For the average Canadian driver, a winter driving school is an excellent investment: for a few hundred bucks, you can learn how to get along with Mother Nature at her moodiest and reach your destination unscathed.
Or, if you’re willing to shell out a few grand, you can attend Porsche’s Camp4 and spend two days smacking winter around in a $100,000 sports car.
Camp4 started in 1996 in Rovaniemi, Finland as a driving program taught by instructors from the Porsche Sport Driving School; Canada’s first Camp4 was held in 2011 at Mécaglisse, a four-season motorsports park located in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, about an hour north of Montreal. Other events are also held in Italy, Switzerland and China.
As a “precision driving course” (as Porsche markets it) Camp4 does instill valuable car control skills. However, rather than teaching how to simply maintain control of a car during an emergency avoidance maneuver on a slippery road, Porsche’s instructors show participants not only how to negotiate an icy corner, but to do it at speed, with the car sideways, throwing twin rooster tails of snow off the spinning rear wheels.
Porsche’s ever-expanding model range includes a number of vehicles well-suited to winter driving, such as the Macan and Cayenne SUVs and even the Panamera sedan, which can be had with all-wheel drive. Camp4 leaves those models out, putting drivers behind the wheel of two of its most popular sports car models, the Cayman and 911 (the latter in both rear- and all-wheel drive formats).
During Porsche’s 2015 media day, we began by putting the cars through a slalom course, with instructions to use the car’s rear-drive layout to help steer around the pylons. Next, it was off to an icy skidpad, where the task was to negotiate the circular track in a constant state of controlled over-steer (which is what happens when the back of the car slides to the outside of a turn). After that, we learned a technique called trail braking, which involves applying the brakes after entering a turn, causing (wait for it) the rear of the car to slide out, and counter-steering to recover and use the car’s momentum to carry you into the next turn. The inclusion of both RWD and AWD versions of the 911 served to demonstrate how having four powered wheels isn’t an automatic ticket to staying out of the ditch. Camp4 teaches you how to best use that extra traction to your advantage.
Finally, after all those lessons, it was time to integrate what we’d learned on a longer, icy road course. By this point in the program, if there’s any doubt as to Camp4’s entertainment value, consider the track marshals standing at every turn, cheering us on as we approached the course’s next challenge.
The focus here is the same as in any performance driving course, no matter the amount of grip under the tires: keeping the car on the track requires deliberate steering, throttle and brake inputs. Your hands and feet might be controlling the car, but once you’ve learned the physics of car control, the most important body parts here are your eyes: look where you want to go, and nine times out of ten, the car will do what you tell it to. The trickiest part is remembering that, sometimes, seeing where you want to go involves looking through a side window, not the windshield – and that applies in an unintentional skid on a public road just as much as it does in a controlled slide on a racetrack.
Camp4 is fun – it had better be for $5,195 (plus tax!) for the basic program: master the precision driving skills here and you can move up to the more performance-oriented Camp4S ($6,195) and then Camp4RS ($7,195). If somehow that’s not enough adrenaline for you, try the Ice Force program, an all-out ice racing course held in Finland, with a price tag of 5,700 Euros (about $8,000 at the time of this writing).
Porsche’s annual Camp4 media day is an abbreviated version of the class; for paying customers, the cost includes two full days of driving, three nights’ accommodation, and all meals. (Porsche supplies the cars, too.) All you have to do is get yourself here, and many people do, every year: Porsche was expecting more than 350 participants for the 2015 program, from as far away as Australia.
As Porsche’s cars are largely considered “lifestyle” purchases, Camp4 is definitely a lifestyle event: you will learn stuff, but factor in three nights at an upscale resort and a couple of days tossing someone else’s sports cars around in the snow, and what you’ve got is an alternative to a Las Vegas getaway for a group of friends looking for a fun few days. (That being said, a week is Vegas would probably be less expensive if you reined in the gambling.)
While there are certainly more affordable ways to build winter-driving confidence, Porsche Camp4 does teach techniques that do provide solid lessons in winter car control, even if they’re not all applicable in daily driving. Regardless of the cost, there’s certainly something to be said for making learning physics this much fun.