A Fantasy Trip to Finland, and Porsches on Ice

Photo credit: Porsche
Photo credit: Porsche

From Car and Driver

Photo credit: Porsche
Photo credit: Porsche

From the December 2020 issue of Car and Driver.

We all fantasize about our lottery garages and the liveries we'll own when we hit it big. Let me recommend setting aside $15,000 of your fantasy winnings for a trip north of the Arctic Circle that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated and make you a far better driver.

Before the coronavirus hobbled the globe, I flew to Levi, Finland, with Porsche to experience its Ice Force Pro driving school. For three days, I glimpsed the northern lights, witnessed the beauty of Finland's long winter dawns and twilights, and left the program feeling like I could star in the next Fast & Furious film, provided it's set on a glacier.

My goal at any event where other journalists are present has always been to have fun and not to do anything so embarrassing that I become the focus of industry gossip. So when my group rolled out for the first time, everyone in a 911 Carrera 4S, I was all nerves. The cars' all-wheel drive and studded tires helped us stick to the ice track as we learned the basics: Tap the brakes lightly entering a turn, countersteer as soon as the back end starts to slide, and hit the gas to keep control. It is counterintuitive, but the pros assured us it would eventually feel natural. One of the instructors, Matthew Swanepoel, hopped into the passenger's seat and coached me through a few laps. Most of his advice boiled down to being braver—quicker with the steering, harder on the brakes, faster to the gas.

Swanepoel and our other instructor, Jussi Kumpumäki, are former race-car drivers who now spend their winters towing wealthy Ice Force Pro customers out of snowbanks and knocking snow out of the Porsches' air intakes with wooden spoons they keep tucked in their ski jacket pockets. They encouraged us through walkie-talkies to turn harder, go faster. It's easy, they said. Just do it. By the afternoon, I began to get the hang of it.

The training wheels came off on day two. We moved into 911 GT3s with rear-wheel drive, 500 horsepower, and stability control turned off. We spent the day moving from track to track—Porsche has about 74 acres, which it meticulously grooms beginning in the fall—learning to link turns in these much-harder-to-handle cars. Changing to rear-wheel drive made me salty and irritable. I was just getting the hang of the other thing. Why the new thing so soon? But after an hour or so, I started to feel confident, using the gas to pull out of tricky situations and crashing into a snowbank only three or four times.

We spent the third morning in 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsports. That was the real deal. The interior was stripped down: a roll cage, one racing seat, and a six-point harness. We headed to a track that Kumpumäki intimidatingly called a "proper Finnish rally course." The Clubsport forced driver focus. It wanted to slide around every corner, making it easy for me to link turns. The course had plenty of elevation changes and tight corners. You had to be willing to power through the turns and give the car plenty of gas to haul uphill while drifting. It took so much concentration, I forgot my nerves and just drove, occasionally clipping a snowbank with the Clubsport's tail and sending a plume of mist into the air. I felt as though I were in a movie. Heck, not just in a movie—I'm the main character.

Porsche structures the program so that two people will share a car. Going solo requires a premium of about $6500, hence the need to set aside $15K. If I win the lottery, I will be back for more. Because Porsche's Ice Force Pro course is a master class in driving. It's also a fantastic amount of fun.

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