Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This Week: Deer Trail, CO

Life in the fast lane, Porsch World Roadshow 2012

This was only the second time ever I have driven east of Denver International Airport on Interstate 70. The first time was almost a decade ago and that was a cross-country road trip to Florida. On this day our destination was away from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains toward the great plains of eastern Colorado halfway between Denver and the Kansas state line. It was a day we will never forget.
About a month ago I was filing through the mail and came across small flyer with my name on it and a picture of a beautiful Porsche Boxster. I assumed it was from our neighborhood Porsche dealer and as lovely as the picture was, no way short of winning the lottery was I ever going to shop for a Porsche. Opening the cabinet door that housed the trash can, I stooped over the garbage when two words caught my eye:  “Invitation Only.” I took a peek.
“Sign up now for an unforgettable driving experience. You are invited to the 2012 Porsche World Roadshow – USA. This is your opportunity to feel the G-forces as you drive some of the world’s most exhilarating vehicles in a closed-course driving environment. You and a guest are invited to get behind the wheel of the Panamera, Boxster S, Cayenne, and the original racing icon – the 911. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive a Porsche the way it was intended – on specially-designed driving courses, with coaching from certified Porsche driving instructors.”
All I had to do was log onto PorscheWorldRoadshowUSA.com and enter a special nine-digit code from the invitation. Intrigued I headed to my computer where the website had even more interesting information:
“Porsche will bring vehicles spanning most of the model range, accompanied by the specially-trained and highly-skilled Porsche Sport Driving School – USA instructors. Learn skills from past and current champions who have experience in all aspects of the sport…Participants will experience the 911, Panamera, all-new Boxster S and Cayenne in various high-performance exercises such as handling, braking and on-track driving.”
Without questioning how this invitation ended up in the mailbox of someone obviously not capable of financing a Porsche, I logged in and entered all sorts of personal information about myself and my husband into this possibly dubious website. The event was divided into four sessions and both morning events were already booked. I selected the 12:55 p.m. session and clicked the register tab. For the next several days I waited for two things to happen:  A virus getting unleashed into my computer and for my identity to get stolen. When neither of those things happened, I showed the invitation to my husband. Not finding anything to raise his suspicions he rearranged his travel schedule to be there.
High Plains Raceway, our destination, sat in the middle of nowhere just off Highway 36, 17 miles east of Byers. Byers the town was located at the fork in the road where Interstate 70 turned southward toward Limon and Highway 36 continued east. We realized we were in for something special when we saw the canary yellow Porsche pass us on the highway. Intimidation began when a dark blue Porsche with Kansas plates shot by.
Now with the mountains far behind us, we pulled into the raceway’s parking lot directed by young gentlemen in red Porsche logo Polos. Behind us in the lot were three red Porsches covering several decades and Porsches of other colors and decades dotted around the lot. We felt self-conscious with our Ford Edge until a Toyota Tundra pulled up next to us.
We followed the crowd of mostly older gentlemen, some with wives and girlfriends, to a large white tent with five sparkly Porsche models parked out front. We registered with the Porsche staff and received our track badges. Orientation wouldn’t start for another 15 minutes so we milled around the air conditioned tent admiring the fully loaded, ruby red Panamera GTS with suede interior. Then we perused the display cases filled with all kinds of Porsche swag such as $26 Porsche logo golf balls, $60 model cars and $250 Porsche watches. We couldn’t even afford the swag! We helped ourselves to the snack buffet and then went back outside to admire the model cars. Next to each car was a spec sheet with information such as:
The newly designed Boxster S had 315 horse power and went 0-60 in 4.8 seconds. Top speed 173 mph and 22 mpg in the city. Base price was $60,000 with options topping $80,000.
The 911 Carrera S had 400 horse power and went 0-60 in 4.3 seconds. Top speed 188 mph and 21 mpg in the city. Base price started about $86,000 with options up to $100,000.
The Panamera had 300 horse power and went 0-60 in 6 seconds with a top speed of 160 mph. Gas mileage was 20 mpg city. Base price about $100,000. I believe it topped out at $180-something thousand.
