You know the strangest thing about owning a sports car? Not knowing how to drive it properly.
A lot of you reading this will probably smirk at that statement, because somewhere buried deep inside, you have those secretly-seeded grand thoughts of ‘I could’ve been a racing driver’. Well, join the club.
Thankfully, for the safety of other actual racing drivers, you’re most likely overestimating your ability as a driver. Don’t believe me? Try some proper driver training that measures your lap times against a real pro.
Many manufacturers and organisations offer driver training. From the defensive courses that teach you the very basics to the high-end courses provided by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The list is endless. And then there is the Porsche Sport Driving School.
Having previously done driver training days with many other manufacturers and organisations, the thought of doing yet another one was, at first, somewhat tedious. However, one simply needs to look closely at what Porsche offers to soon realise the difference.
There are five levels to the Porsche school and they tend to go up in cost accordingly.
- Precision – The basics of mastering a vehicle – $1485
- Precision Plus – How to handle the vehicle and respond correctly in hazardous situations – $1485
- Performance – Advanced tuition on steering and cornering on a challenging racetrack – $1870
- Master – High performance 911 GT3 RS driving with satellite data tracking – $3850
- GT3 Cup – Driving a genuine, factory-built 911 GT3 Cup Car – $6600
It’s important to note here you do not need to own a Porsche to go through the training. In fact, for those who don’t own a modern Porsche, the level four Master class is actually a bargain when you consider the vehicle you’re driving, the track hire, the tyres, brakes, instructor time, et cetera.
Don’t believe me? Try renting out a brand new GT3 RS, a race track for the whole day, Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 replacement tyres (which alone cost about three thousand for this particular car), take into consideration brake and car wear and a qualified instructor. Yep, it’s a bargain.
Holding a valid CAMS license allows you to skip the first three levels and go straight to level four. We wouldn’t recommend this unless you have some actual racing experience. And by that we mean, you’ve been out on a racetrack a dozen times, understand the basics of racecraft and feel comfortable going flat out.
Those criteria qualifies yours truly for level four Master class.
So, what’s the day all about?
The Master class is a full day race training session held at Queensland Raceway on the outskirts of Brisbane. It’s 40 flat-out laps, by yourself, divided into four sessions. Each session is followed by very comprehensive data analysis with your race engineer that will tell you what you’re doing wrong, where you're doing it wrong, and how to improve your lap times.
You’re also always coached, via your helmet speaker, by racing instructors who can see the whole lap from the pits.
Porsche has recently changed its level four program vehicles from GT3 to GT3 RS, which makes it that little bit more special. It also makes it that little bit faster.
When you show up on the day, you sign all the usual indemnity forms that state you may in fact be injured or even die on the racetrack, and if you do, it’s not Porsche’s fault (which it isn’t, because you’re in the car all by yourself).
It’s a basic and procedural indemnity and liability release that is standard for any form of motorsport or high-end driver training, so if that scares you, look elsewhere.
Once the formalities are out of the way, you are joined by the other seven attendees (a maximum of eight people per class day, divided into two groups, with four cars available), and get a low down on the day’s procedure as well as some lessons in the physics of tyre limitation, car movement and other valuable insights from the head of the school, Tomas Mezera.
Mezera, if the name doesn’t ring a bell, raced for over a decade in Australian Touring Car Championships (V8 Supercars) as well as competing in Formula Ford, Formula 3 and other series. He is best known for winning the Bathurst 1000 in 1988 and the Formula Ford championship in 1985.
Mezera is joined by other racing instructors, some with even more accolades than himself. In fact, one of the instructors on our training day, Kiwi racer Craig Baird, has won more FIA certified races in a Porsche than any other person, in the world. These are the calibre of instructors that are involved in the Porsche school.
Driving a GT3 RS is something special. You can read our full review of the car here, but just in terms of reference, this is the definition of a road legal track car. This is, in all manner of consideration bar the tyres, an actual race car. You can bring it to a race track from the showroom floor, and it will be ready to go without a moment of hesitation.
Mezera said one could do some basic modifications (that any mechanically-minded owner could do) with the suspension and aero that may give some advantages, but the cars used here are stock standard.
So, lots of talking later followed by a sighting lap in a Cayenne and we are in our GT3 RS, helmet on and out for our first session.
The main difference between Porsche’s style of schooling and some others is that here, you’re alone in the car. There is no nervous instructor next to you, and you get to explore at your own pace and also push as you see fit.
In those first 10 laps, the idea is just to get to know the track. There will be some coaching through the helmet, but it’s mainly to find your feet and work out where to place the car, where to brake, and when to accelerate.
For me, I took it relatively easy. I pushed where it felt comfortable and took it conservatively where it didn’t. That resulted in a somewhat ordinary best lap time of 67.2 seconds.
The sessions run on the shortened course of Queensland Raceway, so ‘breaking the sound barrier’ is a lap under 60 seconds. Mezera set the time of the day at 59.2 seconds and that became an unofficial target. You’re not encouraged to try and break it (because you most likely can’t), but, if there is even the slightest competitive streak in you, that becomes the goal.
Session two was when I really started to go for it. This meant committing to turn one at Queensland Raceway in a manner that would’ve probably scared the hell out of me in the passenger seat. The faster I went, the better the Porsche felt.
It’s not necessarily a forgiving car if you don’t know what you’re doing, but if you get the basics right and then begin to improve, it becomes addictively fun to drive fast.
