told to do the unnatural, the uncomfortable, and it makes you question your confidence. You are instructed to turn first, then brake, and finally accelerate. Porsche’s French Canadian instructors dub it TBA.

As a Minnesota native, the concept of driving on ice and snow is natural to me, as is the idea of car control in slippery situations. That should make Porsche’s Camp4 a walk in the freezing cold park, right?

Wrong.

Held at the Driving Center Mecaglisse 90 minutes from Montreal, Porsche’s Canadian Camp4 is now in its eighth year. The 25-person staff at Porsche’s Canadian Camp4 ran me through four exercises, and they will do the same for 464 people during the month of February. Those exercises were: understeer/oversteer, slalom, Scandinavian Flick, and braking.

None of the exercises are easy, but some come more naturally than others. The cars Camp4 uses are 911s, rear-wheel drive Carrera S and AWD Carrera 4S models, wearing Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires with 1.5 mm studs to aid traction.

The theme of the program is weight transfer. For best car control, a driver must realize that as you accelerate you transfer weight to the rear, and as you brake weight shifts to the front. It’s what you do with this weight that will determine how well you control a car on ice and snow.

Understeer/oversteer

Once I centered the 911 4S in the middle of the circular ice track, Pierre came through the radio, “Now, begin build speed Yo-el…good, good, now transfer the weight back to the front wheels to regain steering.” He went on, “Now, increase your speed, let the rear end kick out, and control your speed. Keep it consistent.”

I responded by letting off the throttle to shift some weight to the front for grip, countersteering and giving it enough throttle to kick out the rear, then feathering the throttle to keep my sideways momentum. Because the 911 4S is all-wheel drive, the front tires were clawing at the ice. Once sideways, I had to reduce the steering angle of the front wheels so they wouldn’t pull me out of the drift.

Loud cheers came through the radio as a massive rooster tail of snow and ice shot into the sky.

The concepts of oversteer and understeer on ice are two things this Minnesota boy understands.

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