What's it like to drive a new Porsche 911 Carrera S at speeds above 250km/h? Like being in a video game, it's a thrilling, pinch-me driving experience that raises the heat rate and moistens the palms.
"The more relaxed you are, the better," says champion supercar driver Karl Reindler, who has bravely hopped in the passenger seat while I hurtle around The Bend, a sprawling motorsport facility an hour outside of Adelaide.
This purpose-built track at Tailem Bend is the second longest course in the world, but today we're driving an abridged, 3.8 kilometre version to test out Porsche's new baby.
The favourite child
The layout of the new "992" is faithful to the classic – a rear engine, flat-six, two door, rear wheel drive, although there is a four wheel drive option available. The distinctive wide tail light across the back of the vehicle was traditionally only used for Porsche's 4WDs, but now the 3D logo is featured on all the new cars.
"That's our modern family look," explains Paul Watson, Porsche Australia's veteran technical expert.
Watson tells me the 911 is the "favourite child" in the Porsche fleet. "It's a very special piece of kit," he says of the legendary model born in 1963. "If you looked at them across a carpark you would struggle to pick one 911 from the other, but this is a 100 per cent new car, with a brand new body, built out of different materials, but the silhouette is absolutely faithful to the original."
The engineers have gone back to the past to update the car at every level, which means there's 331 kilowatts / 450 horsepower, a top speed of 308 km/h, capable of 0-100 km/h in 3.5 seconds. There's naturally a steep price to match, upwards of $290,000 depending on how wild you go on the extras.
Jock Zonfrillo, the trail-blazing chef from South Australia via Glasgow, has joined today's 911 drive day to cook a feast of dishes from his restaurant Orana. The newly-appointed ambassador for Porsche is also a lifelong car lover and happens to be an incredible driver. He even had a 911 poster on his bedroom wall growing up.
"I've got a love affair with a 911, there's no question," says Zonfrillo. "I think it's the ultimate sportscar. Over five decades of 911s are testament to that. The essence of the car hasn't changed, and that says something."
After driving the new 911 on both the open road and at the track, Zonfrillo says it's tighter, faster, punchier and more grippy. "If you put this car on the track, it performs like a track car, not like a road car. But it's still a beautiful car to drive on the road any day of the week."
This is a car that's all about fun, he says. "It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on … or off if you're that way inclined!"
Zonfrillo joins F1 champ Mark Webber as only the second Aussie ambassador to join the Porsche family. Webber took the new recruit for a spin around the Bend, a life-highlight for Zonfrillo. "That was a bit of a fanboy moment for me," he says. "I've obviously watched Formula 1 racing for a number of years, and to get advice from Webber on driving and to be critiqued by him in the passenger seat is one of the most intimidating things I've ever done. He did say I could drive – so I'll take that to the bank."
Around the Bend
Zonfrillo can drive, but as it's one of my first times driving on a professional track, and I'm finding it more challenging than I expected. Despite the intuitive engine beneath me, controlling the car at top speed requires epic concentration. "Harder on the brake, harder, harder, brake, brake, brake, BRAKE," Reindler tells me as we slam into a hairpin turn at the Bend. Travelling at such speeds, your sense of distance and time warp, and going 100 km/h seems to be virtually crawling.
The surface of the Bend – particularly the less-used areas we're driving on today – is particularly noisy. The tyres screech and howl like we're in a heist movie. Yet the 911 never feels less than safe, engine growling in the back, tyres stuck firm to the bitchumen, shifting gears smoothly.
"This car is as wide a car as we've ever had," explains Watson. "Which means we can put bigger wheels and tyres on it, we can get a wider track, and we can make the car more stable yet more dynamic. We've revised the steering, we've revised the suspension, there's an all new gear box in it with a double clutch … it doesn't make mistakes. There's laser precision in what it does."
That's a relief to hear.
After doing a dozen laps, it's time to pull in to pit lane, and I feel like I'm just getting the hang of the track. Driving the 911 as it was intended can get pretty addictive.
This is why Porsche offers Advanced Driver Training so its owners can get the most out of their cars. The courses happen around Australia all year 'round, with instructors like Karl Reindler leading beginners like me to Carrera Cup potential. Maybe.
Removing my helmet, I can't stop smiling. "If you're not smiling in a car like this then check your pulse and get some medication," says Zonfrillo. "You don't need to be a petrol head to love this car. It's for anyone who appreciates style and mechanics."
The writer was a guest of Porsche.