Navigating the Learning Curve
while descending the Slippery Slope
by Joe Lapin
As my first season of Driver Education came to a close, I reflected on the incredible journey of learning that I had enjoyed in the Rennsport DE events. At my advanced age of 66, developing a consuming passion is not an easy task. Many of my peers are overwhelmed with negative thought patterns of declining health, financial insecurity, marital issues, angst about their children, and many other sad topics. To the uninitiated, the experience of driving on a racetrack is an abstract fantasy, but for those fortunate enough to participate in DE events, their lives change irrevocably. To learn is to grow!
I often draw a parallel between driving and skiing, as the learning curve for each pursuit is theoretically endless. The Holy Grail for both activities is to rhythmically link turns with no apparent transition between them. I once asked my instructor if he was not bored with his long-term involvement, and he responded that he had yet to perform the ‘perfect lap’. As a skier, I understand this clearly, and we continue to use ski analogies in describing car dynamics. I cherish this learning process, and the specific challenges that DE presents.
In January, while having my skis sharpened at Danny Lachance Ski Shop, I could not restrain myself from visiting the racetrack, a few minutes away, and I marveled at the hibernating track, anxious for spring to arrive, and the next DE season.
Throughout the winter, I read Porsche lore voraciously, researching various options to improve my experience come springtime, excited to resume the learning curve once again.
SEASON TWO IN WHITE
Once I had been ‘signed off’ to drive solo in the White Group, my experience really intensified in Season Two. My first concern was to become more comfortable in traffic, while still maintaining my ‘line’, and to confidently give and receive passes. Initially, I was very cautious, and as my confidence grew, I began to link my turns more consistently. Though my speed increased, this was not my focal point, as I was more concerned about developing smooth inputs throughout the driving cycle. As an ex motorcycle rider, progressive braking and accelerating came naturally to me.
Throughout the season, I attended all of our Rennsport events, impatiently awaiting the next DE. My behavior was becoming obsessive, and ever gluttonous for more ‘seat time’, I ventured to Calabogie near Ottawa with other PCA groups. To learn the new track, an instructor would ride with me, and I soon realized that the Rennsport training was indeed, very thorough, as I could integrate their similar procedures almost immediately. Honing my developing driving technique in a new environment was most helpful in making these skills intuitive, and almost ‘second nature.’
At our home track, I often ask my regular instructor to ride with me for a session, and to offer specific tips for improvement. I’ve come to believe that it is more efficient to stay with one instructor, who is familiar with my quirks and inconsistencies. He can identify and rectify those specific failings before bad habits become ingrained.
Throughout my time on the track, I have always been aware that I am receiving an incredible gift of learning from our capable, generous instructors. Without a doubt, their patient attention is the most significant variable that enables us to improve our skills, and to safely enjoy this thrilling activity. Their involvement truly represents ‘acts of selfless service’, and I know all of us feel a sense of indebtedness to them, and to the PCA driver education program.
The Porsche experience is indeed multi faceted, and for me, Porsche ownership has become an endless quest for knowledge about these iconic cars. Though the learning curve of improving my driving skills is paramount, I am also very aware of the technical aspects of our Porsches, and I always appreciate examining various cars, and discussing their potential for mechanical improvement.
My preferred Porsche garage, EK Performance, is located directly across the street from my gym, and on my daily visits, I invariably check out their shop, examining the many Porsches and Ferraris in various states of disassembly. I am grateful to the owners, Emil and Ben Knafo, who provide me with this visual learning facility. They perform the maintenance and track inspection on my car, and I now visualize the various engine components whirring away behind me as I drive around the track!
As my confidence and speed increased throughout the season, so too, did my understanding and familiarity with the arcane details of the 911. The Internet is a constantly updated resource of available products and services with which we can improve our cars. Reading Porsche books and magazines, Panorama, Excellence, Total 911, et al, and scouring Rennlist and the discussion forums, one is bombarded with an endless variety of consumer choice and opinion.
At the first DE event I attended, I was warned about descending this ‘slippery slope’ of consumerism. Inherent in the mindset of most trackie/racers is an insatiable need to improve and modify our wonderful Porsches. Seemingly rational and logical, this compulsive behavior probably reflects a need to express our affection for these inanimate devices that bring us so much pleasure.
We gladly rationalize material sacrifice at the altar of Porsche ownership!
The origins of my slippery slope were developed forty years ago with high performance motorcycles, and a pair of Porsche 914’s. Then, I was constantly modifying or substituting stock parts with aftermarket improvements, usually experiencing noticeable gains.
As my Porsche knowledge expanded, and as my driving skills improved, I became aware that various components could certainly enhance the experience of driving my C4S. Of course, the physical scale and complexity of a car is greater than that of a motorcycle, and the cost of components and modifications is commensurately greater!
