Why NOT do a Drivers Education [DE]?

Ralph Gaudio with his GT3

Ralph Gaudio with his GT3

By Ralph Gaudio, Jr.
Co-Chief Instructor

If you’re reading this you are probably a member of the Porsche Club of America and its local chapter, the Allegheny region. It is also likely then you own a Porsche. The kind of Porsche does not matter. All Porsches are designed with the racetrack in mind. Few cars are able to transition from street to track without a single modification from factory specs but Porsches are built to do so. Any Porsche, any model, new or old, is able to demonstrate to its owner just what Ferdinand Porsche had in mind when the first 356 rolled off the line in Gmund, Austria over 60 years ago.

From those early 356s to the latest 911, the bloodline continues. Spirited street driving will provide a glimpse but the only way to truly experience all a Porsche has to offer (in the USA at least) is to drive on a racetrack. If you haven’t, then you’ve denied yourself the opportunity to appreciate what those owners who have already know. You can shine it, wine and dine it, and park it at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix but you ca not know its soul. You might think you do but believe me, you do not.

If you have a desire to take your Porsche to the track, but have been reluctant to act on the feeling, let me try to convince you it is not as difficult as you might imagine. Really, it is rather simple and safe. All it takes is willingness to invest some time and a little money. The actual time involved is a weekend and depending on DE selected it can be done for several hundred dollars. Considering the thrills you get, most people think it is money well spent.

Now desire, that is another matter, and if you do not have it that’s fine and there is no need to apologize. The Porsche garage is vast and accommodates many tastes.

The chartered intent of Porsche Club sponsored Driver Education was to create a venue where Porsche owners could safely experience the thrill of driving their STREET CARS at speed on a racetrack. That is still true today.

Note I use the term street car, a box stock street car, not a modified street car, to describe your Porsche.

Note, also, I do not use the term racing. Racing is a different venue altogether, though it is fair to say more than a few racers have come up through DE ranks.

So what does one need to do to experience a few track days with their beloved Porsche? Well, not too much, really. Oh, and by the way, one really does not need a Porsche to do a PCA sanctioned DE. ARPCA accepts nearly any marque, many of which are great cars in their own right.

If you have really wanted to take your Porsche on track but have been hesitant taking the plunge this is all you have to do:

  1. Select the ARPCA event you wish to attend by going to arpca.motorsportreg.com and follow prompts to register. (you can also link to events thru ARPCA.com)
  2. Download the ‘Tech Update and Safety Inspection’ forms from ARPCA.com and read them thoroughly.
  3. Take your car to an authorized inspection facility. Any Porsche dealer is so authorized and, as an example, Sewickley Car Store has extensive experience in track support. Your car must pass track safety inspection, which is no big deal for the Porschephile who normally lavishes attention on his or her car.
  4. Buy or borrow a helmet which meets the club’s Snell Special Application Rating for the season. A helmet may be purchased for less than $200.
  5. Clean your car in anxious anticipation of your first event (It is important to note here for you anal types who must have a spotless vehicle to be seen in public, you’ll be in good company. It is not unusual to see some driver’s washing their cars between on- track sessions).
  6. Show up at the track event you selected at the proper time and you are good to go.

That’s it!

You need do nothing else to attend a DE or track day and have a blast. Your car can be box-stock and, in reality, this is how you should begin. Bring your street Porsche to the track. It’s certainly how Porsche envisions it.

Remember now, everyone was once a novice. Don’t show up at the track and expect to set the track record because you won’t and your in-car instructor will be greatly distressed if you attempt it. So if you decide to come, plan to relax, learn and enjoy the track time and camaraderie.

It’s important to emphasize as you explore your cars capabilities, you will be exploring your own. Learning how to drive it will provide not only a sense of accomplishment but it is also loads of fun.

If you haven’t been to The Porsche Driving School, a Skip Barber school or equivalent, and you don’t autocross, it’s possible you don’t know how to drive your Porsche in the manner needed to fully appreciate it.

For example, some years ago I had a novice student who informed me he drove “very fast on the street” and was looking forward to doing the same on track with his late 80’s 930 Turbo. Indeed, he drove the car was very fast on straights but the driver frequently forgot to brake and turn at the end of straights despite my telling to do so in ever increasing decibels. He seemed to forget straights only serve to connect turns and driving turns is the key to speed. So, the car was fast but he was not because he’d never learned how to drive it properly. Throttle inputs, braking, steering and shifting are required for good car control and good car control is needed to go fast. It was a humbling experience for him but it was what he had to learn before he could reconstruct his driving techniques and be the better for it.

ARPCA’s Car Control Clinic (CCC) provides an excellent stand-alone introduction in how to drive your car and learn vehicle dynamics at the same time. It’s a great (though not required) pre-requisite for DE. As is AutoCross (AX) participation, which also teaches good car control skills.

Unique at ARPCA’s Pitt Race DE (Pittsburgh International Race Complex formerly BeaveRun), we actually include elements of our CCC in the novice experience. In my opinion, our Pitt Race DE is probably one of the best novice events available through PCA and scores of first time students agree with me.

At any of our DEs, you’ll be assigned to a novice class with drivers of similar experience. There’s no need to worry about being grouped with highly experienced drivers because run groups are stratified by level of experience. Also, your on-track sessions will be supplemented by classroom teaching but, trust me, you’ll have plenty of track time.

So if you really want to track your Porsche, it’s not difficult. If you remain unconvinced about doing a DE, let’s clear up a few other points:

It’s safe. You and your car are probably at greater risk driving on the street but that is not to say you don’t have to be careful on track. You’ll be one of 20 or so cars all going one way on a course with plenty of run-off. An in-car instructor will be with you and corner workers are there to guide you. Personally, I’d rather drive on track than on I-279 at rush hour.

Also, your auto insurance is not invalidated. This is Driver’s Education not a racing school. You do not need take my word for it though; feel free to check with your insurance company. [Editors note: Many insurance companies have recently changed their policies with on track events. Check with your specific carrier for any implications. There is track day insurance that is available for those individuals who want added security.]

You will not wear out your car by doing a few DEs. Porsches, especially, were built with the track in mind. Now if you get hooked by the experience and do frequent track days, it will shorten the life of some components like tires, brake pads and rotors. If you get to that point, however, you’ve already got the disease and are more than willing to feed the beast.

When and if you decide your life is incomplete without spending a significant portion of it on a racetrack, the necessary modifications to your car will come naturally as they become obvious. In essence, you’ll take a dual-purpose vehicle and convert it to a single purpose vehicle, one that may no longer be fun to drive to your local Starbucks but will be an even greater blast at Mid-Ohio.

The intent of this article has not been to create a new class of track junkies. You get to do that on your own if you’re so inclined.

The intent rather is to tell you by not tracking your Porsche, you’re missing most of the thrills it can provide. Gaining that experience is easier and safer than you might think.

Even if you only do a few DEs, you will come to appreciate your Porsche’s fine pedigree and you will begin to learn how to drive it as was intended. At the very least, the experience will make you a better street driver.

If you don’t believe me, come try it!