Lee’s 996 Carrera diary: the pleasures and perils of a track day
Late last month I took my 996.2 Carrera 4 to Castle Combe for its inaugural track day under my ownership. I left my abode in Bournemouth early, hastily packing essentials including my crash helmet, fluids (for the car as well as myself) and a few tools into the front luggage compartment and programmed my PCM for the vast Wiltshire circuit some 70 miles away. Emotions en route were evenly split between giddy excitement and feverish apprehension.
At this point I should say I’ve driven on track before but, crucially, never with my own car. My thoughts as I closed in on Castle Combe therefore flitted between the realisation of how lucky I was to ‘avoid’ the scenario ahead of me to date, and wether the day ahead was even a good idea or not. As I arrived at the circuit just before 9am, I was still undecided on the latter.
The thing is, taking your car on track is a must for any Porsche 911 owner. It’s part of the car’s DNA: Zuffenhausen’s self-imposed brief has always been to perpetually deliver a sports car that you can drive on track and to the cinema with equal aplomb. Further, a track is the only way to truly (and safely) attain the true performance potential of your beloved 911. Thanks to the heightened forces acting upon it, your Porsche behaves in a way on track that you’ll never experience on the confines of a public road. A track is also a full-bodied acid test of your driver talents, a far cry from a mere straight-line sprint to the next set of traffic lights in town.
The appeal of a track day is obvious then but a pleasurable day at the wheel of your Porsche could prove perilous if basic common sense isn’t applied before, during and after the event. It all comes down to preparation: look after your 911 and your 911 will likely look after you. Before taking to the smooth asphalt of a circuit consider the condition of your Porsche’s consumables: do the tyres have sufficient life in them to keep your car glued to the ground through spirited cornering? Are the brakes in good enough condition to scrub speed effectively under heady temperatures? Remember, your engine is going to be placed under extreme stress during a track session, so at least check the oil to ensure your flat six will be well lubricated throughout. Insurance is also a must to ensure that, if in the worst case you do crash your pride and joy, it’s not the end of days for your Porsche ownership experience.
Being on track is exhilarating and I revelled in chasing my own redline around the fast, 1.85-mile circuit while putting some neat heel-and-toe action – utilised by my exquisite CSR lightweight flywheel from RPM – to good use before diving through each turn. The 996’s handling was much improved thanks to the fitting of Bilstein PSS10s, which allowed me to easily stiffen the damping for track use, and a lower centre of gravity afforded by a drop in ride ride height of around 25mm did much to give the car greater poise when cornering. My Milltek rear silencers gave a billowing howl under load too, the sound more reminiscent of a 964 Carrera, which filled the cabin with each prod of the gas pedal. Needless to say, the whole experience was sheer ecstasy.
Remember though that among the excitement on track, a clear head is more vital than ever – and you need to listen to what your car is telling you. Tyres represent the biggest variance in performance on the day and if you’re then planning on driving straight home like I was, you need to conserve them. Managing temperatures here is crucial: a hot tyre will grip more but the caveat to grip is degradation, so be wise. Adjusting tyre pressures once they have some heat in them by the way is a 30-second pitstop (even if you’re a one-man band!) but don’t forget to put the air back in once the track day has finished and pressures have dropped. Keep an eye on your 911’s instrument panel too and, if anything seems amiss, ease off. Simple.
Happily, my own track day proved a great success for car and driver, the 996 not missing a beat throughout. I felt satisfied I’d pushed myself and the car hard, and was equally happy to see the car safely returned to the garage afterwards with the only casualties being two rear tyres, the Continental ContiSports quickly wearing down to near the UK legal road limit. I’ve also elected to give the 996 an oil and filter change as I figure for the cost of a few litres 0W40, the opportunity to keep that M96 engine well looked after is a small price worth paying.
So, preparation is key to getting the most out of your Porsche on track, but the message is simple: if you haven’t yet done so, get your 911 to your nearest circuit now!
Thanks to @ncaplin for the action shots.