The Porsche Ice Experience with Monticello Motor Club
XOJET’s President of Commercial Operations, James Henderson, recently had the chance to partake in Monticello Motor Club’s exclusive Porsche Ice Experience. Spending four days with the crew, he received a thrilling introduction to the Porsche 911’s handling techniques on ice and snow, inspiring him to recap the one-of-a-kind experience for XOJET Arrivé:
It’s a picturesque scene from the chalet at Mecaglisse Motorsport Park in Quebec: As a cup of coffee warms my hand, huge snowflakes drift down in front of the window, adding to the blanket of snow on the course below.
But while the view from the hill is beautiful, my eyes are glued to a row of 20 brand new Porsche 911s, color-coordinated by model with their engines running. I am about to spend the next four days driving sideways in the snow, and I’m a kid again, primed and grinning ear to ear—this is going to be insanely fun.
Mecaglisse is about 80 miles north of Montreal and comprises a variety of circuits and large open skid pads for precision drifting and slalom exercises, including narrow trails through the forest. In February, Porsche takes the entire facility for the Ice Experience program. Ari Straus, CEO and Managing Partner of Monticello Motor Club, is a man who clearly does not do things by halves—in typical style, he booked a four-day program exclusively customized for Monticello members and was kind enough to invite me along.
Day one starts with a drivers’ briefing at the Esterel Resort, where we learn the basics of oversteer, understeer, braking, weight transfer, and handling techniques of the 911 on snow and ice. We then transfer to the circuit to be greeted and high-fived by the entire Porsche Experience team, clad in their bright red winter gear, and introduced to our instructors.
Many of the Monticello members are already veterans of the Porsche Ice Experience, as well as accomplished track drivers. The more advanced drivers have returned to do the advanced program with C4s and Turbos. My group is doing the Ice Intro program using the 420-hp rear wheel drive Carrera S with the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, equipped with Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires and 1.5mm studs. Basically, we are spending the day learning to drift, slide, and pirouette in 911s.
Easing into the brand new 911, I am already surprised at the grip of the car as I follow the instructor along the narrow trails out to the skidpan, listening to the burble of the biturbo flat-six engine and studded tires as they crunch through the snow.
Our first exercise is to understand how the car feels when oversteering or understeering, and to learn how to induce oversteer by applying power to kick the tail out and get the 911 into a consistent drift around a circle. As one of my instructors kept reminding me (with typical understatement), “It all just comes down to a bit of oversteer and understeer. That’s all there is, really.” Excellent, this is going to be completely straightforward—what could possibly go wrong?
With 420hp on tap, it was easy to get the 911 to slide. But maintaining the drift was a challenge, particularly with the different cambers and mixes of ice and snow on the surface, which became less grippy as we scrubbed off the snow. Too much power, and the front tires lost grip and induced oversteer; too little power, and the rear wheels regained traction. The trick was to maintain a delicate balance, steering the 911 with constant car throttle inputs.
Having grasped the basics, our group then moved on to the famous “Scandinavian flick,” or “rally flick,” to bring the 911 into a controlled drift through a corner. Initially, this involved hurtling toward my instructor Axel Mas at 40mph, the 911 scrabbling for grip as I gunned it and he yelled “faster, faster” through the radio.
Then, after applying a half-turn on the steering, rapidly coming off the power, tapping the brakes so the front tires grip, applying opposite lock and then power, the 911 oversteers into a nice clean drift around a corner. The principle, as I learned, is that you adjust the apex of the turn for a much faster exit—absolutely brilliant. Once Axel fully assured me that he had the reflexes of a gazelle to leap out of harm’s way if needed, my concern about mowing him down evaporated and I got faster at the exercise. Soon, I was accelerating into the corner, flicking the tail out, elegantly drifting the 911 through the apex, and exiting like a slingshot.
After each session, we reconvened in the Mecaglisse clubhouse to warm up, swap stories of our bravado and car control prowess, and get some additional advice from the instructors over an excellent lunch. I picked up a tip from the legendary Kees Neirop, who has been promoting and racing Porsches for over 30 years: “The back end of the car always has to be loose. You never want it to have too much grip—it’s all about managing momentum,” he explained.
