μ-Low_ Sweet Chariot

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                                                               µ-Low, Sweet Chariot
                                                               Driving a sports car between “go” and “no go”— the
                                                               ultimate driver safety training with Walter Röhrl.
                                                               By Jo Clahsen; Photos by Thomas Hörner

                                                                   large billboard displays some advice          utes’ walk from the µ-low shower, a series
                                                               A   from the Austrian Traffic Safety Board:
                                                               “Drive like a pro. Cool and composed, us-
                                                                                                                 of moderately to extremely difficult driving
                                                                                                                 assignments awaits the participants in the
                                                               ing your head.” A nice idea. It is only a short   driver safety course. But before Röhrl al-
                                                               distance from the billboard to the driver-        lows the men and women to take the wheel
                                                               safety center in Saalfelden, where Porsche        of their Porsche, there is more theory to be
                                                               representative Walter Röhrl puts this theory      learned.
                                                               into practice.                                       “Doing it in practice is hard enough,”
                                                                   The course begins with a striking illus-      Röhrl says with a grin. “You should at least
                                                               tration: A showerhead slowly slips down the       try to have a grasp of the theory and
                                                               metal shower bar, together with its mount,        physics of driving.” He then briefly but vivid-
                                                               on a film of water. Engineers call this phys-     ly explains the factors at work in the trans-
                                                               ical state, which occurs when there is no         mission of forces. He points out that four
                                                               adhesive friction to impede movement,             surfaces no larger than the palm of your
                                                               “µ-low” (pronounced “moo-low”). A few min-        hand have to transmit all these forces to

Waterworks:                          Voice of experience:
The fountains create so-              Walter Röhrl knows
called “soft” obstacles                    all the tricks of

                                      driving on the edge

22   Christophorus   298                                                                                                               298    Christophorus 23
                           the road. That is why “there is hardly any
                           part of your car more important than the
                           tires.” In order to allow them to perform
                           their task in optimal fashion, it is crucial that
                           “speed be at its slowest when entering a
                           curve, so that the tires only have to trans-
                           mit the steering forces.” Using the example
                           of a circle of friction, which demonstrates
                           the bundled centrifugal and centripetal
                           forces in one diagram, the former World
                           Rally champion shows how thin the line can
                           be between “go” and “no go.”
                               So far, so theoretical, so good. If your
                           showerhead develops a µ-low problem, it’s
                           enough to take it off the hook and hold it in
                           your hand. At the sports car safety-training
                           course, everyone ought to get some hands-
                           on experience. But here, the µ-low problem
                           is a bit more complex. One side of the short
                           slalom has plenty of µ; the other half has
                           virtually no traction at all. That can be a
                           recipe for trouble. “But only if you are going
                           a tad too fast,” Röhrl assures the partici-
                           pants. If the course is dry, speeds of up to
                           80 km/h (50 mph) are possible without any                     have been set to help bring theory and           the exercises is to experience these limits
                           cause for concern. Given µ-low and enough                     practice into harmony. As on the µ-low           first-hand, to develop a feel for them and
                           water, however, the situation looks entirely                  track, which is continuously watered, any-       to be able to recognize them in time in the
                           different. A mere thirty km/h (19 mph) is                     one trying to brake and simultaneously           future. If the command comes over the two-
                           hard to handle, and at a speed of thirty-                     swerve to avoid obstacles here is going to       way radio to turn off the PSM, the pirou-
                           two km/h (20 mph), the driver is essential-                   have to maintain a very high level of con-       ettes that follow create an even more im-
                           ly powerless to prevent the car from spin-                    centration indeed.                               pressive acrobatic performance.
                           ning out.                                                         Röhrl describes the way a sports car be-         Between the soup and the Austrian apri-
                               Making mistakes is thus a compulsory                      haves when performing such hazardous             cot dumplings, Röhrl has little time to do
                           part of driver-safety training. After all, the                maneuvers: “The car understeers when you         what everyone else is there to do: eat. Dur-
                           goal of the course is not to reach high                       see the tree you are heading toward. That        ing the lunch break, the affable and down-
                           speeds, but to see to it that “customer and                   means it is pushing over the front wheels to-    to-earth Regensburg native is grilled on
                           car get to know each other so well that                       ward the obstacle. When you hear the tree,       how this or that Porsche behaves on vari-
                           they are on a first-name basis.” That is how                  the car has oversteered.” It takes his lis-      ous courses and which tires are best for
                           Volker Gempt, manager of the Porsche                          teners a minute to grasp the drama at the        which driving conditions. His knowledge
                           Travel Club, defines the aim of the pro-                      end of the sentence. Fortunately, the ob-        and experience are so vast that there
                           grams offered to Porsche customers on a                       stacles at the extreme-test site in Saal-        seems to be no question he couldn’t an-
                           regular basis. The role of driving expert                     felden are not made of wood, but are “soft”      swer right away. Whether on two wheels (a
                           Röhrl is then taken over by the profession-                   obstacles in the form of fountains of water.     passionate cyclist, he recently biked over
                           al instructors from the Travel Club and the                   If a car oversteers and grazes the obstacle,     13,000 meters [43,000 feet] of altitude in
                           Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Tour-                     there is only a little splash.                   five days) or four, this amazing physical      W   HERE SHARPNESS H A S THE EDGE
                           ing Club, which runs the center.                                  The velocity of the cars fluctuates rapid-   specimen is open to any challenge. With in-
                               On the course spanning more than sev-                     ly between forty-five and fifty km/h (28–31      terest and patience, Röhrl provides infor-     KYOTOP–the knife with the new
                           en hectares (seventeen acres), a few traps                    mph). The remaining test tracks, with ei-        mation, shares anecdotes and gives advice      high-tech blade made from top-
                                                                                         ther µ-low or mixed surfaces, also force         packaged in dramatic, succinct sentences:      quality Zirconium ceramics.
Slippery slope:
Driving is easier
                                                                                         the test drivers to moderate their driving       “When you are driving at over 300 km/h         See for yourself the knife that
with instructions                                                                        techniques.                                      (185 mph) and you hesitate for just one sec-
                                                                                                                                                                                         stays sharper, longer! Now avail-
from Walter Röhrl                                                                            The master of driving technique, Röhrl,      ond before hitting the brakes, you have al-
                                                                                         sets approximate limits that, if maintained,     ready lost ninety meters (295 feet) of stop-
                                                                                                                                                                                         able from well-stocked retailers.
                                                                                         should ensure safe passage through the           ping distance. You’d better think fast.”

