Porsche Train Event at Oregon Raceway Park

There comes a time when an Arizona dweller such as myself takes a trip out of town to escape months of hot temperatures, even in the Autumn season. While my state of residence is often the vacation spot for snow birds and our good friends to the North, I made a reverse journey and ventured to Grass Valley Oregon to join drivers on a newly built track called Oregon Raceway Park, also known as “ORP.” I was to run with a group of Porsche and exotic car drivers who named this event The Porsche Train.

ORP is a high-speed and challenging road course spanning 2.3 miles of rolling elevations with a great combination of on and off camber turns. With plenty of run-off space and a configuration that can be run in both directions, this track is both fun and challenging for drivers of all skill-levels.

This time around I left my race-ready Miata at home and found myself behind the wheel of my first rear-engine car; a track-prepped 1993 964 Porsche RS America. This is a truly unique machine, not only is it 500lbs lighter than stock, but in the rear you’ll find a MODE Inc. tuned 6-cylinder engine with Rothsport mods that boasts 350hp. Underneath you’ll find a OS Giken locking differential, helping to maximize the torque transferred to the inside wheels while increasing overall traction and cornering speed. This car’s power-to-weight is certainly generous enough to suck you into the seat and slap a big happy smile on your face. It is arguably one of the fastest RS America’s in the US.

The handling of this car really appeals to the racer in me, it’s pure fun in almost every respect. With manual steering you feel all the bumps and grooves of the road, which requires you to stay on top of the wheel and muscle through the corners. The gear box has a solid feel, slightly mechanical but clearly well designed for the era this car was made. Nothing feels automated, ensuring me that the car’s behaviors are a direct result of what I do, not the commands from a fancy computer.

When I was set out on the track (counterclockwise) for the first time it took me a solid session of driving, not only to understand the car’s personality, but also to learn where I was going around the track. A new fast car, a new fast track, and a really good time with lots of exciting challenges.

Weather wasn’t particularly friendly to us with bouts of rain on and off all weekend. Much of us rushed out to grab track time whenever there was a patch of clear sky. I was in the company of quite a few Canadian drivers, all who seemed to naturally brave the cooler temperatures. One of them casually arrived in shorts with no shoes the day before he drove. It was in the 40s. Conversely, I was bundled up in a parka, two sweaters and a undershirt. How Arizona has thinned my blood since I lived in England!

With Saturday being our clearest day, there was plenty of time for me to make rounds with my camera, and to experiment with how much grip the Porsche really had. Running on BFGs I quickly learned the car easily held onto the racing surface made of volcanic rock. The setup in this car made it a joy to drive. Predictable, stable and fast; lay down the power in all the right places and this RS America becomes immediately rewarding. Needless to say going from a 102hp Miata to a 350hp Porsche was enough to severely spike my enthusiasm! Torque is a good thing after all.

I managed to put down some decent times for the day, and lead a good chase with fellow RS America driver Roland Bauhart. Then, when the checkers fell for the last lap, I was dying to drive again and shave off another couple seconds that I knew were still out there.

The first night at the track was filled with what might be called “Canadian-style” jubilation’s. Having spent much time in the UK it was surprisingly a very familiar environment; laughs, beers in hand, and indoor-voices out the window. However, my gluten allergy prevented me from contributing to the beer consumption totals. In all the excitement and interest of meeting so many new people, I nearly forgot that I was the only female around, and most certainly the only female driver on track. While I’m used to being outnumbered in the motorsports environment, I woke up in my room the next morning thinking that in all the other rooms there were a total of 16-guys in a small house with two bathrooms that was originally setup to sleep 8. Somehow this didn’t matter so much to me, because at the end of the day were all drivers and are there for one reason… to drive fast!

On Sunday the track was run in the clockwise direction, while traction played a fair game of hide and seek. Being an Arizona driver I don’t get too many chances to race in the rain, especially on DOT slicks. With the very cold and very wet conditions, its fair to say adhesion wasn’t that great, and quickly went from bad to worse if you happen upon a puddle of water.

A large majority of drivers bailed by mid-day as the rain continued to worsen, while a few of us waited patiently hoping that a break would occur. During the downpours, I spent much time chatting with professional Grand Am driver Bj Zacharias. In the comfort of a dry and well-heated Jeep Laredo, we watched the brave souls still turning laps around the track. Soon enough, a break in the sky was spotted, and were quickly told to run out there one more time.

Driving the Porsche, I attempted to follow Bj in a Palatov DP4 (www.palatov.com), a very small go-kart-esq machine with wickedly quick cornering. Needless to say with the track still wet, he was a little red dot in my view before I knew it. A dozen or so laps in it began to rain again, and with the wipers not doing me justice I called it a day.

Until…

   

Bj later had the brilliant idea of making use of a rental car. It had heated climate control, had all-wheel-drive, and big tires… What could go wrong in a Jeep Laredo? Even though Bj had successfully made me feel rather carsick the first time I was a passenger with him, and the fact I usually hate driving in the rain, I still jumped in.

Along the main straightaway, the wind had a fierce nature and managed to whip my eyes even with my helmet visor down. Only two laps in the overwhelming odor of cooked brakes filled the car, yet he kept flogging it, causing me to laugh even harder than I was before. I’m still not sure why I was laughing. Was it the possibility of the Jeep tipping over through the “half-pipe”? Or, the very idea that I was inside of a stock Jeep Laredo on a race track? ... in the rain? In retrospect, I’d say probably both.

Once in the hot pits I realized a couple things. First, Jeep really did well in choosing the brakes for the Laredo. Way to go Jeep! Second, driving in the rain really can be a total blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.

By the end of the weekend it was time to say goodbye to my newest track-driving friends, and one of my new all-time favorite tracks, Oregon Raceway Park. Much was gained in my couple days driving here; everything that I’ve learned in the Miata has translated into other cars, even machines with 3.5x the power. I’ve also now become officially inspired by the sensations and drivability of a rear-engine car, something I look forward to given the chance to turn laps in one again.

A very special thanks goes out to Bj Zacharias for the memorable carsickness and adventure in the Jeep Laredo (and possibly the start of what could be called the Tow-Vehicle Challenge Series), the Wild Winds Ranch for the hospitable accommodations, the organizers of the Porsche Train group especially Roman Brent who made my participation and experience at ORP (in a Porsche) possible.

Oregon Raceway Park Official Website:

http://www.OregonRaceway.com

ORP Accommodations by Wild Winds Ranch:
http://www.WildWindsRanch.com

Photography by Jason Tang

Posted on 11/04

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