IT WAS A MOMENTOUS AFTERNOON at Porsche Centre North Toronto (PCNT) on Wednesday, November 14th, 2018. Provinz was invited to attend a celebration ceremony, in conjunction with the Porsche Centre’s 1000th customer delivery. PCNT’s 50,000 square feet, state-of-the-art facility is situated just northeast of the juncture of highways 401 and 404. They officially opened their doors to the public in the summer of 2017, making this an extremely impressive milestone for just over one year of being in business.
The 1000th car delivered by PCNT was the beautiful red 991.2 GT3 RS you see on these pages. Marking this occasion with a cake shaped in “1000” and some appetizers, PCNT management were in attendance to both celebrate and thank the new owner for his business.
Ara Sahakian, the owner of this 1000th car, has been a veteran member of Porsche Club UAE (United Arab Emirates) and is one of our newest members here at PCA Upper Canada Region. His journey towards his love for Porsches, and the automotive world in general, is one that spanned through his childhood into his career, while crossing international borders from Canada to the UAE. Provinz was lucky enough to have an opportunity to catch up with him to hear his story.
1. Do you think your love of cars influenced your career path?
Absolutely. I studied Accounting and Finance at the University of Waterloo and received my Chartered Accountancy designation with PricewaterhouseCoopers Toronto. PwC attracted me due to its automotive practice in North York. My clients at the time included Volkswagen-Audi Canada, Ford Motors Canada and Toyota manufacturing. I learned a lot about the sector through these early days of my career. It wasn’t just knowledge of the industry either. At Volkswagen-Audi, they would even let me drive some of the new cars that were coming in to Canada. One of the more memorable cars I got to drive was the earliest Audi B5 S4, with a 6-speed transmission!
2. What a treat! So what was the most impactful thing you learned from your time there?
While conducting due diligence reviews of Ford dealerships, I noticed that the most profitable ones distinguished themselves in two ways: by having a well-run service department, and a great team of technicians. These high-performing dealerships didn’t only excel in those particular functions –performance in those areas translated into better sales and margins for the entire dealership.
3. How did you end up in Dubai in the 2000s?
When I was studying for my CA exams, I had two motivational items on my wall. One was a large poster of a Porsche 996 Turbo and the second one was an advert from KPMG to work in the Caribbean and the UAE. After joining PwC in Toronto, I had the opportunity to transfer to other offices globally. My wife and I wanted somewhere interesting, warm and ideally with a beach, so we picked Dubai.
4. A great avenue to realize an aspiration. What led you from being a Chartered Accountant to establishing an off-roading business in Dubai?
When we got to Dubai, we bought a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 5.2L V8 and would take it on off-road adventure drives every weekend. The desert is vast, with huge dunes where you have to pick your own driving lines and hope not to get stuck. When I took the Jeep in for service, I noticed the dealership there was extremely busy, and wasn’t servicing customers very well. There was also no one to go to for off-roader modifications in Dubai at the time.
Seeing an opportunity, I called a friend from Canada and we established OffRoad-Zone, a business that not only serviced, modified and rented Jeeps, but also took people out on desert driving excursions. I continued working at PwC but would take care of strategy for the company. It was a nice added bonus to have a place to service my own Jeep and get to play with other cars.
If you love cars, Dubai is a great place to be. I think that’s why I stayed there for so long. We have attended numerous Porsche driving events, track events of all sorts, and road trips too.
5. Wow, your insight on well-run service departments was put to good use! Dubai is practically a playground for car enthusiasts – what other car-related activities did you do there?
If you love cars, Dubai is a great place to be. I think that’s why I stayed there for so long. We have attended numerous Porsche driving events, track events of all sorts, and road trips too. These excursions led us to remote beaches, and had even brought us into neighbouring countries accidentally, without passports, while off-roading! My wife is a great driver, so she would win her fair share of Porsche driving event awards. Our time there had truly been a great car-related adventure.
6. Was it true that you were paid to drive an Audi A7 in the desert for Audi Magazine?
Yes, it was! To be honest, I would have done it for free. Thanks to all my experience getting stuck and unstuck in the desert, I learned a great deal about the science behind driving on sand.
When Audi Magazine called our office asking if we could drive the A7 in the sand for a viral video, I naturally said yes. I had one requirement, that their car had to have the option to fully turn off the stability and computer controls.
7. How is driving in the desert different than driving on the track or off-roading in Canada?
Unlike trails or the track where there’s a relatively defined driving line, you must build your own lines in the desert. You need to read the sand and determine what you will do at least three moves ahead. It’s a lot of fun. If UCR is interested to experience this, I can organize a members-only trip to Dubai for a desert crossing excursion.