During the previous season, in analyzing my driving posture, I came to realize the compromise that my ‘supple leather comfort seat’ forced upon me. I was constantly sliding all over the seat and bracing myself with my left foot, or hanging onto the steering wheel. This certainly compromised my steering inputs, and I needed more stability.
One day, while perusing the classifieds in our Rennsport Newsletter, I was astounded to see a GT3 RS seat offered for sale, amazingly in Metropol Blue leather, matching the interior of my car! The likelihood of this occurring was similar to winning the lotto, and I quickly arranged for the purchase.
This was probably the most significant upgrade made to my car!
When the new 991 was announced, I fell in love with the 10 spoke wheels, and I quickly ordered a similar set of cast Victor wheels to enhance the look of my car.
I immediately installed new brake discs, stainless steel brake lines and better brake pads, as this equipment had provided dramatic benefits on my motorcycles.
After reading endless, grisly tales of IMS bearing failures in the M96 engine online, and needing to replace the clutch, I decided to install the LN ceramic bearing upgrade. It was a bitter sweet moment when it was discovered that my engine, replaced by Porsche under warranty with the later, large bearing, could not accept the LN product. I proactively installed the early warning system, the IMS Guardian.
Fearing cylinder scoring, due to oil starvation, I installed a deep sump kit, and the LN X51 enhanced oil baffle kit. Thereafter, I was convinced to change the water pump, as “the plastic impeller tends to disintegrate over time.”
I often wonder if this particular ‘fearful slippery slope’ has any true merit, or are we merely victims of marketing scare tactics. Now, after two years of further research, I am less concerned about ‘catastrophic engine failure’, and I happily thrash my engine whenever I can, attending about 15 DE days per season.
The social aspect of PCA membership is very enjoyable, and this became apparent as my confidence grew in the White run group. Sharing the track with others requires trust and respect, and one soon recognizes certain cars, and the driving style of each driver. As well, we get a relative sense of our own car’s potential in terms of speed and cornering capability, thus providing more grease for the slippery slope!
At each DE, we invariably meet new people and though we engage in discussion about Porsche and driving, we also converse about life in general. I find this aspect of the club fascinating, as each member is generally competent in other diverse fields of interest.
The Québec Rennsport chapter of PCA is well known for its copious quantity of GT3 cars, reputedly the largest such collection in all of the PCA. The club’s standard of driving is high, the safety record exemplary, and there is a definite pecking order at play amongst the drivers and their equipment. Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, the home track for the club, is a world-class facility, and it is maintained in pristine condition. Everybody is very aware of equipment optimization, and though I drive a rather heavy, older C4S, the bug has bitten me as well, and I too, have been wantonly sliding down the slippery slope!
I finished last season a much-improved driver, still in the White Run group, grateful that my car had performed flawlessly.
In April, I realized a long held dream of visiting the Porsche factory and museum, (described elsewhere), which only enhanced my enthusiasm for the new season.
Anticipating an exciting Season Three, I spent the winter researching various options to improve my driving experience come springtime.
As my speed had increased, I was aware that the center of gravity of my stock suspension was far too high, and in some corners, the car was listing dangerously. However, I was loath to lower the car with expensive ‘coil-overs’ that would deteriorate the comfort of daily driving. I compromised, and installed H&R springs, lowering the car over an inch. The stance of the car is now far more stable, and the car corners flatter. This is a huge improvement!
I recently installed an IPD plenum air intake system, with a K&N air filter, and I do notice better throttle response. Perhaps fortuitously, one of my stock catalytic converters broke, and at $2,000+ for a new Porsche part, I installed a low restriction 200-cell X pipe instead. I have been fascinated by the claims made by various software ‘ECU flash’ modification, and my engine has now been optimized with the Evolution Motor Sports product.
The transformation of the engine is dramatic! The torque curve is far more linear, and the throttle response is instantaneous. There is certainly more power, and as a bonus, the mellifluous sound is pure delight!
Finally, Season Three was upon us, and we met at the Mont Tremblant track under threatening skies. The rain held off, and it felt absolutely wonderful to be driving on the track again, in a newly transformed vehicle.
Day Two was sunny, my confidence was growing, and I rode with my instructor in the final session of the day.
The following evening, I received an email from him, as follows.
“Next event you will be in Blue.
I was impressed with the progress you’ve made.”
I went to sleep delirious with joy!
Though my learning curve still has many kinks in it, and my ability to carve ideal turns is far from perfected, at this point, I believe I’ve hit the bottom of my car’s slippery slope.
Well, maybe…. after I install R type tires!
Of course, I can always get a newer car, and begin the slippery descent anew.