Porsche 911 driving tips from pro driver Patrick Long | Articles


From local autocrosses to Daytona and Le Mans, Porsche’s 911 is a staple of our scene. However, thanks to its unconventional rear-engine layout, it also requires its own special touch.

The basic racing principles used with any car still apply, as 911 drivers still need to look ahead, make smooth inputs, and always be cognizant that the hands and feet must work in unison. These are techniques that I try to apply no matter what I’m driving.

I’ve been a Porsche Works Driver since 2003, and as a result I’ve spent more time behind the wheel of a 911 than anything else. In addition to the basics, I have found a few extra secrets that help when driving this car.

These driving tips don’t only benefit the factory’s latest machines, as they can be applied to all eras and versions of this ultra-successful car. Whether you’re vintage racing an early 911, running an ’80s-era Carrera at club events, or fielding the latest GT3 RSR, here are some of my tips for getting the most out of the car.

Braking

Thanks to its rear-engine layout, the 911 requires a special technique when slowing for the turns. Photography Credit: Wayne Flynn

ABS Strategy:

If you drive a 996 Cup car or late-model, street-based 911, then you might have antilock brakes. This isn’t a bad thing if you know how to best use them.

My days racing the Super Cup and Carrera Cup in Germany taught me that a little bit of ABS engagement isn’t so bad. Here’s my basic rule of thumb: Feeling a slight amount of ABS pulsing through the steering wheel in hard-braking zones is good; if you feel the ABS through the brake pedal, then you are most likely using too much brake pressure and thus losing that last 10 to 20 percent of bite. 

It’s a fine line, but if the ABS isn’t kicking back through the pedal, then you should continue to apply pressure as well as go deeper in your hairpins and tight corners. You might be able to extend the preceding straight more than you once thought.

No ABS, No Problem:

On non-ABS cars, don’t trick yourself into believing that you have too much front bias. Remember, the front end of the car will start to roll as you turn in, making that inside-front tire very light and prone to locking. Practice trailing off the brakes as you turn in to keep that tire rolling. Sometimes the best setup changes come from the driver altering his approach and style.

Downshift With the Clutch:

I’m one to make all downshifts—on all boxes—with the clutch. This is a debatable subject, but I believe that using the clutch increases the life of the gearbox while stabilizing the chassis.

I also have never found a reason to skip gears, whether I’m operating a traditional gearbox or a sequential one. I find the common practice of holding down the clutch and banging through the gears to be lazy and hard on the engine. I also think that going through each gear helps keep the platform neutral, thus helping handling and braking. 

Of course, with all of this downshifting, proper blipping of the throttle is needed. If you can’t blip the throttle to match the revs when downshifting, you need to update or modify your pedal box. Another solution is to borrow a manual car and spend a day figuring out what it takes. 

It’s crazy, but there are guys out there getting paid to race who can’t do a proper heel-and-toe downshift. A lot of these bad habits come from too much left-foot braking—if that’s the way you roll, just remember that the 911 likes matched revs on downshifts.

Attacking Hairpins:

Not all of the turns on a track will be fast, and the late, hard braker will always win in the hairpins. Apply maximum brake pressure on initial input, using the aero from the high speeds to help increase brake bite.

As you approach the corner, it’s important to focus on bleeding off the brakes to keep the tires from locking up. A little trail-braking pressure as you lean the car into the tight turns will also assist in rotating the car at the apex. Plus, it will keep the rear light and agile. The amount of trail-braking depends on your setup, but always apply some when going into hairpins in a 911.

Turning

The 911 can maintain higher cornering speeds than most of its contemporaries, but be careful to not slide the rear end. Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha

Trust the Grip:

Overslowing the 911 upon corner entry—especially in medium- and high-speed turns—is a common mistake that causes the car to lose large amounts of momentum.

Here’s what works well: Since there’s no engine mass up front to overload the front tires, they can handle higher-than-expected cornering speeds. In other words, get off the brakes and let the car fly through the medium- and high-speed corners. The key to making that work is maintaining momentum and a neutral weight distribution. 

If you need to brake before a high-speed corner, do it in a straight line so you can get back to subtle maintenance throttle just after turn-in. This will stop the aerodynamic drag and engine braking from killing your speed. Plus, it will balance the platform by moving weight back to the rear wheels. Some maintenance throttle will also keep the differential locked and the car stable—the amount of lock and preload will determine exactly when you can start feeding the gas.

