In December of last year the Porsche Club of America’s Cayman Register put out a call to Cayman owners that Porsche and SPEED TV were working on something special and they needed help to make it happen. With the help of the Cayman Register, and its members, more than 70 Caymans descended on Las Vegas Boulevard. Over the course of two days they enjoyed Parade Laps, Porsche hospitality and a competition consisting of road and track challenges. From that competition, 3 finalist were chosen to go on and take place in what we now know to be the “King of the Curve“. The story below comes directly from Larry Sharp, one of the three lucky finalist chosen to take part in the final competition for the TV Show.
Waiting over four months for the details to be finalized for the second part of the TV show “King of the Curve” was almost unbearable. However, on April 6th, I started to receive a flurry of e-mails asking for a bio. Then, a member of the PCNA marketing team called and arranged for me to fly down to Los Angeles on Sunday, April 14 to be ready for the shooting of the show the next day. I was told beforehand how the event was going to run. The Speed TV production crew (Robert Dalrymple Productions) had organized three teams to compete in three exercises. Each team would be comprised of a pro driver as the lead, a celebrity driver, and one Porsche Club of America (PCA) finalist from the preliminary competition held last December in Las Vegas.
The first team was led by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long and included actor Brian Austin Green, and Mike Pederson, the PCA finalist. The second team was Indycar driver Graham Rahal, Olympic gold medalist Dara Torres, and PCA finalist, Carl Vanderschuit. My team was led by NASCAR‘s Brian Vickers and included actor Bill Fichtner, followed up humbly by myself.
To arrive at the Autoclub Speedway in Fontana on Monday, and walk into this group of drivers was very intimidating at first. First off, I was surrounded by not only these drivers, but a very large production staff for the TV show. The pro drivers were all people I had watched on television for many years and the celebrity drivers had all won outright the Long Beach Grand Prix Toyota celebrity race. Mike, Carl, and I were all dumbfounded at first trying to fit in.
I first met up with Brian Vickers as we were both checking out the 2014 Cayman S team car with our names on the door. At first Brian had his pro driver “shield” up and seemed a little bit distant. But then we talked about the car a few minutes and he seemed to relax. He had never driven a Porsche of any kind before, and was really looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about. Soon, Bill Fichtner joined us and the three of us seemed to have good chemistry.
We were all gathered into the track media center and greeted by Bobby Akin of SpeedTV, the producer and son of Bob Akin (the famous Porsche racer from the 962 era). We were all shown a short lead-in of video from the December 2012 Las Vegas PCNA/PCA event that earned Mike, Carl, and myself a spot in the show. It was very unreal seeing myself on the video. The director gave all the drivers the schedule for the exercises we were going to do. At the end of the briefing, we all went out and did some shots for the introduction of the show. With the Hollywood stuff out of the way, we could go out and practice.
Larry’s Team Was First to Practice the Pit Stop Challenge
In this test, one driver would start at the pit entrance of the speedway, accelerate down the pit lane as fast as the Cayman could go, and then brake into a “pit box” marked by cones. The first driver would then put the Porsche in park, and exit the vehicle. The next driver then gets in and accelerates to the end of the pit lane. Timing was kept from when the car entered pit lane until it exited pit lane. The second driver would then proceed, un-timed, around to the pit entrance, and the second and third driver would repeat the same routine as the first and second drivers. While our team practiced this exercise, the other two teams practiced the two other exercises [Slalom and Autocross].
As a constant reminder we were going to be on a TV show, the cameras were all around us as we were talking strategy and practicing. The only strategy we could think of for this exercise was to have Brian, our pro-driver, drive in the longer middle leg. We practiced this exercise a few times (it was especially fun because all three of us were allowed go counter-course down the front straight of the speedway at full-speed to return to the start).