8. Interesting, our Driving Tour Chair just might take you up on that. Let’s get back to Porsches – what was your first Porsche?
My first Porsche was a 1984 928S – I bought it for $5,000. It was way ahead of its time and was a great car. I even bought a parts car for it for $2,000. I would drive it daily, and my wife would later drive it to work.
9. You were quite active in Porsche Club UAE and even ended up sponsoring them. How did that come to be?
I was at Porsche Club UAE event when I noticed a Brembo GT big brake kit on the 996 GT2 of the President of the club, Karim Al Azhari – a great guy, and a fantastic race car driver. When I asked him about the brakes, he couldn’t stop raving about them.
My brother, who was in Italy at the time, helped me secure Brembo distribution rights, and I set up another business called ORZ Performance, which dealt with speed modifications to performance cars. Mind you, the decision to take on Brembo wasn’t financially driven. It was just a great excuse to get involved in tracking. With this in mind, it only made sense to build a fun track car. This is when I purchased a 996 Turbo. Before I knew it, we were attending every track event Porsche Club UAE hosted, and ended up sponsoring the club too.
We met some amazing people at the Porsche club UAE and I’m still friends with many of them. I hope to do the same here at PCA UCR.
10. Rest assured you will meet some great people – our motto is “It’s not just the cars, it’s the people”, after all. So was that the same 996 Turbo as the one in your aspirational poster on your wall back then?
Ironically, yes. Funny how things work out. ORZ Performance upgraded the 996 Turbo with the 380mm Brembo Big Brake kit, KW Variant 3 suspension, ADV wheels to accommodate the bigger brakes, Remus exhaust and a custom tune. The turbo was not the ideal track car, but the upgrades made a huge difference.
11. Any other notable Porsche experiences you had there?
One of the most interesting was leading a convoy of Porsche Cayennes in a desert crossing on behalf of Porsche Club UAE.
12. How did the Cayennes perform in the desert?
They performed great. I had a 2014 Cayenne GTS, which had power, luxury, off-road ability, and great suspension and axle articulation [Ed: for those unfamiliar with off-roading, axle articulation is the amount the axle can move up and down relative to the chassis. This measure provides a sense of the traction and stability of a vehicle on rough terrain]. It was a fantastic experience.
13. Given your track experience in Dubai, how does Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (otherwise affectionately known as Mosport) compare to the race tracks in the UAE?
They are all different and great in their own way. The Yas Marina Formula One track in Abu Dhabi is pristine, fairly flat, technical, and with a five-star hotel for lodging. You feel very safe and have the confidence to push your car. On the other hand, the Dubai Autodrome has some hills, more exciting turns, but more can go wrong. In comparison, Mosport is a lot more exciting, beautiful with trees and elevations – but I have been told that you have to be very careful.
They all have their pros and cons, but I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Mosport. Can’t wait to go back next season!
14. UCR Driver Education Days fill up fast, so remember to register early! Amongst all the cars you have driven, which one of them is your favorite?
I enjoy driving different cars. My favorite car is usually the one I’m driving in that moment.
15. Seems wise to live in the present. Speaking of which: what are you working on, career-wise, now that you are back in Toronto?
I’m the Managing Partner of PE GATE, an exempt market dealer in the Private Equity space, where we acquire small-medium sized businesses with our co-investors. We specialize in businesses where the owner-manager is looking to retire. We promote or hire new management and get actively involved in growing the business.
16. Would you invest in another automotive business?
It would have to be something very niche or difficult to duplicate.
Initially, we chose silver with the Weissach package. But it just didn’t feel right. A car like this GT3 RS deserved a more vibrant colour. With that thought in mind, we ultimately went back to John and changed the exterior to red and added some red accents to the interior too.
17. Let’s talk about your GT3 RS – great colour! How did you spec it?
I wanted the optioning process of my GT3 RS to be something I did together with my family. We went to Porsche Centre North Toronto, where John Capella worked with us to specify options on the car. The process was actually a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend it. I was very impressed with the experience I had at PCNT – it’s a great new dealership, conveniently located and with amazing people.
Back to the specifications – initially, we chose silver with the Weissach package. But it just didn’t feel right. A car like this GT3 RS deserved a more vibrant colour. With that thought in mind, we ultimately went back to John and changed the exterior to red and added some red accents to the interior too.
It turned out even better than I imagined.
We couldn’t agree more. Congratulations on the beautiful car, Ara. Thanks for your insightful stories, and welcome to Porsche Club of America, Upper Canada Region! </>
Interview by Derek Cheung, Provinz Digital Editor | Photos by Eshel Zweig, Provinz Photographer