Porsche 911 Driving Tips From Pro Driver Patrick Long

Photography Credit: Photosbyjuha.com

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.

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