Porsche Open Track Day 2016 – An Ode To The Senses

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Porsche Open Track Day 2016 – An Ode To The Senses

It’s a day that starts off not unlike much others – the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) plays host to many a premium car launches and experiential drives. Well, if the company can afford the RM30k or so per day rental fee, why not right?

But, in my time as a motoring journalist, I have grown accustomed to the smokescreen launch gambits – typically unwound to the background of blaring electronic music, perhaps with the intention to raise the excitement level and cause goose bumps for all, as the car is wheeled out from some concealed location.

It rarely works.

Plus, the drive to Sepang, i.e.; the tolls, the heat and the general distance always leaves me somewhat flustered and agitated by the time I get to the paddock car park.

On this day, though, that bugbear vanished once I heard the unmistakeable and sonorous roar of a six-cylinder engine, cascading against the pit walls of the long starting straight… followed shortly by exhaust crackle and pops which reverberate past the pit building, as the car hunt downwards through the gearbox, staging for Turn 1.

There is nothing to conceal today, no smoke screen to blind you – just the unbarred and expansive 5.54km ribbon of tarmac, spread across 15 glorious turns. Today is as much about the experience as it is about the heritage of the cars themselves. Four of Stuttgart’s finest are at play at Porsche’s Open Track day 2016.

Like the name suggests, the event allows selected journos and potential customers alike to get to grips with the newest metal, under the watchful eyes of Porsche’s certified professionals.

After the proprietary safety briefing, the doors to one ‘concealed’ pit garage no less, inside, sat four examples of what we’d be driving today. Two Porsche 911’s in Carrera S and 4S flavours respectively, and the new kid on the block, the 718 Boxster and Boxster S.

Overview

Porsche Boxster

Far from being a facelift– Porsche have categorically revamped nearly every facet of their baby convertible. The 718 nameplate now incorporates Boxster and Cayman models into Porsche’s sports car lineup which includes the 911 and 918 hyper sports car.

Specifications: Porsche Boxster

Price: from RM480,000 (includes PDK and Malaysian Option Package)
Engine: 2.0-litre, horizontally opposed four-cylinder, Turbocharged, Petrol
Power: 300hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1,950 – 4,500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters, RWD

Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Porsche Stability Management (PSM)

Specifications: Porsche Boxster S

Price: from RM620,000 (includes PDK and Malaysian Option Package)
Engine: 2.5-litre, horizontally opposed four-cylinder, Turbocharged, Petrol
Power: 350hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 1,900 – 4,500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters, RWD

Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Porsche Stability Management (PSM)

Origin: Fully-Imported from Germany

The numerical badge harks back to the late 1950s when Porsche decided to build their very first race-car. The 718 was an evolution of the 1953 Porsche 550. A 1.5-litre mid-engined Sportster so low it could be driven under railroad crossing gates at the 1954 Mille Miglia, and so efficient it won on its first ever outing – and it did all this, with just 108bhp.

Today’s 718 Boxster draws power from a 2.0-litre turbocharged and direct-injected boxer engine mounted amidship, outputting 300bhp and 380Nm of torque from 1950rpm all the way to 4000rpm. The Boxster S utilises a 2.5-litre flat-four and Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) turbocharging to up the ante to 350bhp and 420Nm at 1900rpm.

Make no mistake, the Boxster is no longer a fashion icon, with a 4.9 seconds century sprint time in the Boxster and 4.4 seconds in the Boxster S model – Porsche are deadly serious about their new baby convertible. The Sport Chrono Pack shaves 0.2 seconds of both times respectively.

Power is channelled through a seven-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox which is supplied as standard for the Malaysian market – sitting right between the rear wheels.

Almost unnoticeable yet substantial aesthetic changes have been made on the outside. The front wings have been re-profiled to integrate the new four-spot LED lights. Down the flanks – larger air intakes reside, huffing and puffing air towards the engine.

Round the back – Porsche’s designers have reworked the rear contours house more four-point LEDs, the most prominent new feature round the back of the 718 is the slick new trim strip that runs across the rear fasciae, further accentuating the car's low-slung and wide proportions.

Twin exhaust tips reside in the centre now, finished in a polished stainless steel sheen.

On the inside, subtle improvements have been given the cockpit a refreshed look and style, redesigned (rounded) air-cond vents and an updated steering wheel design, much alike the Porsche 911. An optional GT sports steering wheel is also offered for the more enthusiastic of drivers, with a circular knob to switch between the Sport Chrono modes.