Use Your Feet, Not Your Hands:

If you find that you’re understeering at corner exit, consider accelerating later and more smoothly the next time through. Adding more steering lock to an understeering 911 is a mistake that I commonly see. 

Slow down your hands and look at your feet to adjust your steering. It’s amazing how waiting one extra moment before getting on the gas lets the car easily change direction, giving you a clean shot out of the turn. Those who think that the transition from brake to throttle should happen in a split second usually find that they have a big mid-corner push. Be patient.

Don’t Slide the Rear:

Sliding the rear end compromises grip and therefore scrubs off speed. However, a little rear roll on corner entry is okay and quite normal for most 911s. The engine mass creates a bit more movement in the 911 than it does in other types of cars. Don’t panic; just apply throttle and roll with it. Knowing the difference will allow you to get your 911 to the limit when approaching and exiting high-speed sweepers. 

Accelerating

A bobbled upshift can cost you track positions, while proper technique will pay dividends. Be smooth yet deliberate. Photography Credit: Chris Clark

You’ve Got Traction, So Use It:

I don’t see too many 911s spinning their tires at the track, since a rear-weight bias and low center of gravity give the car some awesome forward grip. If you do your groundwork when braking and are patient when entering a turn, the last part of the corner should be all about jumping on the throttle as you unwind the steering wheel. 

Don’t Steer With the Throttle:

If you find yourself lifting off the gas toward the exit of the corner because you’re running out of real estate, chances are you’re falling behind the pack. I believe that you should only get on the gas when you’re totally committed to achieving full throttle and aren’t ready to give any back. 

Nine times out of 10, throttle-steering is a fix for handling or driving style issues. This fix could probably be replaced by some even, linear throttle application or decent trail-braking. 

Shifting Gears:

Again, here’s a place where you should slow down to go fast. The old 915 transmission has a reputation for being tricky to shift. However, as long as the gearbox is well prepped, you should be pretty dialed in.

A common mistake I see involves trying to shift too quickly; this often results in missed shifts and other mistakes. I attack a sensitive standard transmission in the same way I approach swinging a golf club at the driving range: I learn my club and get the ball going straight before adding the muscle and length. It sounds so obvious and simple, but I see it over and over—the desire to shift quickly results in sloppy shifts.

Learn what the gearbox needs, and let your muscle memory program itself before you become king of the power-shift. Remember, the three-hundredths of a second that you might pick up from an extra-quick upshift could end up costing you three-tenths and three positions in the closing moments of the race when you bobble it. Such a move can also cost you a few grand when you grab third instead of fifth and break something. We all laugh, but we have all been there.

 The 997 Cup car’s sequential gearbox can be tricky at first, but here’s the deal: On the upshift, it’s imperative that you hold the throttle flat to the floor. Lifting, even a partial lift, hurts the gearbox’s ability to make the smoothest and quickest possible shifts and leads to increased wear. (If you’re a traditionalist who’s making the transition to a flat-shift sequential, check your data logging system to make sure that you’re not lifting slightly out of habit.)

Once you’re sure that you are applying 100-percent throttle on every upshift, it’s time to add the muscle. Unlike the 915 and the synchro H-pattern gearboxes, the latest sequential boxes need a very hard, quick shift. It might feel rough at the beginning, but believe me: The 997 sequential transmission begs for dominant upshifts.

Comments

View comments on the GRM forums

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)

The 911 is so pervasive in motorsports that an entire book can be written on the specifics of how to make the most of its unusual layout. That’s pretty cool to me.

spandak

spandak


HalfDork


3/15/21 11:14 a.m.

Yes. More of these please. Everyone talks about how great the 911 but specific driving technique and practical tips are hard to find.

Do a mid-engine article too please!

Tom1200

Tom1200


SuperDork


3/15/21 1:50 p.m.

I find it rather amusing that 95% of the driving techniques he’s talking about apply to my old Datsun.

Pete. (l33t FS)

Tom1200 said:

I find it rather amusing that 95% of the driving techniques he’s talking about apply to my old Datsun.

They apply to a lot of cars, really.  Given that so far nobody has offered me a seat in their 911, I can speak only from conjecture here.  But it seems like the 911 doesn’t reward proper technique so much as punish improper.

dps214

dps214


HalfDork


3/15/21 2:33 p.m.

spandak said:

Do a mid-engine article too please!