Porsche Canada brings in instructors from the entire international network—they are highly experienced professional drivers with a strong motorsport pedigree. John Urlin, Director of the Porsche Experience Program, clearly selects his crew for both talent and personality: The entire team was incredibly professional, friendly, and fun (a testament to Urlin). They pushed our capabilities and limits with clear attention to keeping us safe, enhancing our skills, and giving us a truly memorable experience.
Back in the 911, the next exercise was the slalom, the goal being to get the famously rear end-biased Porsche into a consistent tail-out pendulum motion, swinging through the cones without allowing the car to get too much grip. It wasn’t hard to get the car to slide on the polished ice, but the trick was to swing the back end out by applying a shot of power at just at the right time. It seemed the more flamboyant, the better in this exercise.
At this point, I was also beginning to learn the idea of a bit of patience. Coming off the gas a little enables the front tires to grip and allows the weight and momentum of the car to steer the back end around the cones before another shot of power. All of a sudden it clicked, and I was consistently fishtailing the 911 through the slalom. It felt incredible.
The next step was to use the power and momentum out of the slalom to go into a sweeping corner and maintain the drift with full power, “without losing your bottle” as my instructor Jeremy Palmer calmly explained. This was in between screaming “gas, gas, gas!” at each of us over the radio to maintain power as we elegantly drifted from the final cone into the corner, keeping the car in a constant slide. Getting it right was a thing of beauty, and at this point, I was completely hooked.
Over the next few days, we combined all this on a series of one- to two-mile circuits around the Mecaglisse facility. One of the instructors was sitting in a lifeguard chair at a highpoint on the course, radio in hand, and the other waited by a four-wheel drive Cayenne, lest someone need to be pulled out of a snowbank. Not one to let the symbolism of the lifeguard chair get in my way of fun, they let us loose and I was off again.
This was where it all theoretically came together. My driving partner John Flinn and I took turns honing the 911 around the snow-covered road course, which was a mix of sweeping turns, undulating straights (interspersed with cones so we could get the car into a rally flick), hairpin turns, and the slalom. Every now and again there would be a “spin, spin, spin” over the radio or the Cayenne would be dispatched to retrieve some hapless individual embedded in a snow bank, and we would be off again. After my first (and only) foray into a snow bank, it was also clear why the front grills on the 911s had been removed, as one of our track assistants materialized with a wooden spoon in hand and frantically cleared the snow out of the fender.
My four days taught me there is no substitute for experiencing these cars firsthand in extreme conditions. The seat-of-the-pants feeling when the car is in a controlled drift was nearly indescribable, and learning how to manage the balance, weight transfer, and appropriate steering and throttle responses will make me a better driver on the road. More than that, I have a newfound respect for the 911—the car was absolutely extraordinary on the snow and ice.
Most of the time we were driving in Sport Mode with the Porsche Stability Management “PSM” entirely off, but I also did a few laps with the car in PSM Sport, which allows the car to oversteer but very cleverly adjusts the power to avoid spins or loss of control. I also did a few laps with Ari Straus, who was in the advanced group driving the Turbo with 3mm studs. This was an entirely different level of speed, traction, and (clearly) skills, but the nimble finesse of the 911 Turbo on ice was mesmerizing.
The camaraderie among the Monticello Members is infectious. Ari and his wonderful wife Molly are incredible hosts—warm, generous, and self-effacing, they complement each other perfectly. Ari is the visionary and impresario behind Monticello Motor Club and Molly keeps things moving behind the scenes, which is no easy feat. Everything runs like clockwork thanks to her, and everyone is incredibly well taken care.
After several days of fun, the entire Porsche team hosted an awards dinner on Friday evening for the Monticello Group, which would not have been complete without Molly organizing a series of hilarious recognition awards. I left having made some wonderful new friends, all with a common love for performance driving, socializing, and sharing yarns about our exploits.
If you are a car person, enjoy performance driving, and like unique and fun experiences, I highly recommend that you call Ari Straus and join Monticello Motor Club. Make sure you also sign up for the incredible Porsche Ice Experience at Mecaglisse in 2020—I will see you there.
*All photos courtesy of Porsche
James Henderson is President of Commercial Operations at XOJET. He is an automotive and aviation enthusiast, and has spent his career in a range of industries that include luxury goods, Formula 1, the yacht industry, and private aviation. Originally from Britain, throughout his career he has lived in 8 different countries across Europe, Asia-Pacific, and now the US. He currently lives in San Francisco and in his spare time can be found flying his vintage tail-wheel airplane around the wine country.