Next Up, the Slalom Challenge Practice
After about a half hour, all three teams shifted to another exercise to continue practice in another area. We moved into the Slalom Challenge area. The slalom course was made up of ten tall pylons spaced over 90 feet apart. At the end was a turn around “barrel.” The object of this exercise is, from a standing start, accelerate and drive to the right of the first cone, then alternate which side you drive past each cone, just like Giant Slalom snow skiing. At the end of the cones, you went around the “barrel” clockwise to turn around, then weave through the same cones back to the start. Of course, you want to do this as fast as possible, without hitting any of the cones. For me, this was something I was used to doing, since this is standard fare on an autocross course. But Brian and Bill had never really done it before. Brian went out first and took Bill with him as a passenger, then Bill drove with Brian instructing. By this time, Brian had really opened up and relaxed around the two of us, and the team was beginning to gel. I went out with Brian and he was a great help in teaching me a few things. All three of us seemed to be able to do the slalom very quick and smoothly. Bill took his second run, and knocked over the fifth cone in the slalom… but on his way back at full speed, he picked it back up! No wiggle, no drama, and he didn’t even know he did it. I think the cameras got it on tape… pretty cool.
Things were going well for us, but since we were unable to watch the other teams, everything was a mystery to us how the other teams were doing. Our time was up for practicing the slalom and we moved over to the autocross course.
Practicing The Autocross Course
This course was more of a mini road course, set up in the infield of the oval track. Once again, Bill and I let Brian drive with us as passengers for him to give us pointers. Then we went out with Brian as a passenger with us driving. It was sure fun riding along with a NASCAR driver who not only loves to run right into those curbs, but encourages me to do it too. “It helps rotate the car,” he tells me.
As a side note, we were driving these new 2014 Caymans S cars very, very hard with no breaks or cool-down period. They had smoking brake pads and hot tires, but kept going without complaint.
Practice time ended much faster than you could imagine, and we headed off to get some food. By this time the team members and production crews (each team had its own camera crew) were all one big family. As we sat in the lunchroom, all the people were talking and sharing stories about this event and other things they all had done. It was a cool experience to sit with three pro drivers and three celebrities, all talking just like every day, normal people.
Now We’re Ready for the Real Deal
All the camera crews and race teams were going to be at each exercise together. Each team would do the exercise and be timed, then be followed by the second team, and the third team would finish the exercise. First exercise for all of us was the Pit Stop Challenge. In the background I could overhear each team’s producer betting with each other on who was going to win. With three times as many cameras around compared to practice, it seemed no matter what, the bug eye of a camera was always right in my face. The biggest difference was now, each team was being timed, and there was a big, bright display of the time for all to see. No hiding any more how well each team thinks it is doing. First up was the Long team. They seemed to have only a few issues with not getting the car into gear as they tried to leave the pit stop box, but their combined time was 57.xx seconds. Next up was team Rahal. They seemed very smooth, had no drama, and had a time of 52.xx seconds, which seemed very good.
It was our turn. I was to drive first into the pit box with Brian taking over, and Bill doing the finish leg. Doing a “poor man’s launch control,” the PDK-equipped Cayman S accelerates like a scalded reptile down the pit lane. I do an almost full-on ABS stop into the middle of the pit box, undoing my seat belt with one hand as I come to a stop. I slam the gear lever into park, open the door, hop out, and step around Brian in a great dance move. Brian slides into the driver’s seat as I reach around him to grab the seat belt and pull it out for him to grab it from me. He takes the seat belt and… it locks in place… arghhhhhh! Quickly, Brian lets it go back a little bit and then he can buckle up… he closes the door, puts it in gear, and races to the end of the pit lane. Our split time comes up onto the large display and it reads 26.8xx seconds. Hmmmm, even with our seat belt issue, we were still in the hunt. So Brian lines up at the entrance to pit lane and starts his half with Bill. Brian is a real pro, does everything just right, and hops out doing the same dance he and I had just done. Bill grabs onto the seat belt as Brian hands it to him and… arghhhhhh! Same thing – it locks in place. Bill does the little movement it takes to release it, and off he goes to the end of pit lane with a total time of 52.6xxx seconds. Whew, that was close, but at least we were in close proximity to the first place team.
The whole big circus crew now packs up all the timing and camera gear, and moves to the far side of the track for the Slalom Challenge.
