First drive: Porsche 911, Cayman & Cayenne on track
The Porsche World Roadshow is a 10-day event that is held in various cities around the world, usually reserved for Porsche customers, and usually for a fee. The Dubai stopover was from February 4th to the 14th this year. Attending the event itself involves a single day of various activities held from 9 am to 4 pm, using the latest Porsche machinery at the Dubai Autodrome. One of these days was reserved for the media, and I was invited for the first time.
After the free breakfast and a ‘seating position’ lesson for dummies, the first event involved an autocross course, with three tries each using a Boxster S and then a Cayman S, both 2008 models as the new upgraded ones aren’t available yet. This was only my third time trying out an autocross course, and this one was with much higher speeds and many more slalom cones. The cars were very noisy, with some optional variable noise-maker exhaust doohickey system. With stability control on, it was understeering at the limit, but still a very quick car. An Autodrome employee and a semi-professional racer, both of whom just happened to be part-time journalists, got the best times.
The second event was a few laps around the track, in a convoy of various non-turbo 911s, a Cayman S and even a Cayenne GTS. We had to switch cars after one lap in each car, so I wasn’t paying attention to which car was which. Of note were the manual Cayman S with optional sports seats, and a 911 with lightning-quick jerky shifting in sport-mode thanks to its dual-clutch PDK gearbox.
While the sports cars never reached their full potential, as we safely followed the instructor at moderate speeds, the most intense fun was, ironically, the Cayenne GTS. Placed at the back of the convoy, anyone driving it instantly fell behind as it could not keep up at all with the sports cars. When it was my turn, at once I felt the soft steering and the vague brakes compared to the 911, and kept falling behind on the straights. The fun part was actually catching up again, braking late and well into the turns, as the heavyweight 4WD swung around its body in a controlled manner, all under the safety of the mandatory stability control. I’d say it was the only vehicle I got to drive at its limit on the track.
After a free buffet lunch, the next event was an off-road segment at the Autodrome’s under-construction offroad track, using only the Cayenne of course. We drove up and down 45-degree slopes, or maybe even steeper. Basically, we saw the “hill hold” braking function and the “hill descent” control system, both working without touching the brake pedal. The body itself was also very strong, showing no creaking or twisting on the lumpy-ground section, where the all-wheel-drive system’s simulated “diff locks” came into play.
The last event was a braking demonstration, where we had to barrel down a straight line at full throttle, slamming on the brakes when reaching the cones, and then steering left or right at the last minute, depending on which way the flag-man is pointing, and then stop straight again. The whole exercise has to be done with the brakes floored, letting the ABS and ESP systems keep the car under control. By now, near the end of the day, our group had thinned out to a few people, so I got to do this exercise maybe ten times.
For the braking game, the first car was an automatic 911 Carrera S with launch control. Launch control was easy to use, as the car launched at 5000 rpm, hit maybe 100 kph, and came to a controlled stop under ’emergency’ braking. The second car we played with was an automatic 911 Turbo without launch control, which was a different beast. It reached much higher speeds before having to hit the brakes. The ceramic brakes stopped the car in time whenever the brakes were stomped on early, but every time I braked late into the cones, I went ahead and clipped a few cones when changing direction, as the car understeers on purpose. Technology won’t overcome stupidity on the road.
After the four exercises were over, we were given demo laps by the Porsche-imported instructors, who turned off stability control and went all out. Basically, I got one passenger lap in a 911, which was fast and involved one drift. The more amazing lap came in a Cayenne Turbo, where the driver drifted through every single corner on the lap, defying the laws of physics, and I laughed all the way through what had to be the kookiest “hot lap” I’d ever been on. It was funny how the other journalists in the Cayenne had serious faces, as if trying to hide fear.
As far as I know, the Porsche World Roadshow event comes around every two years, can only be attended by invitation, and requires a certain fee. Most likely, you have to be an existing Porsche owner to be invited. About 400 people attended the Dubai event this month, while Abu Dhabi had its own one last month. Very few manufacturers offer events such as this to drum up enthusiasm among owners.