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Porsche World Roadshow: Mark Atkinson shares his day at Mosport

In our quest to bring you original content, automotive journalist, Mark Atkinson shares his experience from the Porsche World Roadshow. This is the first time the Roadshow has made it to Canada. Held at Mosport International Raceway, Mark was putting the Porsches to the test both on and off-road.

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Porsche shook the automotive world when it announced it was pulling its support from just about every auto show on the planet. Why spend millions showing off the styling? Why have people watching videos of Porsche victories, imagining how the flat sixes sound nearing redline? What’s the point?

Story by Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy Paul Giamou/Porsche Canada

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The answer to all of this is the Porsche World Roadshow, a traveling circus of sports cars and SUVs that tours the world, putting the product in front of prospective customers and letting them actually drive. And not just doddle around the block. No, any dealer can do that. The Roadshow sets up camp at a local racetrack, which means folks can drive Porsches like they’re intended: full out.

While the Roadshow is 11 years old now, 2009 is the first year it’s made its way to Canada, pitching its tents at the legendary Mosport International Raceway for 10 days. A few media were invited along to experience what potential customers can look forward to, and after a full day of driving on- and off-road, I came away suitably impressed.

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The day sees people broken into five groups, each shepherded by a Porsche factory driver through the cycle of activities. Our host, Canadian Kees Nierop, had a 30-year relationship with the company, including driving a four-wheel-drive 961 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning the Rothmans Porsche Challenge Cup in 1986, and various drives in the 956 and 962. However, his most recent activities focused on the TransSiberia Rally, which he contested for Porsche Canada in 2007-08.

Ensuring we were all as safe as possible was a huge component to the day as there was instruction given before each new task, and the drivers took great pains to ensure we all had good seating positions, left PSM on, and paid attention to the task at hand. However, they were also keen to emphasise that it was done in the name of fun, and to play with all the buttons that controlled suspension stiffness and throttle settings.

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We started the day in the big top listening to a condensed but thorough history of Porsche itself, along with a few examples of the company’s personalization program. Everything from leather-covered sunvisors, to carbon-fibre engine trim, to custom-painted air-vent grilles is on the menu… for a price, of course.

Next came the most anticipated portion of the day: lapping Mosport’s challenging circuit in various Porsche models. The machines on hand were a great mix of models and options, from a basic but focused 911 C2S with sport-chrono and a six-speed manual, to a more relaxed 911 Targa 4 with PDK, to a 911 C4S Cabriolet. There was a full-on track-oriented Cayman S with body-hugging one-piece sport seats, PDK and carbon brakes that was a real favourite, while the bright-copper Cayenne GTS at the tail didn’t hold anyone up, easily hitting 190 km/h up the Andretti Straight. The best part is that the instructors left us alone in the cars to improve the experience, only keeping in touch by radio, although we were doing lead-follow, so they were setting a manageable pace.

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Suitably jazzed from the on-track stuff, we then hit the slalom course where a Cayman S was on hand for us to use against each other, while Kees rode shotgun and delivered driving tips. The only complaint came from the PDK toggles on the wheel that would sometimes activate by accident during the fast steering movements needed, keeping the car artificially in first gear for too long. Why no shift paddles?

Next was a typical acceleration/emergency braking exercise, although using a very atypical car: a 911 Turbo Cabriolet with Tiptronic. Managing 480 hp through full-throttle blasts was eye-opening, and then feeling the brakes deliver four times that power to haul you back down from speed is a sure way to convert more to the Porsche cause. Each time the car launched, it sounded like a jet fighter taking off from an aircraft carrier. More whoosh than growl.

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After a gourmet buffet lunch, we tackled a challenging off-road ‘jaunt’ in a conga line of Cayennes. Given the road-biased tires, getting through the seriously sandy soil that plagues Mosport without any drama changed my perception of these beasts. Three and even two-wheel moments were regular and handled easily, and no one topped much more than walking pace through the whole hour.

The day wrapped up with some fun for the instructors, who now had a chance to give us ‘hot laps’ in some of the more potent machines. These included the hellish GT2 and Cayenne Turbo, which were all suitably sideways for a good portion of the laps.

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There will be 350 potential customers who pass through the program over its 10-day run, and Porsche officials said they are hoping for an eight to 10-percent conversion rate based on the program’s history, which is a pretty incredible statistic when you think about it.

So congrats to Porsche on its decision to give customers a taste of what its cars and trucks can do, all in a highly controlled environment full of beautiful people and unbridled enthusiasm.

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