Porsche 911
Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

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Porsche Camp4

Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Porsche Camp4 winter driving experience

Notre Dame de la Merci, Quebec – There are no accurate statistics to identify how many Canadian Porsche owners store their vehicle over the winter. I’ll bet it’s a lot. Maybe not so much on the west coast, but in the rest of the country, you don’t see many 911s battling blizzards or trundling along behind snow ploughs, that’s for sure.

The argument for storing a Porsche is persuasive. After all, if you’ve spent up to six digits or more on an automotive icon like a 911, it seems crazy to subject it to salt, gravel, slush and the general detritus found on Canada’s roads in the winter months. You’ll wreck it, right? So it is that even people who lease a Porsche have been known to take it off the road when the snow flies, returning to it in the spring (Porsche dealers love that!).

But here’s another argument: life is short, and Porsches are tough. They’re also happy in winter. Ergo, you could be having fun with your car all year long.

Porsche’s Camp4 winter driving experience is all about having fun. Granted, you learn the vehicle’s limits on snowy and icy surfaces (and what happens when you exceed them), and you’re introduced to slaloms, effective braking, understeering and oversteering, racing lines handling ascents and descents, and vision skills, but the accent is firmly placed on having fun in your (well… their) car.

Porsche 911
Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

Yes, you don’t even have to get your car out of storage for the Camp4 experience. Fact is, you don’t even have to own a Porsche to sign up for Camp4, which was introduced to Canadians last year after much success in Europe.

The introductory-level Camp4 “Precision” program extends over two days and three nights. Meals, accommodation at the swank Esterel hotel and spa, vehicles and instructors from the Porsche Sport Driving School are covered in the $4,995 cost (although transportation to the venue is not). Basically, your days are filled with seat time in examples of the latest 911 and Cayman models, punctuated by short classroom-based introductions to various driving techniques and theories.

Don’t worry too much about the theory, because the emphasis is driving on the custom circuits at Quebec’s Mecaglisse motorsport complex. There’s a lot of that, and as your skills grow, the speeds increase and you find yourself emulating winter rally drivers as you slide sideways around corners wearing a major grin.

Typically, the clever Porsche stability management controls are turned off, the PDK transmission is in Drive, and it’s just you, the car, and — in an acknowledgment that things could get challenging during our introductory experience — Nokian tires wearing 1.5 millimetre studs.

Porsche 911
Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

For me, there were two key lessons learned at Camp4. The first is that the subject vehicles — even though they’re low-to-the-ground, high performance sports cars — are thoroughly capable of being driven in harsh winter conditions. True, they’re not the SUV type of vehicle that would seem better suited for winter driving, but then again, how many SUVs does one see backwards at the side of the highway in a snow storm? Lots, in my experience.

The second key lesson was that you can go from novice to competent winter driver in short order, given knowledgeable and patient instruction and enough time to practise the techniques being taught. These cars, noted for their handling on dry surfaces, don’t change their character in winter. Even in our abbreviated experience (one day), it was encouraging to learn that you could find control in situations where none initially seemed to be available.

Examples are the use of throttle steering to pilot the vehicle through a slalom course and learning how to identify and manage oversteering and understeering by “unwinding” the steering wheel, modulating the throttle and, most importantly, looking where you want to go. (A colleague once explained oversteering to me as crashing into a wall going backwards, and understeering as crashing into a wall going forwards: somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but ultimately correct).

Porsche 911
Porsche 911. Click image to enlarge

Once you’ve mastered the Camp4 Precision level, you can move on to the Performance Camp4S (note the familiar Porsche nomenclature). With Camp4 as a foundation, Camp4S adds advanced load-changing practice and an overall higher level of driving based on the prerequisites achieved in the Precision level.

You might think the next level would be “Turbo” but it’s actually Master Ice-Force, in which 4-mm spikes are used to ramp up the speeds even more. The Master Ice-Force level is not available in Canada “yet.”

There is one more level, and it won’t be available in Canada (unless you can figure out a way to move the venue here). Camp Nurburgring puts you on the famed German racetrack for some seriously hot laps. There’s no snow, and the price is “on request.”

The 2012 Camp4 Canada dates are now completed, so if you’re interested in signing up, you’ll be booking way ahead. Granted, it’s pricey, at least for most individuals. There are corporate plans; maybe you can talk your company into an innovative reward program!

But as I said above, life is short, and if this activity is appealing to you, I can’t imagine that you’d be disappointed.

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