It’s every man’s dream to get his hands on a garage full of sports cars and flooring them around a racetrack. It’s that need for speed – our inner Ricky Bobby shouting “I wanna go fast!” in a Talladega Nights euphoria.
While the only sports cars and racetracks I currently own are bestowed by Forza Motorsport on an Xbox One, I’m the kind of guy who watches Top Gear and thinks: “Hey, I could do that.” I was delighted, then, when I received a call offering me the opportunity to partake in this year’s Porsche Driving Experience at the Sepang International Circuit. I immediately signed up to do 18 laps around Malaysia’s 5.543km Formula One track in over 2,000 horsepower of the German marque’s performance cars combined. Over the next two weeks, I trained. I thumbed hot laps around Forza’s Top Gear track on my Xbox. I borrowed the video game’s expansion pack featuring some of the Porsches I’d be driving, like the 911 Turbo and Cayman GTS. I practised my Jeremy Clarkson impersonation. I gained sore thumbs and far too much confidence.
By the time the big day arrived, I was fairly certain that the racing instructors would be impressed with my skills, and that Porsche’s other guests would be eating my dust. This delusion ended at the precise moment I hit 200km/h on a straight for the first time in my life. It was both thrilling and terrifying. When I eased off the acceleration to prepare for the turn ahead, professional racer Benjamin Rouget, riding shotgun in the 520hp 911 Turbo ordered: “Not yet, stay on the throttle.” I complied. But it was clear he regretted his instruction when, a second later, he followed up with: “Okay, brake. Brake harder, harder! Now turn!”
We made it through the S-shaped turn, our wits and car intact. I looked at the left side mirror to check for overtaking vehicles, then accelerated out of the turn and stole a glance at Benjamin. His eyes remained fixed on the road ahead. He had a stern look on his face, made sterner by the racing helmets we both wore. I didn’t dare try on my best impersonation of Jeremy Clarkson’s “Power!” “When you’re travelling that fast,” the Frenchman began, sounding friendlier than he looked, “you cannot be gentle on the brakes. You have to brake hard for the turn. Slow in, fast out.” I nodded. I’d “wanna go fast” like Will Ferrell’s Ricky, but also wanted to live to tell the tale.
NOT JUST ABOUT POWER
In my defence, I was driving a 911 Turbo, which is more powerful than it has any right to be. This is the sports car for everyday use – the benchmark. The noise it makes hits you. This was arguably the prize ride, after working my way through the Cayenne S hybrid sports utility vehicle, two Panamera sedans, the Cayman GTS and the 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet. I was also on a racing circuit with enough turns (15 to be precise) to eject both timid and overconfident drivers into gravel or concrete.
The Cayman GTS in front of me spun out. Instructor and guest were okay. Thumbs up from them and us as we overtook. There isn’t a racer alive who hasn’t spun a car. That’s how you learn what you and the car are capable of. The second time on the longest straight, I went flat out in the Turbo. Suddenly, my ability to focus was amazing. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I was living completely in the moment.
I focused on keeping good grip on all four tyres, braking hard but not to the point where the wheels lock up, and using all the available space on the track to navigate a corner. I used my peripheral vision to stay on the racing line, straightening out a turn as soon as I could and diving on the throttle. I made sure speed and direction didn’t change abruptly. And I managed to get some words of praise from Benjamin. By the second-last lap, I was battling creeping fatigue and motion sickness. After my 18th time around the track, I steered the Turbo into the pit stop, exhausted.
“You okay?” Benjamin asked. “A little nauseous,” I said. “I just can’t believe how physical it was. I just gained a serious amount of respect for you guys.”
The next day, I hit my Xbox’s racing simulator and found my lap times have improved drastically. But I’d lost some of my ego in that one-hour real-life track session and learnt a great deal about driving around a track. I now have an answer for people who ask me: “How hard can it be?”