Fun Stuff

Porsche Performance Tour East

The $3,495 Porsche Performance Tour East is an all-inclusive program that offers participants maximum seat-time in a range of Porsche vehicles over a three-day period. It’s part of Porsche Canada’s “Driving Experience” series that includes the Camp4 Canada winter program. And you don’t need to be a Porsche owner to participate.

Along with a half-dozen other “embedded” journalists, recently joined paying customers and Porsche associates in Ottawa, Ontario, forming a group of 24 drivers – two per vehicle – to learn just what the Performance Tour offers. And perhaps to figure out whether the entire “super three-day test drive” experience was worth the super cost.

At our briefing on day one in a corporate lounge at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (transportation to the event is the only additional cost), lead instructor Jonathan Urlin explained the Performance Tour goals:

“It’s an experience,” he said. “Not so much a high-level sports driving course – although we certainly offer those at our facility in Alabama – this is more a Porsche lifestyle program that’s divided into three parts: off road, on-road and on the track. It’s designed to build in excitement and skill level from one level to the next.”

He and fellow instructors Travis Hill, Zachary Robinson and Lindsay Rice – all experienced competitive drivers – would manage the event.

After introductions, however, it seemed to me that many participants were most fascinated by that third level: the track. Located an hour from Ottawa, Calabogie Motorsports Park is Canada’s longest racetrack at 5.05 kilometres. Boasting 20 turns with multiple elevation changes and blind corners, Calabogie has built a reputation as fun, technical and challenging. Many in our group had never been on a track at all, it turned out, and their research on Calabogie suggested an experience that maybe would throw them in at the deep end.

John, a busy Toronto-based engineer and Boxster owner, saw the event as a perfectly timed holiday and “a way to see what my car can do, other than simply getting me to work and back.”

Macan Turbo owner Mario from Montreal explained that he enjoys driving, and was keen to get behind the wheel of all the Porsche models, especially at speed. A couple from Vancouver just “love Porsches.” He drives; she takes the pictures. For them, this too would be “a great holiday”.

For Calgary’s Robert and Shannon, this was their second Porsche event (the first being the equivalent Porsche Performance Tour West in British Columbia), and a birthday present from Shannon to husband Robert. Already Cayenne owners, Robert added a 911 to the stable after that western experience.

“I didn’t see myself as much of a sports car guy,” explained Robert, “but after that first event, well… guess what?”

Certainly it’s not hard to get converted after driving this particular array of vehicles. For our on-road and on-track use, the cars ranged in price from $82,545 to $174,100, and featured the 718 Boxster, 718 Boxster S, 911 Carrera, 911 Carrera S, 911 Carrera S Cabriolet and 911 Targa 4S.

Participants cycled through these cars in two groups of six vehicles as we drove from the Ottawa airport to Montebello, Quebec. All cars were radio-equipped and followed a lead car piloted by the Porsche instructors, which was the practice throughout the program.

At the Chateau Fairmont Montebello, we switched into brand-new Porsche Cayenne S models for a short drive to the Kenauk Nature Reserve, where a dedicated off-road facility is maintained for select car manufacturers.

While the course is by no means extreme, it was challenging enough that participants were surprised by the competence of the Cayennes as they traversed deep ruts, ascended and descended what appeared to be almost vertical grades and trundled along at severe angles without issue.

And they loved the fact that they were banging around this muddy, dusty terrain in brand-new $100,000 vehicles. Clearly, most had no idea that a Cayenne could manage this kind of duty, although in truth, most all-wheel-drive SUVs these days – even those of the more mainstream brands – would be similarly competent.

The night was spent at the Chateau Montebello after an evening of fine dining and California wines.

After a full breakfast, Day Two saw us back in the cars and headed for Ottawa via a circuitous and scenic route north of the Ottawa River. Being October, the maple trees were in full fall colour and a most impressive sight, especially for the westerners used to conifers rather than hardwoods.

The lightly travelled Quebec country roads also impressed with their engaging corners and smooth driving surfaces (they were well-selected!). Blue skies, exciting roads and warm enough for top-down driving, this environment perfectly represented what touring in a sports car is all about.

Our destination was the famed Fairmont Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa. Next to Parliament Hill, at the convergence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau rivers, the historic Chateau Laurier is one of the former grand hotels operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Again, fine dining, a quality venue and by now, familiar and relaxed camaraderie among participants and Porsche personnel.

Day Three. The track. The entertaining drive there was designed to include Highway 511, a road that was rated one of the top-ten motorcycle routes in Ontario. It’s nice for cars, too…

The practice on the track followed the same follow-the-leader style used throughout the program, and is a very effective way to familiarize oneself with track driving. As mentioned above, this track is all twists, turns, dives and climbs punctuated by a 600-metre straight. We would see speeds just over 200 km/h on the straight, and as the day progressed, lap times would consequently decrease.

Porsche Canada had the track – and the entire facility, actually – to ourselves. There’s no passing on the track during this program and drivers are in constant communication with the instructors, following their moves, braking when they do, finding the recommended line to maximize speed and safety. Drivers experienced multiple laps in each of the available cars. Racers would find this a little tame; our group found it perfect.

And happily there were no incidents, no “offs”, no issues as drivers learned to confidently push the limits of their experience and discovered the track-ready competence of these showroom stock vehicles, despite the sophistication of Calabogie Motorsport Park’s track layout. I’ve got to say, though, the Pirelli tires looked well-worn by the end of the day.

This is a no-expense-spared introduction to Porsche cars and the Porsche lifestyle. The company, as you may know, is also about luxury wristwatches, luggage, shoes, clothing, eyewear, furniture and travel. Its brand represents a style of life to which many would like to become accustomed. The common components are quality and exclusivity.

Consequently, items branded “Porsche” – like the Performance Tour East – are not inexpensive. But given the quality of an experience that included top hotels, fine dining, generous access to exclusive vehicles, expert instruction and flawless execution, you could argue that it was something of a bargain.

Birthday present anyone?

Porsche Performance Tours are scheduled for June 2017 out of Vancouver and October 2017 out of Ottawa. Camp4 winter driving is scheduled throughout the winter and is based at Estérel, Quebec.

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