After several hours of slinging a 991 Carrera S around the track (review to follow), I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to relinquishing the keys to the Porker for the keys to the, uh, porker. I was here to drive both cars, and I’d already had plenty of up-close views of the Pano through the windscreen of the 911 as it clogged up turn 3, seeming to flop over on its flank like the wounded Bismark.
Back of the pack out on the grid, I waved several 911s and a heavily-modified Evo ahead out of politeness, not wishing to be the clot in this small, fast group of experienced drivers (with one notable exception). Nice and easy through turn one and two, squeezing on the throttle a bit through the back straight, with an eye to unforgiving concrete barriers and a thought to the coldness of the tires and the track.
Over the hump at turn two, swing wide out to the right and squeeze on the power as I straighten out the wheel, and suddenly I’m thinking: well that’s not right.
Not right at all….
I love this thing!
As a card-carrying P-car enthusiast since childhood days of picking the nerdy 959 over the humina-humina F40, I know that I’m contractually obligated to hate the Panamera. It’s ostentatious. It’s enormous. It’s affront to the purity of the Porsche brand, and a Axe-body-spray-scented slap in the face to Ferdinand’s air-cooled ideals, etc.
It’s got huge tracts of land, but I can’t even come up with a clever way to describe the way it looks. The 911′s fat cousin? An 928 on Extenze? A Cayenne that got stuck in Willy-Wonka’s taffy-puller? Two Caymans having “relations”?
Still, this GTS has an attractive wheel package – which despite massive diameter, is somewhat overwhelmed by gargantuan swathes of sheetmetal in the rear. And it’s red: it’s a sow, but at least it’s a Rote-Sau.
Piloting it through the pit-lane, the steering feels a bit “hard a-starboard!” with the quickness of the 991 rack fresh in your mind. Then there’s the mass of the thing, that heavy V8 out in front and a lengthy wheelbase. Mission is a tight track, a brake-eater with short straights and off-camber curves.
Certainly, not a suitable battlefield for near-two-tonnes of titanic teuton. And in a field that includes an Ultima with a Z06 heartbeat, two GT3s, an F430 and a coupla 911 Turbos, the Pano should be a rolling-roadblock – particularly with yours slowly at the wheel.
But it ain’t.
Remember that grapefruit-sized sensory organ scienticians recently found in the largest whales? It’s intended to aid in lunge-feeding and, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve stuffed one in the nose of this Panamera.
“Lunge” is the perfect description for what big red does when you’ve got the wheel unwound and are flexing your right foot en pointe. “Wooooof!” growls the 4.8L V8 and the GT3 that out-braked you for the corner suddenly shrinks in the rearview mirror.
Trail-brake into turn four and don’t just clip the apex, devour the curb with a satisfied *glumph*: with cheater all-wheel-drive and the curb-weight of Australia, the Pano is as impossible to unsettle as a steamroller GTi.
Out wide for the throwaway 5, a blast through six, wheel-straight hard-braking on 7, a damn-the-torpedoes straight shot through the chicanes and then a late apex out; swing right as we use all the track exiting on to the ex-dragstrip long straightaway and unleash the… wait, lift-throttle.
This is a driver-training day, not a track event, and it’s point-to-pass. I’m suddenly crammed up behind the 991 and a 997 C4S: nobody wants to get passed by the Panamera.
After a moderate lap with my instructor admonishing me to stop trying to stuff the Red Menace into the 991 under braking, we pull into the pit lane for a slow crawl-through to create space.
There’s plenty of track to go around, but when we come out the far side, I’m just ahead of a 996 turbo and an F430. Through turn two I’ve already got my hand out the window and am pointing them both past: journalists trying out the 991 is one thing, I’m not going to ruin the day for the really quick cars.
Both lighter cars go hammering past, brake properly and are dwindling on the horizon as I pick back up the double-bass handling rhythm of the Pano. The trick seems to be in the trail-braking to get the nose to bite, though once the big car’s turning, the AWD lets you stomp-throttle a little early.
We cycle through Cascade Corners and… catch up to the Ferrari on the back straight? He squirts ahead on the chicanes and then we’re both apexing out onto the straight and… and that Ferrari’s not going anywhere.
Both it and the turbo 911 run through another lap just ahead of the Pano; two squirrels fleeing a big panting labrador. The brakes are starting to feel a bit mushy, but still haul the big car up short time after time.
Look, I’m no hot shoe. In this business, braggadocio and ego are commonplace; trackday stories are always full of 11/10ths exploits and unlikely giant-slaying. Put it plainly, I don’t normally do the track-day gigs because that’s not my thing. I’m – theoretically – just like you: a mere mortal behind the wheel. Feel free to take my dynamic analysis with a grain of salt.
But as we circle slowly through the last cool-down lap, I reflect back on the day and came to a curious realization. The 991 flowed beautifully, but the Panamera?
Clifford the big red Porsche made me laugh, where the 911 didn’t. Good car.
Sorry, it costs how much?
Porsche provided the cars tested and instruction time with Morrisport, whose instructors are like Job, except more patient.