The Cayenne was Porsche’s family car and it looked like a small SUV. It had 400 horse power and 0-60 in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 160. Gas mileage was 19 mpg city. Base price…$110,000. I didn’t bother looking at the options.
A Porsche staff member announced they were ready to start and we filed back inside the tent. Although I call it a tent, it had wood flooring, windows, a few sofas and several TV monitors showing Porsche videos. We sat in a section of the tent that had several rows of the most comfortable folding chairs I have ever sat in. Our speaker was Cass Whitehead, Lead Instructor of the Porsche Sport Driving School in Birmingham, AL. He had quite a racing resume, named Rookie National Driver of the Year when he started. After earning an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, he raced and won many competitions including IMSA, Rolex Grand Am and the American Le Mans series. He helped Porsche win the Rolex Grand Am GT class Manufacturers Championship in 2002. Whitehead told us we were going to have fun today.
“You guys are going to get to do things in a vehicle you can’t do on a dealer test drive,” he said. “Just try telling a dealer you want to test drive four different models at 127 miles per hours. They probably won’t let you do that.”
Whitehead also talked about the Porsche Sport Driving School and its history. For our purposes, however, he mostly discussed the finer points of a racing turn: brake before the turn, enter at a 45 degree angle, gas at the apex of the curve and let the car roll 45 degrees back to the outside. There were other ways, angles, of taking a turn, he told us, but he didn’t recommend them.
“When you run out of pavement and talent, you are in trouble,” he said followed by nervous laughter from the room.
We also learned how the track driving would be organized. We were divided into groups by a color dot on our badges. Ours were red. Each color group would have four cars they would take turns driving with each group having an instructor in a lead car. Two people per car. We would follow the instructor single file around the course keeping 3 to 4 car lengths between. We would drive one lap around the track following specific instructions by the leader on a radio. Then we would pit the cars and the passenger would become the driver for the next lap. After that lap, we would then move to the car behind us. Those in the last car would move up to the front until we had all rotated through for a total of eight laps, four of them driving. It sounded simple enough except he forgot to mention we would be driving cars with an average sticker price of $90,000.
After the presentation Whitehead drew a name out of an envelope for the session door prize, a set of Bose earphones won by neither of us, and finally we were sent the racing pit where we were told to grab a helmet from a stack next to the cars (some drivers brought their own if that tells you anything about this group). Another red Polo Porsche person led us by dot color to a group of beautiful shiny cars in perfect alignment.
My husband and I were lucky enough to start in the Panamera GTS, the car behind the instructor. Surprising us in the pit was a photographer who snapped photos as we entered the cars. He asked my husband to roll down his window so he could take a picture and then said photos would be available the next day on the Roadshow website. As we got into the car we could already hear the instructor on an invisible radio. He reminded us to make sure our helmets and seatbelts were on. Make sure we were close enough to the steering wheel that our elbows were bent, closer than most people normally sit in a car. He pointed out the Sports and Sports Plus buttons on the console and encouraged us to try them as we drove, but we should all start out in “normal” when we exit the pit.
“OK, when the paparazzi are finished you can put the car in drive and we’ll get started.” The turn out of the pit was quite sharp and the car hummed and purred as my husband hit the gas. We kept turning and turning then finally an orange cone marked the start of the track and a long straightaway of open asphalt.
“OK people, time to give it some gas,” said the invisible voice. We were off! The engine growled, but it was a comforting, strong sound. The sound surrounded you, but it wasn’t deafening. Our eyes were completely focused on the car in front of us just as Whitehead said to do. So focused I had no idea what the surrounding landscape looked like. All I see is asphalt and a silver car getting smaller in the distance. Then we see the car’s brake lights.
“OK the first curve is coming up, time to hit the brakes. Slow down before you get to the turn, then ease out of the turn and give it some gas,” said the almost hypnotic voice. My husband did as instructed with perfect execution.
“OK we have S-curve coming up next. Gently we’re going to turn left, then right, then left using the orange cones as a guide.” I found myself swaying slightly as he said left, right, left.
“Here comes a right turn, brake first, then accelerate as you head up the hill.” The Panamera glided up the hill.