The team who gets to lead the way this time is team Rahal. Graham wanted to put some pressure on the rest of us, and decided to be the first driver in his team to run, followed by Dara Torres, then Carl Vanderschuit. Graham went out and seemed to never lift on the gas or get out of shape, and was smooth and controlled. He raced back towards us past the finish and had a time of 25.6xx seconds. Since Rahal was the first driver timed, we didn’t know how good or bad his time was… but it looked fast. Dara hopped into the driver’s seat and had this very serious look that all Olympic athletes seem to have. You could tell she didn’t have quite the same speed that Graham had shown to us, but her run was smooth and drama free, with a time of 27.xx seconds. Next up was Carl, the PCA driver. Graham explained to us that Carl was quite the expert at slaloms and his team felt he was the fastest of the three on slalom. When Carl left the start he did show that he was more aggressive than even the pro driver Rahal. He carried just a touch more speed thru the cones and even touched the brakes at one point. At the turn around point, he was tidy and close to the pylon and was perfect until just about the second from the last cone, when he got a touch (ok, maybe more than a touch) sideways as he hit some loose gravel. The Cayman S helped him control this slide by reducing power just a touch as he was crossing the finish line. His time flashed up onto the display as 25.4xx seconds, beating Graham by just a little bit.
NASCAR Drivers are Just as Competitive as any Other Type of Driver Out There
Next up was my team, and I learned that NASCAR drivers are just as competitive as any other type of driver out there. Brian really wants to drive first to either take the pressure off the two of us, or to make a statement to the other pro drivers. So he settled into our Agate Grey Cayman S, and approached the starting line. When Brian took off it seemed fast, but somehow smoother than anyone else. He stayed tight to the cones but didn’t hit any, and the car on the way out, never put a wheel sideways or got into the gravel. He then did the turn around the pylon at the end, and headed back towards where we stood watching. You could tell he was moving faster than the other drivers, and held it wide open past the finish line. No drama at all and seemed smooth as butter. The display flashed his time of 24.9xx seconds, for the top time of the day. The whole group of us – camera crew and drivers – cheered him. Bill was up next and seemed to gain some confidence in seeing how well Brian had done. He went onto the slalom course and drove very smooth and clean up to the turn around. He went slightly wide at that turn, but was clean all the way past the finish line. His time turned out to be 26.8xx seconds, which put him slightly ahead of Dara.
As I headed towards the Cayman S for my turn, I was only slightly aware of the encouragements I was getting from the crowd, and tried to visualize what I wanted to do before I drove it. I got to the starting line and the director told me how he was going to signal me to start. I looked through the windshield far down the track as I waiting for my signal to start. I saw the director give me the thumbs up and the go ahead, and I put my left foot on the brake and right foot on the gas at the same time. Releasing the brake and putting the gas pedal to the stop, I did a nice smooth launch toward the first cone. The car seemed to be very stable and gave me the confidence not to lift as I weaved past the next two cones. Then for some reason I grew a few chicken feathers, and slightly eased out of the gas for the next two cones but at least I didn’t hit the brakes. Flooring it to my braking point for the turnaround, I stayed in close at the middle and exit. As I exited the turn, the car felt stable enough to floor it past the next three cones. Again, I slightly eased off the gas through the middle cones and floored it towards the finish line. I hit some slippery gravel areas before the last cone and could feel the Cayman S helping me do what I was asking it to do. For me, it seemed to not back off the gas, and the Cayman S let me carry speed past the finish line. Since I was in the car, I had no idea what time I had turned. I drove the car back to the parking area and could see Bill was approaching me clapping, letting me know that I didn’t do a bad job. I didn’t find out until later that my time was 25.3xx seconds.
