The undisputed rallymeister, Walter Rohrl, still keeps active in the world of motorsports as he enters his seventh decade. Part of his duties these days include leading eager students at Porsche’s driving schools and transferring his decades of experience into digestible tidbits the aspiring driver can appreciate.
On loose surfaces, the constant adjustment—improvisation, really—becomes “an art form,” according to Röhrl. Unlike road racing on sticky asphalt, hustling a Porsche on the snow, dirt, or mud, forces a driver to constantly adjust their inputs, balance the car while it slides, and constantly adapt to the changing levels of grip. This, of course, must be done on road courses occasionally, but not to the same degree the slippery stuff requires.
Not only are these abilities necessary in a competition situation, but the real world rewards the ability to improvise—especially when making a trek to the ski-lodge and a patch of black ice jumps out of left field.
“The rear tires lose their directional control much faster, and the vehicle will skid. But don’t panic. Such conditions can be simulated much better on ice and snow than on asphalt – as the speeds are much slower, everything seems to happen in slow motion,” advises Rohrl.
For this reason, it pays to spend a good deal of time becoming accustomed to the natural breakaway characteristics of one’s Porsche (or any car for that matter) on the snow or dirt. Not only does this happen at much slower, and therefore more comprehensible speeds, but the breakaway is easily accessible, and with a bit of practice, countersteering will become second nature.
Rule 1: Adjust entry speed.
The level of grip is obviously much lower on loose surfaces, and therefore, entering the corner with too much speed usually results in what morbid racers might refer to as terminal understeer. Instead, the idea is to coax the front end into the corner and keep your Porsche on its intended line, then initiating a subtle slide through the middle of the corner. Instead of following the front tires around a corner, an avid snow driver visualizes the central axis of their Porsche and tries to keep that point on the intended line. On snow, avoiding excessive understeer is the aim.
Rule 2: Fit winter tires.
No matter how much talent anyone has, using the wrong rubber on the snow, dirt, or mud can leave them floundering. That’s why it’s imperative to fit winter tires on your Porsche. A tire with a coarser profile and a softer rubber compound will give a vehicle significantly more grip and offer the worried driver considerably more confidence.
Rule 3: In the snow, the throttle plays a new role.
Though this is true in any condition, here, the a rub of the throttle gives the driver a new tool to control their Porsche with. When the rear breaks traction and begins to rotate, a subtle rub of the rightmost pedal will send weight toward the rear and help stabilize that end. With practice, the attitude of your Porsche can be modulated precisely, but it’s something that takes an exceptionally delicate touch.
Rule 4: Subtle, delicate, cajoling inputs are rewarded.
Though smoothness is a tenet preached at every road racing school, it’s even more important to adopt a sympathetic touch while on the snow. Not only should the throttle and brake pedals be applied with care, but the steering needs to dialed on inch by inch. Over-correcting can send your Porsche spearing in the wrong direction, so sweet-talking the car with subtle inputs will keep it from acting unpredictably.
With a level head, plenty of slow-speed practice, and the adroit, economical touch that comes with understanding a Porsche’s capricious nature on loose surfaces, anyone can drive with the confidence Röhrl demonstrates at his clinics. They might not be able to carry the sorts of harrowing speeds Herr Röhrl can—a few stage rallies are needed for that—but it’s a great way to start, and a decent means of keeping a new Porsche out of a snow-lined ditch.