There’s a host of infotainment updates now too, Porsche Communication Management system is updated to work with the Porsche Connect App. However, we aren’t here to test the Bluetooth connectivity. With balaclava in one hand, and a shiny white helmet in the other… let’s drive!

Driving Experience

As I slide into the supple yet supportive front seats of the Boxster – an instantaneous feeling creeps over me, everything fits. The pedals grace against the sole of your shoe, the chunky steering wheel is reached with a gentle arc of the elbow, the shifter is an easy grab on the left. 

The Boxster isn’t a car you slide into – it’s a car that wraps around you.

 

Equipped with the sports GT steering wheel and paddle shifters that augment the PDK gearbox, a quick slide of the gear lever into the ‘D’ position gets us off. The shiny dark grey paintwork reflects everything off the pit building across the contours of the front wings and bonnet.

The marshal flags us through and we’re off, rifling through the gears gets us up to third before stomping on the brakes for Turn 1.

The steering is amazingly reactive and direct. Seemingly, every inch to the left or right results in a quick, alert arc of the front end – as I clip the apex of Turn 2 and unwind steering lock, a quick jab of the throttle delivers a seductive wave of power as the car passes Turn 3 up the hill reaching Turn 4 at around 160km/h.

Visibility is great out the front and sides of the car, making the job of eyeing the apex of Turn 4 a rather straightforward affair – I apply power too early and wash wide onto the grass. Some daring and little experience typically isn’t fast… just messy, I’m told.

As I wind through Turns 5 and 6, a clear and quick impression is made – the Boxster is so easy to drive fast. As exhilarating as any 300bhp car would be on a straight, made better with a silky smooth 0.32 coefficient of drag, yet no more daunting than a VW Golf through the corners.

The body control is taut and communicative - body roll is almost non-existent and remains flat and progressive even at the very limits of traction.

This is no more apparent than when setting up for Turn 9, the tight, ascending left-hander - get a good run down the hill, around 150km/h, pile on the brakes, it’s near ABS activation zone here, the car remains straight, still responsive to small steering adjustments, the rear stays in line, clip the apex and power out.

The 718 Boxster excels at being a brilliant starter Porsche for anyone, and indeed any beginner track day enthusiast – extremely flexible yet so exciting. The noise as well, almost unreal for any turbocharged four-cylinder engine, as opposed to a loud blare, it howls down the front straight reaching ever so close to 200km/h.

The Boxster S in comparison is controlled step-up in every measure. The extra 50bhp, delivered through a bump in displacement and the VTG turbine puts more speed under your right foot, nearly everywhere.

The driving characteristics are largely similar – however, 210km/h is now achieved on the main straight and Turn 3 requires some throttle modulation. Staging for Turn 4, one will hit 165km/h or more before reaching the braking point. The extra poke is most useable through Turns 5 and 6 and Turns 11 and 12 where powering out properly will stack a country mile between a Boxster and Boxster S.

For the most part, the 718 Boxster and Boxster S models have conclusively shed the enduring image of being just a pretty cruiser, that being said, the familiar niceties of dropping the soft-top on a cool day remains, yet when one puts their foot down – the level of joy is only heightened.

Need a more engaging experience? Then you’d need to step up to the big-brother Porsche 911.

Overview

Porsche 911 Carrera

The 911 has also under a trim in engine displacement, the hallmark 3.8-litre flat-six is now replaced by a completely new 3.0-litre turbocharged flat-six.

The enduring poster child of technological evolution, having carved a 53-year chapter in the annals of automotive history, now brandishes its own take on downsized turbocharging and increased efficiency.

Specifications: Porsche 911 Carrera S

Price: from RM970,000 (includes PDK and Malaysian Option Package)
Engine: 3.0-litre, horizontally opposed six-cylinder, Turbocharged, Petrol
Power: 420hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1,700 – 5,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters, RWD

Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Porsche Stability Management (PSM)

Specifications: Porsche Carrera 4S

Price: from RM1,040,000 (includes PDK and Malaysian Option Package)
Engine: 3.0-litre, horizontally opposed six-cylinder, Turbocharged, Petrol
Power: 420hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1,700 – 5,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters, AWD

Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Porsche Stability Management (PSM)

Origin: Fully-Imported from Germany

The subtle visual changes, much like the Boxster have been refined to include new headlights with four-point daytime running lights up front. Along the flanks, door handles without recess covers are claimed to aid aerodynamics while the rear lamps now feature a redesigned rear lid with vertical louvres and new rear lights. Like the Boxster, four-point brake lights also feature on the 911 too.

