The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike Hinton, Redwood Region Member, December 2011

What a difference a month makes! Last month's report included coverage of two Redwood Region autocross events, and both events were two days in length. This month, well, our Region entered our annual autocross hibernation period, so there are no events to report on.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event sponsored by the Sacramento Valley Region at Infineon Raceway on November 19, but my sources tell me event was enjoyable, and the weather did not have an impact like it did in 2010.

With no autocross events to report on, I thought I'd cover some of the other Porsche-related events of the past few months. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to drive a friend's Panamera Turbo. Yes, the engine's in the front, yes, the car is huge, and yes, the back end can look awkward if painted in a light color. Oh, and it was a PDK without the steering wheel shift paddles to boot. Nevertheless, once behind the wheel, these "problems" didn't seem important. I quickly figured out a simple system for the shift buttons on the steering wheel that mimics the operation of "proper" paddles. I'm sure you've read unending criticism of Porsche's system in the enthusiast magazines, but I found that it just takes a small adjustment by the driver to make the system work (it's like learning how to shift a 915 gearbox smoothly). Once in motion, the car gathers speed quickly, with ferocious acceleration once on boost. Cornering power is impressive, especially for such a large car. Switching from "Normal" mode to "Sport Plus" completely transforms the car by sharpening throttle and steering response, and speeding up the PDK gear changes when in automatic mode. In "Sport Plus," I'll bet that the Panamera Turbo would make a handy, if large, autocross car. I'd love to see a shootout between a Cayenne and a Panamera next year at an autocross, but the drivers will need to set aside additional funds for their tire budgets!

Less than a week after the Zone 7 Autocross, it was time to head down to Laguna Seca to witness Rennsport Reunion IV, the gathering of Porsche race cars. Rumor has it that there was considerable on-track activity on Friday, but Chris Harrell and I missed all of it. There were so many stunning examples of race cars in the paddock that we spent the entire day walking around and photographing the best examples. In addition to the race cars in the paddock, there were over 800 cars to ogle in the Porsche corral. Again, there were beautiful examples of the entire range of Porsche road car history, from early 356s, through all of the various 911 iterations, up to the latest 997, Cayenne, and Panamera. As an additional treat, the latest (and greatest?) 911 was unveiled on Saturday. The new 911 (or 991 in Company parlance) is a very contemporary design, but it is, at least to my eyes, noticeably larger than the outgoing 997. I suspect that the 991 would positively dwarf the original 911, but it will undoubtedly offer performance figures that many of the Porsche race cars participating in the event couldn't match. Such is the price of progress, I suppose. Thankfully, for old-school people like me, there are still plenty of early 911s out there at semi-reasonable prices.

I did watch a great deal of the racing on Saturday and Sunday, and it was quite entertaining. Since it was a "vintage" event, it was understood that the cars weren't being driven quite to the ragged edge, and that many of the drivers were "gentleman drivers." Nevertheless, it was thrilling to watch the old prototypes, many wearing the iconic Gulf-Porsche livery, powering down the hill through the Corkscrew. The sights, and especially the sounds, were simply awesome. We were able to hear a symphony of flat-6, 8, and 12 engines, each with a distinctive sound. I remember hearing a couple of 906s going by, thinking sure wish my 911 sounded like that!

There have been rumors that the next (as yet unscheduled) Rennsport Reunion will return to Laguna Seca. If that happens, I plan to be first in line for tickets. I would encourage all of you to fight for second place in line behind me!

Happy Holidays to all of you, and I hope to see you at the "One One Fun Run" on New Year's Day, 1/1/12! 


Click here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.