So you've just bought a new Porsche; congratulations. Now, how about learning to drive it properly? Neil Vorano belts into a 408hp classroom in Leipzig, Germany.
Meet your need for speed with a professional by your side
Imagine buying a state-of-the-art (and very expensive) set of carbon fibre golf clubs, thinking if you're going to take up the sport, you might as well get the best set. It will only help your game as you teach yourself, right? The problem is, if you don't know how to play, you'll never know why this set is so good. And you'd have wasted your money. And probably broken one or two clubs as you beat the ground in frustration.
The same goes with cars. If you buy a brand-new Porsche, you want to be able to enjoy it for what it really is - one of the best sports cars on the market. The problem is, again, that if you don't know how to use it, you're just cheating yourself.
And Porsche knows this. That's why the German car maker has developed a series of driving schools to allow Porsche owners to find out for themselves what their cars are capable of; as an added benefit, the owners get to find out what they're capable of, too. That's part of the fun.
The lessons are offered all around the world, and Porsche says more than 70,000 people a year take part. But the headquarters of the Porsche Sport Driving School is here in Leipzig, Germany, beside the factory that produces the Cayenne and Panamera. It's a natural, grassy setting - Porsche boasts it has wild ponies and rare cattle that help take care of the grounds. But the landscape I'm more interested in is covered in asphalt - the track was designed to incorporate some of the most famous aspects of racing circuits in the world. There is the Bus Stop chicane, from Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium; the Parabolica from Monza; Lowes hairpin from the Monaco circuit; and my favourite, the stomach-churning Corkscrew of Laguna Seca.
As a novice, I'll be starting off in the Warm-Up training, an introduction to what Porsche's iconic sports car, the 911, can really do. But before our group hits the track, we hit the classroom for a chat about the technical aspects of driving, held in a grand building known as "The Diamond". The meat of the talk is about tyre friction and balance, the key components to driving: understeer, oversteer and how to both avoid and control the two characteristics. It's all very technical, but very necessary.
But seeing it in a graphic on a large screen and actually experiencing it are two different things altogether, so it's time to get in the car.
Imagine coming out of your flat and getting to choose which 911 you want to drive; there was the Cabriolet S, the Carrera 4, the 4S Targa and the GTS, all in a line, all waiting for a driver. Ranging from 345hp to 408hp, it's hard to choose poorly. Besides, we'll end up driving all of them by the end of the day.
I'm in the Cabriolet S for the first braking lesson; with a temperature hovering around 0 Celsius, I decide to leave the top up. But the action on the track is hot enough, with higher-speed emergency stops that teaches the limits of braking, the effects of the ABS and how to judge the braking distance. You can't really do this on a road without attracting the attention of the local constabulary.
Nor can you really do anything here on a public road, and that's the whole point. With large runoff areas off the track and trained instructors to guide you, Porsche puts a premium on the safety of its students while ensuring that they can do things they normally wouldn't even think of. It's exciting, and it's also quite, well, liberating.
It's on to an emergency obstacle avoidance manoeuvre, with a twist - we get to experience it with the Porsche Stability Management, or traction control, turned off. Rare is the time that a car maker will allow the press to turn off the traction control at a sanctioned event, but it's intrinsic to seeing how the system actually works. And though it does work well, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the car handles with it off, especially with the engine and a considerable amount of weight at the back of the car - the oversteer in the emergency turns with no throttle was actually fairly easy to control. Depending on the speed, of course; at one point I had to scrub the grass and mud off the wheels after an appalling attempt at spin recovery.
We move to a wet skid pad that accentuates the understeer/oversteer effects, and are invited to try to drift the rear end around a circle in the rear-wheel-drive 911s. I think this is where the instructors get a sneaky satisfaction from doing something no one else can, but the difficulty in the lesson is telling in how the car wants to be driven properly.
In between the lessons - in which many pylons were maimed or killed - there are hot laps on the track behind an instructor. Following the proper racing line, you get a feel for how balanced the 911 really is, in any variation. And having the braking lessons to start off the day is brilliant; it's the most important aspect of driving correctly on the track, and allows a driver the confidence to tackle even the tightest of hairpins.
At the end of the day, you'll feel like a better driver, guaranteed. Until, of course, you climb into the passenger side of a GT3 RS for a couple hot laps with an instructor; that's when you realise how much better you can really get. The drive starts off appallingly fast, with immaculate braking into a turn and hard throttle at the perfect exit, reaching speeds far beyond what the classes have you do. Then, just to show another level, the track is done drifting through the turns at high speeds, the rear end of the car hanging out and the tyres screeching their disapproval.
The bad part about the whole experience? You'll want to throw away that set of clubs when you get home; golf will just get in the way of your newfound addiction to the track.
A one-day Warm-Up training without free driving is €790 (Dh4,000); a two-day Precision course with free driving is €1,190 (Dh6,000).