My Life as a Fast Girl


(Sort of)

Written by Robin Colter, Photographed by Lindsey Griffin

 

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“My name is Robin, and I drive like a girl.”

We took turns telling who we were and why we were there.  Most had the same reason—a love for the Porsche and a need for speed. A few had come along with a spouse or a friend.  But what was I doing there? My heart was thumping already and we hadn’t yet stepped out of the classroom. The next two days could be transformative if I let them but how far was I willing to go out of my comfort zone?

This blustery January morning had started for most at Ross Bridge Resort and Spa with a 7 a.m. shuttle to Barber MotorSports Park.  The people in my group had come from all over America—Minnesota, California, Connecticut and Florida—to attend the prestigious Porsche Sport Driving School.  The PSDS has operated in the unique setting at Barber’s since 2003, when the school moved from its original home at Road Atlanta. I’m certain those who had never seen the track before were struck by the stunning landscape into which this ribbon-like course is carved. It’s a special place to spend the day whether you’re a driver or a spectator. On this particular morning, there would be no spectators.

After an impressive continental breakfast, a little “getting to know you” time and some driving basics in the classroom, I found myself, along with my team members Rodger and Monica, outside on the black top standing behind three pretty magnificent automobiles. The chilly wind did little to cool our moods as each of us chose our car. I had been nervous about this for days. I tend to shy away from anything that combines waivers, heavy machinery and breathtaking speed. But here I was, and I was up first, so it was here that the steps toward driving precision began. Brazilian racer and driving instructor Daniel Eastman showed us how to break coming into a turn. My silver Cayman performed well, and I didn’t do so bad myself. The lesson was to first break hard, then ease off into the turn. Simple, right? All of it made great sense at 35 miles per hour. We moved on to the next challenge.

On the skid pad just up the hill, lead-instructor Cass Whitehead demonstrated driving techniques on a simulated icy surface. Cass performed a few dramatic spins before coming to a stop in front of us. Again, I was first behind the wheel. Was I really qualified for this level of danger barely two hours into the program? Apparently so. With my stomach churning, I climbed into the driver’s seat.

As I made my figure–eights and greater and greater speed,  Cass was able to talk me through gaining control—even in the most unpredictable moments of a 360. “Look where you want to go and not where you’re going. Lead with the eye. The hands and body will do what it takes to follow.” I felt surprisingly safe and certainly well advised. Best of all, I was beginning to enjoy myself.  Time to head further up the hill to the next stop.

By the time we arrived at the Autocross  Challenge course, the clouds had given way to sun and the day was shaping up to be a beautiful one. We listened as instructor  Brian Cunningham explained the course and how we should handle it: Go as fast as you can, break before turns, accelerate in the straight–a–ways and use a great amount of steering input in the S–curves. Oh yeah,  “and don’t run over any cones because they’ve put tiny kittens under some of them.”

I was ready for this one, and for that Porsche Boxster idling on the black top. Perhaps it was here at the Autocross Challenge that we all began to feel like race car drivers. The Boxster did its part to confirm that. All that was left was the track.

There’s nothing quite like walking onto this world class race track and being asked to pick your Porsche. No matter what your speed, it’s here that you will embark on a “road trip” like no other you’ll experience and you’ll do it with 500 horsepower at your fingertips.

We were lead around the track, gradually picking up speed as we became more familiar with the personality of the course and the feeling of each turn, where to brake and where to accelerate. By the end of the second day, we were flying around this track at speeds near 100 mph with not only confidence in our skills but an even greater confidence in “our” Porsche. It was a place I could never have imagined being, but it was both an enviable and exhilarating one.

The Happiest Place on Earth

All veteran race drivers, these guys spend their day doing exactly what they love to do—driving cars fast.

So you think you really love your job? Talk to one of the PSDS instructors for a few minutes.  All veteran race drivers, these guys spend their day doing exactly what they love to do—driving cars fast. Under contract with Porsche North America, they not only teach but also work special events nationwide and generally spread the love of the sport as they go. They want you to love it as well, and they’re going to do everything they can to teach you how. This is a very one on one learning experience that requires you to trust the instructors as much as they’ve asked you to trust the car.

The most important part of this experience is the fun. Though worried about leaving my comfort zone, I quickly discovered that all levels of speed and skill are accommodated for (I was the slowest in my group). The PSDS instructors are here to teach you real driving skills and provide you with a unique driving opportunity whatever sort of driver you are.

A Sportscar in Sheep’s Clothing

The skills that you learn in the classroom and on the track will certainly make you a better driver on the street. In addition to the knowledge you walk away with, you are provided also with the rare opportunity to explore the whole Porsche line-up and experience the amazing level of performance that can be achieved by this particular brand.  You’ll hear it more than once here, “Trust your car.” In the case of the Porsche, rest assured that you can do exactly that.

If you find yourself questioning whether the four-dour Panamera or the Cayenne SUV can really fly the Porsche flag as well as the sportier models I’d suggest that you  and several friends climb into the Panamera with Daniel Eastman and ask him to demonstrate a little thing called “Launch Control”—an actual function on several of the Porsche automobiles that enables the best possible starting acceleration—a racing start. Just make sure that your head is facing forwerd to avoid whiplash on “takeoff.”

Or perhaps you could have Eastman coach you in taking the Cayenne down what feels like a near vertical drop on an off-road trail without ever touching the brakes (but while keeping both hands on the wheel at all times, thank you). Be warned that you are likely to come away convinced that you need to own one of these versatile vehicles, if you don’t already have one.

Checkered flag

“The skills that you learn in the classroom and on the track will certainly make you a better driver on the street”

Before we each received our driving school diplomas or any prizes that were earned for being fastest at any of the exercises (I qualified for none), the driving portion of the day ended in “hot laps” with some of our instructors behind the wheel.We all thought we were taking the course pretty fast until we had the opportunity to ride with the pros. We may have come far in our two days,  but a lap around the track with a real race car driver made the difference between us and them abundantly clear.

The two days at PSDS were exciting and went by much too quickly. Yeah sure, if you love to drive fast and you love Porsche’s  you’re going to have a great time. But  the truth is you’re probably going to have a pretty great time even if you drive like a girl. And don’t worry—there really aren’t tiny kittens under any of those cones.

 

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