The last group for the slalom was Patrick Long’s team. Patrick had been watching his fellow pro drivers very closely and I think he really wanted to be the top pro driver at this event. It seemed like he left the start area faster than anyone else. All the competitors were closely watching his every move through the cones. He had a little bit more dust stirring up off the ground than we had seen up to this point, and he was very smooth as he went around the turn around pylon. The nice sound of a Porsche flat six at full throttle could be heard echoing off the wall of the track, but then we all saw a slight wiggle near the end. We all watched Patrick do some great save moves with the steering wheel as he crossed over the finish line. All eyes in one human wave moved to see what his time was on the display. It flashed 25.6xx seconds, which meant that both Carl and I had times faster than two of the pros. We just happened to be next to each other and we were both smiling like raccoons eating their favorite food. Some of us did a quick tally of the scores in our heads and we all knew that the teams of Vickers and Graham were neck and neck with each other. The final track exercise would determine who would be the King of the Curve.
The Final Autocross Challenge Exercise Would be one Timed Lap for Each Driver
The first driver would leave from a standing start, complete one lap and come to a stop in a pit box. The second driver would then trade places and drive one lap, and the team’s third driver would take over and do a complete lap with a flying finish. The clock would start when the first driver went through the start lights and the time would stop when the third driver went through the finish lights. Just to make things really interesting, rain clouds were forming overhead and it was looking like it might not be dry for every team.
Our team was very happy to be first out in this last exercise. The driving order for our team was Bill Fichtner to drive first, with Brian Vickers second, and me being the anchor. Bill left in great shape on his run but unfortunately for those of us in the pits, we could not see past the first set of turns on the infield track. He soon appeared on our right, exiting the last hairpin turn and smoothly came to a stop in the pit box. Bill quickly exited the car and walked toward me. He realized almost at once he had forgotten to help Brian with the seat belt. He turned back and… argggggh! Again, the seat belt jammed on Brian. Eventually Brian got it buckled up, and off he went. With all the adrenalin pumping through me it was hard to estimate how long that error cost us, it seemed like five or six seconds elapsed but we wouldn’t know for sure. Brian was soon backing into the pit box for me to take over. Thankfully I was able to do a good pit stop and exited out onto the track. It was dark from all the rain clouds obscuring the sun and the Cayman S was still purring like a kitten with no ill effects from Brian’s fast lap. I knew the course pretty well by this time and charged into the first right/left combo of turns. As I exited the left-hander, I noticed I had more revs on the tachometer than ever before, and the car was sticking very well. Every turn was that way, with a little bit more speed everywhere than I had tried before. The 2014 Cayman S was helping me in a seamless fashion, and I got pretty brave on the most critical turn leading onto the longest straight. I had a little bit of opposite lock as I went right over the apex I wanted on this left hand turn. Without lifting, I squirmed the car out to the right edge of the track and looked down the long straight to my braking point for the next left/right turn combo. The next section of the track was just like a slightly large autocross course, many combo turns and some trail braking entrances. The last turn was a decreasing radius hairpin leading onto the final straight and the finish. I flashed across the finish line and knowing this was the end of my time with our new Cayman S, I took one more “cool down” lap and then pulled into the pits.
Spoiler Alert. If You Haven’t Seen the Show Yet, Or Don’t Want to Know Who Won, Don’t Read On
For this last exercise, the producers did not tell us what our times were. A drama for TV thing, you know. So we all had to just hang around watching the other two teams drive and be held in suspense over the results. The good news is that the rain held off for everyone, which made for very close racing. Soon the host, Justin Bell, stood on top of a set of stairs and gave out the results. Well, that pit stop must have really cost us some time – we finished third in this event and second overall by around two seconds. Big congrats to the team of Rahal, Vanderschuit, and Torres, they drove a great event and really deserved to win. The winning team earned ten thousand dollars for their charity of choice, the Ronald McDonald house. We all soon retired back to the hotel to get out of the cold weather, and bench raced until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.
It was a great day and a once in a lifetime event I was so happy to be part of. I want to thank all that were involved with making this event: Paul Gregor and Alex Campbell from Porsche Cars North America, Kristin Vayda from Cramer-Krasselt, and Robert Dalrymple and Bob Akins of Speed TV. The TV show will be shown on Speed channel starting May 12. Follow up shows are on May 14th at 2:30pm ET and May 26th at 6:30pm ET
Special thanks go to Larry Sharp for the first person account and Brad Zucroff at the Cayman Register for passing along what we needed for this story.
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[Photo Credits: Mo Satarzadeh]