As I said in the beginning, the strangest thing about owning a fast car is not knowing how to drive it properly. In the case of the GT3 RS, that is a massive understatement. Here you have a machine that has so much grip, so much potential through the corners that it takes lots of driver training to exploit its capabilities fully.
I received a lot of coaching in session two, mainly around turns two, three and four (hell, probably all the other turns too), as those I found the hardest corners to master and, again, required a lot of commitment to make work.
Having pulled into the pits, I sat with my race engineer to go through the data. The GT3 RS has a data card in the glovebox that it uses for lap timing and logging the car’s telemetry. It’s not as detailed, of course, but very similar to what a Formula One driver would see when they pull in to the pits during practice.
My engineer takes my best lap and overlays it over Mezera’s record lap. In session two, I managed a respectable 62.0 – still about three seconds off the pace but a substantial improvement. It started to spit for a little bit too, which made things all that bit more exciting, but thankfully the track dried up enough to go full pace again.
I took a deep dive into where I was going wrong. Which seemed to be pretty much everywhere! Poor braking into turn one, poor braking and early turn in to turn two, and then making a complete mess of turns three and four followed by turn five.
Having done this track a few times before, it’s incredibly hard to emphasise just how important this data analysis is for actually understanding where you’re going wrong.
On every single other track training I’ve done before, I have simply had the instructor coach me on where he thought I was going wrong and how to improve. This helps a lot, but there is nothing like seeing an on-screen graph and data of how far your braking point is from the pro's lap and the different acceleration points through corners and also how much speed you’re carrying in and out of said corners.
So in some instances, I was going in too hot, losing time on the way out. In other cases, I was going in too slow. There is a lot to learn!
After lunch, Mezera took me out for a few hot laps just to explain the points and sections I was going wrong. He is fast. Really fast, but also much smoother than I had been.
Session three was when things really started to happen. The car felt at home, the learnings from the data analyses and Mezera’s coaching was starting to pay off.
I felt like I was going slower in some bits but it was evident from the corner exit speed just how much faster I was going overall.
I managed to string together one clean lap that saw almost all the corners taken as best as I felt possible and without too many mistakes. Best time? 60.20 seconds. Not bad indeed, but still roughly one second off the pace. Which, in a one-minute lap, is a lifetime.
Ten laps don't sound like much, but when you’re going flat out, it does take it out of you. The hardest part of driving a car flat out, lap after lap, is not physical strength but mental.
There is really nothing like being 100 per cent present in one particular moment, committing all your mental capacity to executing the next turn correctly. It’s very refreshing, but it's also exhausting.
I came out and again went through my data. It was much better than before but still, there were prominent areas where mistakes were being made that I really shouldn’t. I was carrying good speed into turn one but somehow not really getting on top of turns three and four.
The strangest thing here was how differently the GT3 RS needed to be driven to what I thought. It could carry so much speed out of some corners that I had to shift my thinking. Enter the corner much slower but accelerate out of it well before I thought ideal. This resulted in my almost-sound-barrier-breaking lap, despite it feeling like my slowest lap.
So that left just 201ms, that’s all that stood between me and assured glory.
If you want to put that in perspective, a human eye blinks in about 150ms. Another way to look at it is that 201ms is less than a metre at the average speed of the lap times. How hard can that be?
That’s the attitude I took into session four, but despite my best attempts, I couldn’t beat it.
It came down to mental fatigue more than anything. The level of continued concentration at those speeds is extreme, so it’s easy to screw up one corner at some point during a lap which basically ruins your entire lap time and you have to go around and start again. That basically summed up my entire 10 laps in session four.
Having looked at the data post, it was clear that in those 10 laps each one of the corners was at some point executed extremely close to the perfect Mezera benchmark lap. However, never all at once in one, single, clean, sound-barrier-breaking lap.
My best lap time for the day stood at 60.2 which – I was told – is very good, but not worthy of the sound barrier hall of fame.
What impressed me the most was that after more than 160 flying laps, the GT3 RS showed no signs of brake wear or mechanical strain. And these Porsches weren’t even optioned with the carbon ceramic brake systems (as they are not that necessary, we were told).
The temptation to get in the car and go back out again is extremely high when the day ends, but the point of the Master class isn’t to break the 60-second mark (though it’s fun to try), the point is to learn how to drive a car as capable as the GT3 RS even relatively close to its limit.
The point is to realise just how valuable proper driver training combined with data analysis can be for learning racecraft. Having improved my lap times over the course of the day by such a huge margin, it’s hard to argue with the methodology of the course.
If you own a Porsche, or a fast car of some type, and you actually want to learn how to make the most of it on a race track, I can wholeheartedly say, there isn’t a better driver training school I've encountered as the one run by Porsche Australia, and I’ve encountered plenty.
If anything, and as previously stated, for the asking price, the experience is a real bargain. Apart from all the learnings, it’s a hell of a fun day out and if you don’t walk away from the day with a giant grin on your face, it’s probably worth visiting a cardiologist and having them check for a pulse.
If you’re a car enthusiast and have done a reasonable number of track days and some spirited driving as well as understand the basics of race craft, but you don’t feel comfortable with the intensity of level four, level three is an ideal choice. It’s also conducted at Queensland Raceway but in a variety of other Porsches (no GT3 RS). It’s also half the price.
Porsche’s marketing director, Toni Andreevski, says the company doesn’t aim to make money from running the school, as that’s not the point. The point is to showcase the Porsche product in its natural habitat and the competency of the school.