                                                                                         problem zone. Yet none of the drivers can            After the sweet dumplings, the partici-
                                                                                         avoid problems altogether, even if they          pants are once again called upon to show
                                                                                         strictly obey Röhrl’s directives in precarious   some quick thinking, along with some quick
                                                                                         situations. The car slips and slides and         braking and some quick steering. They are
                                                                                         spins, even when the Porsche Stability Man-      to approach a blind downhill stretch with a
                                                                                         agement system is turned on. The point of        mixed pavement from behind an embank-

                                                                                                                                                                                           K YOCERA FINECERAMICS GmbH, Esslingen,
24   Christophorus   298                                                                                                                                                                  e.
                                                                                                                                                                                         T l : + 49 (0)7 11 9 39 34 21/9 39 34 34,
           Information on driver safety training                               Walter Röhrl’s role as explained in the text will be
                                                                               taken by professional instructors.
           The Porsche Travel Club is offering driver safety                   Information is available at
           training in Saalfelden again in 2003.                               or by telephone at +49-711-911-8155 (fax -911-8158)
           Dates: 30 May –1 June, and 15 –17 August.                           or per e-mail (

ment at almost sixty km/h (35 mph). The             the rear end, sends the cars spinning like        ment in itself. And there on the side of the
task is to quickly begin applying the brakes        tops on the slippery surface. Things get          track is Röhrl proclaiming his encouraging
in measured doses while simultaneously              better after each repetition, since now           comments.
dodging the “soft” obstacles. A piece of            everyone knows when the jolt is going to              The longer that µ-low and the moisture
cake for the rally pro, but a daunting chal-        come and can react as the champion sug-           outwit the trainees, the more relaxed the at-
lenge for anyone else: “When I got to the           gests: with fingers extended on the steer-        mosphere becomes. Learning with a cham-
bottom, my adrenaline level was at an all-          ing wheel in the three-and-nine-o’clock po-       pion of Röhrl’s caliber is fun, even if what
time high,” moans a man from Berlin. Nev-           sition and with calculated steering moves.        you are learning could save someone’s life
ertheless, almost no one decides to skip            He recommends “you feel with your hands           some day.
this exercise. The participants’ desire to          and your bottom when the car swerves and              At the end, everyone gets a certificate of
prove their skills to themselves and the oth-       then react quickly, but don’t overreact.”         participation in the driver safety training.
ers is growing by the hour. Many of them try            Easier said than done. The kick some-         No one can rest on their laurels, though. In

to find the point where “go” and “no go” in-        times comes from one side, sometimes              a fitting epilogue to the course topic, the
tersect. And the traffic cones keep flying.         from the other. If you get the jolt while trav-   weather provides plenty of µ-low the next
   The last exercise is also an adrenaline          eling at fifty km/h (31 mph), you’d better        morning on the way to the birthplace of the

stimulator. Before you get to the “car              steer the other way pretty fast if you want       first Porsche in Gmünd. The newly acquired
wash,” which runs as straight as an arrow,          to keep your Porsche going the same di-           knowledge can now be applied under real-
a “jolt trap” built into the pavement gives         rection. And it doesn’t really matter if the      life conditions. “I didn’t believe I had learned
the sports car a brutal sideways kick to the        observer can see the understeering or hear        so much,” says one participant thoughtful-
rear axle. The result is amazingly simple.          the oversteering. The fact that the driver        ly, “but after the drive here I know how
The coup de fesse, this decisive shot to            has tried to steer at all is an accomplish-       much it really was.”

26   Christophorus   298

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