“OK we have a blind left turn coming up so brake, then accelerate…and another S-curve. Be sure to just touch the marked areas as we go through.” The marked areas were the apexes of each curve and impossible to miss with their blue and white striping. “OK now decelerate as we head back to the pit.” Like that it was over. We lined the Panamera behind the lead car and traded places. Our instructor reminded everyone to make sure the car was in park before we exited.
I sat in the Panamera’s driver seat and proceeded to move the seat up…and up…and up. Remember that ESPN/NBA commercial in the RV? Jeff Van Gundy sits in the driver’s seat after Amar’e Stoudemire and all you hear the seat motor humming while Van Gundy inched closer to the wheel? That was me.
Camera guy came over and asked me to roll down my window. I smiled as I wondered what I looked like with this giant helmet covering my noggin. Before I could worry about that more, the “voice” began. It was eerily familiar.
“OK when the paparazzi are finished taking their pictures we can get started.” I pressed my foot on the accelerator impressed with how smooth the car rolled out of the pit. The turn onto the main track kept getting longer and longer. I caught the orange cone out on my left.
“OK folks time to give it some gas.” Suddenly the lead car became awfully small.
“GO GO GO!” my husband yelled. I pressed the pedal, but I couldn’t find the floor. The engine hummed its quiet roar and my peripheral vision was all blurry. Then I saw the lead car’s brake lights and even though I wasn’t even close to him, I touched my brakes. The car responded immediately and smoothly as I entered the first turn.
“Way to catch up Panamera. Now we go through the gentle S-curve, first left then right then left. Boxster try to catch up as we head into the next turn…” It helped that my husband drove first because I could see the track without the pressure of driving it. I knew the next turn was the uphill and gave it some gas. Next came the blind left turn so I touched the brakes. Then the second S-curve and after each touch of the stripes, I pressed the gas pedal slightly. The car responded like a hover craft; it wasn’t even like driving. Before I could fully register that feeling, we slowed down and entered the pit. While most of the other drivers felt exhilaration upon leaving the vehicle, I felt more relieved that the car and I survived.
From the Panamera we moved into the Boxster S. A true sports car, this would prove a far more interesting ride. For the third time we heard, “OK, when the paparazzi are finished taking photos, we can get started…” His mantra continued through the same way each lap, however, it was reassuring and made it easy to remember what to do each step of the way. By the time we got to the fourth car, I had the track memorized. Sadly, that was the end of it.
For me the Boxster was the most difficult car. Although the engine and braking were smooth in all the cars (these things stop on a dime!), I felt I had to really work the steering wheel during turns and I finished my lap slightly tired. The third car was the 911 Carrera and the last car was the Carrera S. I liked both, but the Carrera S was beyond easy. No effort to turn the wheel, press the gas or brake pedals almost like it responded to my thoughts. It just went.
Since the Carrera S was the fourth car for us, we were done with the track portion of the afternoon. We next walked to a section of parking lot that was coned off into a small oval. Here the Porsche staff had people test the difference between their Cayenne and Panamera V8 cars verses their new hybrid models. We took turns first driving the V8, which included a ¼ mile of straightaway to accelerate as fast as we could, then we had to slam on the brakes before rounding the short oval back to the start. There was no difference between the V8s and the hybrids when it came to acceleration, other than the hybrid engines were quiet, and that was whole point of the demo.
As we left the track, a Porsche staff member at the hybrid tent reminded us to grab our parting gift before we left. The gift, a stainless steel Porsche water bottle, probably cost as much as a crystal goblet. With feelings of both sadness and exhilaration, we climbed back in the old Edge for the long ride home.
“Did you ever look at the speedometer?” my husband asked.
“No,” I said with sudden realization. “Did you?”
“No, they said to always look at the road ahead of you.” True, Whitehead did say to always look where you want the car to go, which was the road ahead.
“I guess we’ll never know how fast we went,” I said, noting the only disappointment in our fantastic afternoon.
There are still three dates left on the USA roadshow tour - Houston, Oct. 5-6; Central Florida, Oct. 16-18; and Charlotte, Oct. 31 - Nov. 1. See link below.

High Plains Raceway
Porsche Sport Driving School
Porsch World Roadshow USA