NOTRE-DAME-DE-la-MERCI Que. — OK, let’s see if I got this straight: hard turn left, a hard, short punch of the brakes followed by a quick turn to the right and… patience… patience... THROTTLE!
It’s our third exercise of the day and it’s arguably the most difficult. It’s called the Scandinavian flick, and it’s a staple of rally and ice racing.
We’re here, at Mecaglisse racetrack north of Montreal, experiencing the Porsche Camp4 winter driving program, learning more about winter driving in a day than most people do in a lifetime.
Camp4 is held here, at what is in the summer an asphalt race track but starting in December is transformed into a pricey — and, for this year, sold out — premium winter driving experience.
Lead instructor Jonathan Urlin says it takes until February before they’ve laid down enough ice that the normally grippy tarmac becomes something just shy of a skating rink. Soft, fluffy snowbanks line the racetrack, ready to save the unprepared from themselves.
The Scandinavian flick is a favourite of ice and rally racers because on slippery surfaces, it’s the fastest way around a tight corner. Contrast that to asphalt in summer, when the fastest way around any corner always involves the least sliding.
On ice, however, to not end up in the snow, you’d have to slow down too much to take the traditional racing line through the corner, which, for the flick to be effective, has to be 90 degrees or sharper. So instead, you deliberately, if briefly, upset the balance of the car to first turn away from the desired direction before quickly turning the way you want to go.
To make it work, you have to slam on the brakes hard but briefly after the first turn, which in our case, for a right-handed turn, is left. This lifts the rear wheels slightly, causing the rear of the car to drift to the right. Taking your foot off the brakes before turning right rebalances the weight distribution, and because your initial drift has set up a pendulum motion, quickly turning hard right flicks the car around to the direction you intend to turn.
The idea is you end up pointed in exactly the right direction, with the wheels steering straight ahead, to allow you to accelerate hard out of the turn.
In one exercise, the Scandinavian flick teaches you all the dynamics at play in winter.
You learn how to transfer weight to make the car dance, even in extremely slippery conditions. You learn the difference between all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, and how, in our situation, the usual steer-into-the-slide can make things worse if you get on the gas too soon.
In another exercise, we had a more gentle left turn. In summer, you’d typically race to the braking point, hit the brakes and either be done braking before the turn or hold the brake lightly through the turn, the so-called trail braking.
But on ice, that technique would send you flying straight ahead, into the snowbank on the outside edge of the track. Instead, we maintained speed and turned way early, at a turn-in point that in summer would have you cutting across the grass on the inside of the turn. Then we braked and held braking through the turn.
This turned the car sideways, which not only saved the car from sliding into the far snowbank, but left it pointed straight at the exit of the turn. For both the flick and this manoeuvre, the idea is to set up the car for maximum acceleration out of the turn.
What does this all have to do with average drivers? A course such as this, in which the instructors make you lose control, teaches you not to panic. It teaches you that if you do lose control on ice, that there are techniques you can employ to regain control and avoid a collision.
It teaches you how cars respond to throttle, braking and steering, and that weight transfer is key to control.
On top of that, it’s just so much fun.
For consumers, Camp4 isn’t cheap. It’s $5,495 and, unlike our one-day primer, takes four days to finish.
That price covers your lodgings and meals at Esterel Resort, a swanky lakeside hotel with a superb restaurant, lunches at the track, four days of instruction and transfers from hotel to the track.
It doesn’t cover transportation to Estérel Resort, which, for most people, would include flights into Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport and, likely, renting a car for the hour-and-a-half drive to and from Estérel.
Our visit included a sample of everything customers will experience. We ate at the hotel’s ROK Restaurant, where we had a choice of giant shrimps or roasted venison for the main course.
An amuse-bouche of wild game tartare was followed with a puréed parsnip soup. The appetizer was popcorn sweetbreads, or basically chunks of pancreas or thymus gland breaded and deep-fried. Crispy without being greasy. It was offal, but so good.
Everyone at our table ordered the venison, which arrived partially cooked on a searingly hot square of granite. It didn’t take long for us to realize the idea was to slice the venison and finish cooking it to desired doneness on the rock, along with the red onions, mushrooms and mild chili that came raw.
It’s not called ROK for nothing.
Bookings start in the summer and can fill up by November, said Porsche Cars Canada spokesman Daniel Ponzini.
He said Porsche’s main reason to hold Camp4 is to deepen relationships with customers and "elevate the customer experience."