All the same stuff, but a little bit less.

And yeah, like 90% of it applies to most any rwd car. Just for mid/rear engine cars it’s more “necessary” than “recommended”.

preach (fs)

I “pendulum-ed” a hot beetle back in my late teens. Scared the crap out of me. No damage but for my ego.

I have also (twice) scared the everliving crap out of me braking too hard mid turn in my Cayman. Dear god don’t do that in a mid engined car unless you like an off into some serious crappy stuff like a wall or worse on the Tail of the Dragon (trees) or a good canyon road (cliff).

My experience with mid engines is brake hard initially, but carry as much momentum as you can through the turn, trail braking/big toe skinny pedal to rotate the rear as needed. Knee deep in the throttle at the apex. Definitely not a pro, but my Mom says I am fast.

I need to work on my heel-toe.

And everything else too…

David S. Wallens

When the MR2 Spyder came out, Toyota had the usual press drive. You’re paired up and alternate the driving and navigating. 

I forget who I was with, but he kept upshifting and downshifting mid-corner! Finally, I think I said something. 

Tom1200

Tom1200


SuperDork


3/15/21 4:02 p.m.

I have a ton of track time in Porsches courtesy of instructing at PCA track days; I think it comes down to the fact that Porsches tend to have set ups that are performance oriented from the factory, whereas most other manufacturers have set ups that compensate for novice drivers.

My 1200 behaves almost identical to a 356; lift mid corner and there’s a good chance that what’s behind you is suddenly what’s ahead of you.

I find stock early MR2s trickier to drive than 911s (in a different way of course)

 

Pete. (l33t FS)

In reply to Tom1200 :

Stock SA RX-7s were similar.  You don’t dare lift mid corner, and accelerating too early got you boundless understeer.  Starting in ’81 they went to smaller rear stabilizer bars (from 18mm to 15mm, a roughly 50% reduction in rate) and had limited slips as an option, then in ’84 they rearranged the rear suspension for roll understeer, all of which incrementally made them even more “safe” but less entertaining to drive.

 

I think the 911 panache is that they want to swing like a hammer when cornering, and your only salvation is to accelerate through that to clamp the rear tires down so they grip.  Not so much an issue with a 2.0-2.4l six, more of a trick with a 3.3l turbo with a turbo that “hits like the cannons in the 1812 Overture: late and hard”.

 

Gotta love how he has to pump up the brakes before a braking zone, to un-knockback the caliper pistons.

Pete. (l33t FS)

One more video…. Swing like a hammer.  Video should start close to the end, but the full six minutes is a fun watch for all the air cooled six noises.

 

bentwrench

First vid made me pucker when he pitched it into that left in high gear, and was counter steering before the apex. 2.38min

 

That was like driving a dirt car! Very tail happy.

aircooled

But steering with the throttle is so much fun!   Seems to work great for me in an AutoX, but of course I have a bit higher moment of inertia (longer wheelbase)

Pete. (l33t FS)

In reply to aircooled :

I’m not sure it’s steering with the throttle so much as keeping it from looping with the throttle.  Definite coffin-corner action happening there: can’t lift, hope you have enough acceleration to keep it from looping, and that you won’t accelerate yourself too fast for the corner.  (Note that car is a short wheelbase model, which are supposed to be extra-“fun”)

 

I can definitely see the appeal in how it’d feel when it all comes together, the exhiliration and satisfaction of getting it all just right.

Tom1200

Tom1200


SuperDork


3/15/21 10:55 p.m.

In reply to bentwrench :

This is a very familiar to me, of course I am going 30-40mph slower soooooooo.

slantsix

Pete. (l33t FS) said:

 

Gotta love how he has to pump up the brakes before a braking zone, to un-knockback the caliper pistons.

I have been wondering about that on my car as well.

Is that something that a low pressure – say 2# residual pressure valve inline with each of the brake lines (say one to the front and one to the rear) would solve?  I was just curious and maybe I should post that question elsewhere. 

 

Thanks,

Greg

jerel77494

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

I remember reading about the first RX-7 TV ad.  The car was driven through an s-bend in a mountain road.  They wrecked 3 of them.  They had to hire Rod Millen!

