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Back on Track

We often worry over what the weather will be like come “track day.” Our Sunday high-performance driver education at Calabogie was no exception and brought a mixed bag of rain showers, even the risk of a thunderstorm. What to wear, what tires? We both know how to drive in the rain, we’ve done ice track driving, and I’ve done the club’s Introductory Driving School, including the skid pad, all flooded and rain-soaked. I know that it is easy to spin out in any Porsche!

“It’s looking pretty wet out there,” I observed to my husband, Brad. “Aren’t you glad you put the all-season tires on the new GT4?!”

“Yes,” he conceded, “but it would have been really nice to try out the Michelin Sport Cup 2s that it came with. I suppose that ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ though!”

So, what do you usually do when taking delivery of a new 2020 718 Cayman GT4? Buy another set of GT4 wheels and put all-season tires on it? Probably not, even if they’re Michelin Pilot Sports. Having read the test reports on the Sport Cup 2s that the car came shod with, we wisely decided to buy some “ultra high-performance” all-season tires for the shoulder season, even though they aren’t Porsche N-spec. We expected to drive our new car through the wet and chilly fall in Ottawa. It turned out to be doubly wise when pouring rain greeted us Sunday morning for track day. This was going to be the real test drive.

I didn’t care how wet it was — we were back on track!

“You’re driving all-season tires?!” asked one incredulous soul when we arrived at Calabogie Motorsports Park. He promptly had to park his car when his R-comp tires couldn’t warm up enough to hook up during the cold rainy conditions. He wasn’t alone, which was too bad, because wet — or snowy — tracks are the best opportunity to learn car control at the limits. Sadly, many parked their cars, which, happily for us though, gave us almost the whole track to ourselves as we shared the car for just over 300 kilometres of driving during hers and his intermediate and advanced run groups. It didn’t seem to stop the other Porsche owners either, a beautiful new Gentian Blue 2020 Carrera 4S hooning around in my run group and an older silver Carrera in Brad’s group. Coincidentally, after discussing the car with its owner, we learned that the 992 was the same car that Brad and I had driven during the slalom exercise on a dealer Porsche Experience day last year. Small world! Brad’s brother Eric joined Brad’s group in his almost-unstoppable 2008 Audi TT, providing Brad with a suitable challenge for a couple of spirited, but safe, cat and mouse sessions.

Last time I was on the track in May I was driving our PDK-equipped 2018 718 Cayman S. This time, I was driving our new GT4, a Cayman that comes with a truly reptilian bite! And a manual transmission. Having just finished the car’s 3,000-kilometre break-in period, which seemed like forever, this was my first opportunity to truly sample its performance and, for the first time ever, drive a near-racecar with a manual transmission on the track. Admittedly I was a bit skeptical, and perhaps a bit nervous, when we decided to buy the GT4 from Mark Motors in Ottawa but, by the end of the day, I had learned to appreciate how much of an upgrade the GT4 is, especially for the track.

Predictable and stable, the GT4 wouldn’t even wiggle during heavy braking, the huge steel brakes communicating every grain of the brake pads to the ball of my foot, the car taking just a little tap of the brakes during turn-in on the tightest corners to set the nose and prepare for the cold-blooded attack on that corner.

Even on the way to Calabogie from Ottawa’s west end I was amazed by how much downforce the rear diffuser must have been generating, vacuuming huge gouts of water off of the highway and sending truck-like plumes into the air. My gosh, even more so at approaching 200 KPH in the wet, on the track of course. Predictable and stable, the GT4 wouldn’t even wiggle during heavy braking, the huge steel brakes, stolen from the GT3 apparently, communicating every grain of the brake pads to the ball of my foot, the car taking just a little tap of the brakes during turn-in on the tightest corners to set the nose and prepare for the cold-blooded attack on that corner. Of course, I also learned that braking through any appreciable standing water pooled across the braking zone at the end of the front straight at Calabogie was safer to accomplish by braking early, body surfing the car, then braking again. All good fun. I was back on track!

We skipped the carbon-buckets option. I found the 18-way power seats could be adjusted for hip- and torso-hugging goodness, holding me tight even when pushing through strong lateral forces in the wet. For the first half of the day, I missed having the PDK, wanting one less distraction as I learned how to drive the new reptile on the wet track but, by mid-afternoon, after a couple of exercises where I left it in third gear to minimize distraction, I rekindled my joy of rowing my own. The shifter was a willing companion, snick-snicking into and out of gears with precision, and the clutch take-up was perfect. Not being a heel-and-toe expert, I found the auto-blip feature a joy and, knowing that second was pretty tall, I didn’t worry so much about over-revving the engine when downshifting from fourth and third into some of the tight corners.

Did I mention how the GT4 handles in the wet? Maybe it was the tires, maybe just the basic goodness of the car including the utterly communicative steering and suspension underpinnings, but the GT4 is a truly confidence-inspiring car in the wet. I can hardly wait for a hot dry day, however, this time with the Michelin Sport Cup 2s. I’m also looking forward to trying the Porsche Track Precision app and, perhaps, the lap trigger.

No discussion of track days in these interesting times can be complete without talking about the impact of COVID-19. Brad and I felt blessed that we had the wherewithal to pursue our passion last year and sad that some of our track-rat friends could not, un- and under-employment throwing a wrench in their plans. The staff at Calabogie did a great job once again respecting public health measures but still made the day fun in a thoroughly welcoming environment. I hope that, as we go through this rollercoaster, everyone in our club is able to pursue their passion, whether on the track or, when things normalize a bit more, the wonderful social scene of driving tours. In the meantime, I’m still happy to be back on track. </>

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