The new engine is a product of four decades of experience in turbocharging road and race cars. In the Carrera S models, twin-turbos raise the power benchmark to 420hp and 500Nm. This constitutes a power increase of 20hp and crucially 60Nm more than the pre-facelift naturally aspirated models.

The greater power of the 911 Carrera S results from modified turbine compressors, an upgraded exhaust system and tuned engine management. Porsche claims a combined fuel consumption of 7.7l/100 km.

The 911 Carrera S when fitted with PDK transmission (standard for Malaysian models) and the Sport Chrono Package completes the 0-100km/h sprint in just 3.9 seconds – 0.2 seconds quicker than the older one, and will accelerate to a 308km/h top speed (up by 4km/h).

The Sport Chrono Package adds a ‘mode switch’, a rotary knob on the steering (like the 918 hypercar) with four driving modes to choose from. The mode switch has an additional, “Sport Response Button”, when toggled, scrambles the drivetrain for a 20-second max attack burst of speed.

For the first time, the new PASM chassis (Porsche Active Suspension Management), which lowers the ride height by ten millimetres, is a standard feature on all Carrera models. The active rear-axle steering (previously reserved only for the GT3 and Turbo models) is now available as an option for the 911 Carrera S – which improves turn-in response and high-speed stability.

Driving Experience

For the most part – I did not go about this the right way. Choosing to get into the Carrera 4S first, was a mistake, the rationale being the AWD 911 4S would be safer for a beginner like me instead of the rear wheel drive only Carrera S.

After a trance inducing hot lap with the instructor, I chart my way slowly out of the pit lane  – partly to savour the experience of finally driving a Porsche 911, partly because my guts were rearranged during the preceding lap.

One instantly appreciates the liveliness of the steering wheel, regardless of taking Turn 1 at 30km/h or 70km/h, it’s like a dart, the feedback flows through the front end, and the weighting chunky and ever so rewarding.

I give it all in the run up to Turn 4, every sensation is heightened, the straight six screams to the limiter in every gear – the speed is so unassuming yet abundant that I instantly miss the apex. Trying to reclaim lost confidence, I ponderously overcook the following two corners.

I slowly get to grips with the car, but it’s a knife’s edge getting it right (and wrong) with the Carrera 4S, the challenge being, there’s just so much power and grip that when applied inefficiently, simply ends up looking clumsy.

The brakes are monstrous and the explosion of traction and pace coming out of corners pins you to your seat and drains the blood from your head. I can only imagine what a 911 Turbo or GT3 would feel like on a track – but for the most part, the car is so talented that I reach my limits way before it ever does.

Jumping into the Carrera S is somewhat a Jekyll and Hyde experience, the seating position is superb as is the 4S and the familiar layout by now is mighty ergonomic and easy to understand. The seats are both comfortable but permit very little lateral movement.

The thinner rear width (1808mm vs the 4S’ 1852mm) of the Carrera S allows a better rearward view through the side mirrors, and the proportions instantly feel more manageable.

Winding past Turns 1 and 2, it is way easier to get to grips with the Carrera S, the straight line potency is as special as the 4S, but where the differences are most tangible, is in the corners.

The Carrera S is 50kg down on weight, it's this reduction of mass transferred around mid-corner, that allows the Carerra S to be far more manageable and nimble. Also, anchoring down on the brakes is a far less complex affair - on one instance, even when I ploughed into Turn 7 too fast, peeling off the brakes to add steering angle caused the rear end to ever so gracefully step out into a mild drift, which was so easily corrected. 

Despite delivering similar amounts of power, the Carrera S and 4S are very different animals. The Carrera S has been engineered to the hilt to be immensely potent yet such a forgiving machine on track and surely on road as well - and hence, simply walked away with my heart.

Perhaps I judged too quickly, but what started out as another hot, sunny day at Malaysia's foremost motorsport proving ground, turned into a true ode to the senses.

Galeri: Porsche Open Trackday 2016



Arvind

Arvind

Writer

Arvind describes a car in the same way he would describe a woman; this is not very healthy. Unlike the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, soulful naturally-aspirated soundtracks and trigger quick (self-applied) gearshifts are all that fill the darkest recesses of his mind. Arvind is still trying to understand women...


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