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)

In reply to Tom1200 :

Interesting because my Boxster’s nickname might as well be Mr Plow.  It’s so great at 90-95%, but 95.1% plus it’s Mr. Plow.  In my experience it’s easier to rotate a live axle V8 American car once you start understeering, because torque.  

I’m sure it needs more camber and possibly more rear bar to fix its tendency.  
 

 

dps214

Yes front camber and rear bar would help for sure. But being low power it’s always going to be a weight transfer game, as it was for most older 911s. Get the car turned in on the brakes, while the front end is loaded up, plant the throttle to keep the car rotating through the corner. Basically the whole experience is a lot of effort and risk but rewarding when you get it right. The early boxster version of the experience is a bit more clunky, probably because it feels like a modern ish car but your have to abuse it like an old car to get it to work at the limit. But I remember being entertained by the game of “how stupid of inputs can I give the car to make it work?”

Pete. (l33t FS)

In reply to dps214 :

It sounds like, one needs to focus more on tuning the driver to make the car work than to adjust the car to meet driver expectations.

Tom1200

Tom1200


UltraDork


11/9/21 1:09 p.m.

In reply to AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) :

I’ve driven numerous Boxsters and never had one plow; granted I am Mr trail braking.  I also find they throttle steer very well.

On the Datsun if you come off the brakes even the slightest bit abruptly it will start to understeer.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)

If you push a stock Boxster S real hard in a Figure 8 it plows.  Yes you can ease off the throttle, trail brake and get it to rotate, but it is definitely not a neutral car.  When pushed hard it plows just like all production cars.  I get it, it’s a safety thing.  It has nothing in common with the snap oversteer reputation of the original 911.   

My crappy Subaru Impreza rotates better than my Boxster, albeit that’s on dirt at over 50 mph,

At slow speeds the Subaru plows more.   
 

The Boxster does have the best steering response and turn in of any car I have ever owned including several Miatas and a 996.  
 

I just don’t buy the all Porsche’s are neutral handling wonders of motor sports that you often read.  You can make them that way pretty easily, but they do not come from the factory that way with the exception, maybe, of the GT cars.  
 

I love my Boxster, but the mythical perfect handling Porsche it is not.  

Tom1200

Tom1200


UltraDork


11/9/21 10:09 p.m.

In reply to AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) :

So keeping in mind I’ve only driven these cars on track:

I rotate cars aggressively so I don’t encounter this issue.

I assume you used the figure 8 as an example as I’m not sure why one would be racing around figure 8s.

As for all production cars plowing I can’t agree with that statement……granted I’m being pedantic.

dps214

dps214


Dork


11/9/21 10:11 p.m.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) said:

My crappy Subaru Impreza rotates better than my Boxster, albeit that’s on dirt at over 50 mph,

Trust me, the boxster would be even better under those conditions.laugh

Generally I don’t disagree with your analysis. It’s mostly limited to the low power models though, my 981s certainly is not pushy, at least through the first three gears. And beyond that it definitely likes trail braking but still has enough power to maintain the turn once you get it set into the corner. I think the subtlety that people miss is that the Porsches are ‘neutral’ not in the sense that they’re naturally perfect at all times, but in the sense that you can pretty much make the car do whatever you want with the appropriate inputs. Any of them can be made to understeer or oversteer in most situations if you want them to.

I also will say that for as much of a pushy mess as my base 986 was to autocross, it was way more composed and balanced than I expected on track.

Tom1200

Tom1200


UltraDork


11/9/21 10:19 p.m.

dps214 said:

I also will say that for as much of a mess as my base 986 was to autocross, it was way more composed and balanced than I expected on track.

As I’m instructing at PCA events I only end up driving 2-3 laps at a time with Boxsters (or any car for that matter) as they are student cars but again I find them nicely balanced.

You can make them do whatever you want.

Pete. (l33t FS)

Accelerating any car through a corner will cause it to naturally understeer.  You’re transferring load to the rear.  If it’s neutral in steady state cornering, adding power will increase rear grip and reduce front grip.  More vertical load = more traction, less vertical load = less traction.  One of the idiosyncracies of pneumatic tires is that they are nonlinear that way.

Obviously, if you overpower the tires, that will affect things, but this isn’t “cornering”, its “a burnout” smiley

This isn’t always a problem, but a trait that can be exploited.  I like having the ability to power out of problems.  It inspires confidence in a way.





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