April 3, 2008

Yeah, we did it.

I admit we did the thing I've cursed others for doing. We took a 5200-lb truck onto the track. The “truck” was a Porsche Turbo Cayenne, graciously donated by Stee for some track time at VIR this past weekend.

“What’s it like?” people often ask upon seeing this monster. Well, that’s what we wanted to find out, in true Axis style.

My answer: it’s funny. Also, it’s entertaining because it felt... naughty. We knew better than to take a vehicle this useful, this capable of utilitarian deeds onto a race track, but we just couldn’t resist. It was also a little scary, but more on that later.

You probably know the Cayenne is decent off-road (with correct tires), but it’s branded as a Porsche, right? So naturally we wondered what would happen if your track car broke and you substituted the Cayenne as your ride in the instructor run group at a world-class road course.

Stee and I are convinced that the greatest driving club east of Hawaii is the Mid Atlantic region of NASA, headed by mad scientist Chris Cobetto and his band of loonies (ask us about Thursday Night Tech Inspection another time). We like instructing and racing with this group so much we routinely drive 10 hours to get there.

Anyways, as the Saturday afternoon instructor session approached, we loaded two instructors and two students (helmets and intercoms included) into the Cayenne and headed for the pit lane. The stares were pretty spectacular as we crept through the paddock at 5mph. Our gross weight should have been around 6000-lbs with that load. Unfortunately, the pit marshal mentioned there is a “one passenger per vehicle policy,” so we had to offload our students. Sorry boys.

Heading onto the track, the side mirrors had to be adjusted lower to ensure we didn’t squash some poor MINI like a bug. I ran the driver’s seat up as far as I could to get closer to the wheel. The track was cold and maybe damp in places, but mostly dry. Putting tires off, however, would spell disaster.

Surprise #1: Cayenne gets HUGE lateral grip from her dub-inch Contis. But it comes with a condition: don’t do anything stupid or the lateral grip evaporates instantly (ask Stee how I know and see #3 below).

Surprise #2: This thing is 4kin FAST. Not a big surprise but the 450bhp/460lb-ft ratings seem conservative. We lifted to help a modified E46 M3 pass us on the straight. Later, a Viper and C5 ZO6 had to do silly stuff to make the same pass.

Surprise #3: Understeer, thy name is Cayenne! Ok, ok, perhaps I was the only one who’s really surprised by that. On my first lap through the Oak Tree turn, I hit the gas early and was penalized with massive understeer toward the outside. After stopping the lurch and getting a well-deserved punch in the arm from Stee, I recalibrated my brain and proceeded. Friends don’t let friends hit the gas too early in a behemoth like this.

Surprise #4: Turbo lag will ruin your day if you are dumb. BMW used to say lots of bad stuff about turbo lag. The Cayenne, with its delayed-onset boost (~2500rpm) and the understeer mentioned above, showed us why.

Surprise #5: Despite numbers 3 and 4 above, this thing handles well overall. Granted, Stee has lowered her a bit so the roll is more controlled. He also did a custom alignment a few weeks ago. We noticed that once it takes a set, the dynamics are mostly predictable.

Captain Obvious #1: This thing will roast its brakes. What are those brakes that improve under blow torch temps? Oh, right, PCCB from the Carrera GT. That’s what this thing needs, badly. Like a couple of squirrels, one SpecMiata startled another going into Turn 1, which caused the second car (in front of us) to crank down on his brake pedal. Miss Cayenne, in turn, used all the brakeforce she had, but still closed on said Miata. Thankfully the Miata driver got three mirrors full of our intercooler and lifted off a touch, just as we entered the turn at school zone speed.

Captain Obvious #2: People love to play games with the weird kid in class. It was fun to watch the other instructors fool around with the Cayenne in traffic… reminded me of curious sea creatures picking on a grey whale.

During our driver change we observed blue smoke from all four brakes and that’s with uprated pads and half a cooling lap. In his stint, Stee adapted to manage the brake temps and kept them working.

I have to say the Stee called on all his experience and his power of observation (see Surprise #3) to put on a helluva show. Smooth is not even the word for how he drove. The Cayenne, in turn, got faster and faster as the session progressed, and this drive became the highlight of our weekend.

It’s not something you’d do every day, but we firmly established Miss Cayenne is a fat girl who can dance (hell, she can run to 60 in five seconds!), and could make a good playdate in a pinch at your local road course.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo: Axis Tracktard Approved™


  1. I applaud you gentlemen!

    Once, several years back, I took - at my client's request to do so - his gas, V8 Touareg out for a session. He joined me as passenger. This wonderful moment occurred at Pacific Raceways in Kent, WA. If you know the track, turn 3A is at the bottom of a rather steep descent from turn 2... Watching the reactions of the driver in an S4 that we were rapidly approaching was priceless. And so it continued for the rest of the session.

    Then there was the time I took a rented Ford Explorer out in an instructor session of an Inland Empire BMW CCA event at Spokane Raceway Park... ;-)

    Thanks for a great post that made me grin!

  2. Brilliant!!!

    Great work guys!!

  3. Lap times, lap times!!!????

    I bet it might have been faster than the Steester!


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