High speed without dangerous situations

Monaco’s hairpin (Loews), Monza’s Parabolica, Suzuka S, Victoria Turn, Suntory Corner, Mobil 1 S – these are surely familiar names for anybody who follows the Formula 1 races, even on a small scale. I am one of those who do not care about this kind of entertainment. The only thing I know about Formula 1 is that Michael Schumacher drives, or at least did drive, a vivid red car. Anyway, I got to feel the curves through my spine last weekend. The original curves were not there, instead I got to experience those copied on Porsche’s track in Leipzig.

Nokian Tyres drew a winning ticket with a trip to Porsche’s driving school to Germany among all those who had taken up the Hakka Guarantee service for their tyres last spring. Other winners on the trip included tyre dealers from Finland, Sweden and Norway, totalling 16 driving licence holders.

I truly did not know what to expect from the trip. Although I enjoy driving fast, I was not sure if I wanted to drive on a track with a speed of one ‘million’ kilometres per hour. When I worked in product development, I had the privilege to enjoy the excitement of high speed on test tracks in Germany and Spain. I studied the properties of my tyre prototypes in a car driven by Janne Laitinen, the fastest driver on ice. At times, we drove really fast, because tyre tests are performed by driving at a speed according to the speed category of the tyre and continuously following the behaviour of the tyre. During my years in product development, I learned how to recognise certain properties, but, after each drive, a professional test driver can make a very detailed analysis of the different properties of the tyre and their changes during driving. When testing, the radio is switched off and the windows are closed. And there are seldom any beautiful women on the edge of the track – people have lots of work instead. With this testing experience, I tried to describe what was waiting for us at Porsche’s track.

We flew to Germany on Friday, each one on our own, and on Saturday we gathered at the hotel lobby at 7 am, ready for the great adventure. At half past seven in Porsche’s driving training centre, we had a pile of papers to sign. We made a written pledge to behave nicely and not to die during that weekend. In the usual German way, everything was taken care of and prepared meticulously in detail, and just after 8 o’clock we were sitting in the auditorium, listening to the detailed safety instructions. After the instructions, we were divided into two groups and set in the correct driving position in a Porsche 911. Then we hit the road.

We did not drive very fast or far in the beginning. The journey ended in the cone jungle with the purpose of practising to swerve past an elk. During each driving performance, the instructors (two trainers who were quite easy to look at and listen to) guided us and commented on all aspects of our performance through a shortwave radio.  In the beginning, it was hard for me to drive fast enough into the lane of cones, whereas one of the more experienced colleagues whirled the car violently to the lawn for a couple of times. I think nearly all of the drivers in our group hit the cones.

After swerving past the elks, we practised emergency braking, which did not seem to be a self-evident skill to anyone. You do not press the brake pedal in an emergency situation – you jump on it. The braking exercise was funny and useful. Using hands-on examples, we were reminded that the speed rising from 50 km/h to over 70 km/h doubles the braking distance. This is worth remembering, particularly when driving in urban areas where the possible victims are something else than orange cones.

We started to get used to the actual driving after the famous Lesmo curve where we surged straight to a bus stop on the tail of the pace car and then back to the starting point. By the late lunch, we had had time to practise quite a lot and already sounded like semi-professionals of track racing at the lunch table. In the afternoon, we practised on a few other famous bends and, at times, drove quite fast, too. The highlight of the day for my group was the ‘corkscrew’ where we first took a sharp turn uphill to the right after a long straight stretch, then another sharp turn to the left on the hill, a gentle slope down, to the right two times and then a long fast straight. That felt good.

On Sunday, we were at full speed right after 8 am. Before noon, we practised the optimal driving lines of individual curves and took a short drive in the terrain just to discover that Porsche Cayenne can climb along almost everything and keep its balance on even the steepest inclines. The speed of the track cars did not frighten me, but in the terrain, I sometimes felt like I wanted to crawl into the bushes in order to avoid an inevitable disaster. That was fierce!

After lunch, we drove around the whole 3.7-kilometre track at a cracking pace after the pace car. And finally, it was time for the long-awaited and well-practised free drive. In the free drive, the pace cars went off the track, the assistant drivers went to the pits, and the driver put the helmet on and drove as fast as his or her nerves, skills or the power of the car would allow. I think the limit was set by something else than the power of the car, but this is something that we would not admit in public. It was clear that many of us, including me, let the ‘boy’s mind’ loose and drove as many free rounds as possible before the deadline and according to one’s physical abilities. I really liked it a lot.

The highlights of the driving school were a few fast rounds with a professional driver behind the steering wheel. It was quite high-profile driving and totally ruthless for the car and tyres. I stepped out of the car with a crazy look in my eyes, clenching the memory stick in my hand with all of the enjoyment stored in it. A tyre test and a race are really two different things, although one drives fast in both of them.

I went to work on Monday with a smile on my face and tried not to be over-enthusiastic. At home, I boasted so much that my husband turned green with envy. Not a bad way to spend one’s weekend.

And one more important thing. Do you wonder what the Hakka Guarantee service mentioned in chapter two is? Hakka Guarantee is a service valid in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan that provides you with a new tyre free of charge to replace a punctured tyre that is less than a year old and has a tread depth of over 4 mm. It also includes a road service that saves you from trouble by changing the spare tyres in your car or taking the vehicle to the nearest tyre dealer for service. Hakka Guarantee with its road service comes as standard with every Nokian Hakka or Hakkapeliitta tyre, but it requires registration over the internet or via our toll-free phone service. I would say that this service with new tyres free of charge is a unique and convenient benefit that provides good value for money.

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