Got to race my Porsche on a race track today (Easter Saturday, 2003). Very cool. Or maybe the right term is "wicked!". The track day was organised by the Porsche Club Great Britian and this is the first time I've ever attended an event like this.
Got up at the ungodly hour of 6am and out of the house by 7am so I could shoot down to Castle Combe and be there by 8am. Signed in waiving all my rights to sue the organisers. Also decided I was going to run on the track with no car insurance (yes I was nervous about that but a calculated risk). Rented a crash helmet and arranged for tuition with an instructor. Then I went to get my car scrutinized for noise.
Horror of horrors I failed the test with the car weighing in at 102.8 decibels at 4500RPM. Arrgghhh! Was told to go run around in the car and warm the engine up some more. Did that. I doubt the little villages I passed through really appreciated a sports car whining around in 2nd gear at 8:30am! Got back and realized I was missing the track briefing so I caught the tailend of that and then had to go run around with the car *again* to warm it up a second time! More grumpy villagers. Sat in line for the scrutiny test with the engine revving at 2000RPM and finally got to the front frantically thinking how I could avoid being sent away losing my track fees. Luck was with me. They let me go with a reading of 100.6 decibels. Phew!
It was quite daunting being in the line-up surrounded by about forty other exotic 911's - 4S, RS, Turbo's, etc. They let six cars onto the track at a time for about 15 minutes each go. After your turn, you rejoin the back of the queue and wait about an hour for another go.
My turn came up quickly an instructor jumped in and we were off. Sure glad I had someone there to tell me exactly what to do and keep out of trouble. Quite a few cars passed us as I gingerly got my speed up. The car was very grippy and I wasn't anywhere near sliding it. It also has monster brakes and you really start appreciating it.
(the other day I was demonstrating the brakes to someone and I braked so hard that I swear I was left dizzy for a few seconds)
After this first turn I was chatting to another guy who owns the same Porsche as me and I found out the instructor happens to be John Bussell, a professional race car driver and three time winner of the British Porsche Open Championship. He also strongly suggested that next time, I should let him drive and see what it should really feel like.
So I paid for another session with John but he was busy and I had to go by myself. Talked myself through everything I learned in the first session but there is just *so much* to remember! Did all right. Only got passed by other cars once or twice and the car threw only a wobbly once but I kept control and didn't spin it. A Porsche will tell you very quickly if it doesn't like you for doing something stupid.
The next session I had was with John again and I got him to drive a few laps before we swapped. It was absolutely fantastic having a pro race car driver show me what my car could really do. Wow! And he said he kept in quite gentle to go easy on my tires. Great blowing off a BMW M3 that was also on the track. Very smooth and fast but still only about 120mph on the straight which was plenty as the car didn't feel very stable. A bit of sliding here and there but not much. Unfortunately he informed me my shock absorbers were shot and needed replacing to get the car into top shape. That was why the car felt unstable sometimes. Something for my next service I guess.
I was learning lots so I paid for yet another round of instruction. On my forth time out I was getting the hang of it much better. One car passed us. I was getting in the right position at the right time and getting the speed right - eerrrr, well, most of the time! Still found the chicane quite troubling but I was definitely getting faster and the car was responding with a bit of slipping here and there. It's amazing how hard you can push the car and still the grip is there. Still don't know where the limit is.
I drove the fifth and last session by myself. I was very self-conscious that I was not going to get overconfident and blow it - a common mistake. I made a few mistakes over the course of several laps but nothing disgraceful and no one passed me. It was getting less nerve-wracking and a lot more fun hammering around the race circuit now that I knew the right brake points, turn points, apex's and power-on lines. Awesome.
So I calculate that I had about 70 minutes of track time over the course of the day covering about 80 miles at high speed. Also met and chatted with four other people attending the event. The crowd is mostly middle age men and older. A few women who look like they're there to humour their spouse. Many seem to keep their cars as weekend toys so there's obviously quite a bit of money floating about. Quite a good place to network for venture capital and easy to strike up a conversation!
It was certainly great to get lessons from John Burrell. Turns out that John offers private instruction. Hmmm, sure would be great to spend a day with him learning to drive a Porsche well. Hold that thought!
Addendum (May 5th)
Here's a picture of my car:
It's a 1997 Porsche 993 Carrera 2 Targa. You can find specs for it here or even more at p-car.