Porsche 944 S – Donnington track day

Blueleaf Porsche 944

All liveried up

It’s been a a week or so since myself and Adrian took to Donnington – our first full day outing in the Porsche 944. For those who don’t know the whole history, the car developed a knocking from the rear after only a few laps at Oulton leading us to retire it. At Silverstone, I managed to dent the front wing on a Skoda the day before so my S2000 once again took over. So, finally, we got a full day. What a great day it was.

We arrived with the Porsche on a (hired) trailer attached to our Mondeo estate workhorse (it coped..just, more later) feeling good that we hadn’t had to drive the Porsche an hour and half with no sound deadening. We suited up (as we’d visited Demon tweeks for boots, gloves, suits as we’re really getting into it) and that felt good – major psychological difference if you ask me.

The 944 only had one little wobble while Adrian was driving and me as passenger and it started to lose power (almost like if you were to kangaroo a car when pulling away). A few minutes rest though and she was right as rain. Other than that it was a flawless day of many track miles or us both in changeable conditions (dry > wet).

Donnington, if you ask me, is running joint top out of the three tracks I have been at with Oulton park. Both of these have undulations, markers, different cambers and all sorts to keep you entertained. Silverstone, to me anyway, was flat and a bit dreary (plus had loads of corners to remember!). I really enjoyed the day and felt I got to know the track pretty well, even if I was far off mastering it.

Blueleaf Porsche 944 rear end

What a nice bum

We started the day with Sarah taking us round the track for a few sighting laps before both having a few laps starting to familiarise ourselves with the track. Then some time on our own to build up the speed before a bacon butty stop (essential to keep energy levels up *cough*. The car was feeling great. We have the bucket seats and harnesses in now which meant a much better seating experience with little movement to allow concentration on the wheel. Handily, we had also replaced the bus steering wheel with a more petite Momo item to aid on track. The car felt great and had a lot of feeling and was very manageable. Still feels a bit heavy, but there’s still some weight to be saved (sunroof, battery, rear wiper mechanism…).

A quick break over meant more lap time for both me and Adrian ahead of some back to back tuition for Adrian then me with Sarah – our instructor for the day. A great driver herself, Sarah was a great instructor for me – fit my style perfectly. Sat quietly for a few laps taking it in and then started to feed simple instructions in a calm manner which led to improvement in almost all corners and the discovery of some completely different and faster lines to what we were both using. There’s so much time to be gained at Old Hairpin and Coppice.

Our instructor Sarah

Our instructor Sarah

Heading straight into lunch at 12:30 was a well deserved break with both Adrian and I feeling like we were having a good day. After lunch there was just more laps to be had gradually improving our lines and for the first time (as we had 2 helmets now) watching each other drive which was good fun. Then the rain came.

We’ve never driven on the track in the rain before and it was an experience. Especially the slight brow of the hill at Coppice feels very nervous and glass like. Especially just after the rain started and it was much greasier. Very interesting stuff. What was more interesting though was after the initial nervousness how much you can build up the speed after that – the limit is sooner and more dangerous, but it’s also reasonably easy to detect.

Overall, it felt like a great day. Here’s a corner by corner breakdown as always, I find these useful for myself if not anyone else!

Turn by turn breakdown

Donnington Park circuit map

The circuit

 

Redgate: A nice corner at the end of the straight. Braking point is currently at the start of the grass with the turn in at the end of the grass on the left hand side. Make sure you’re right over on the left hand side though as it makes a hell of difference being 6 ft to the right as I found out. The only issue here is that the pit lane exit is poor visibility and you enter in the braking zone or just before it – either way something to be very aware of. Apart from that it’s a 3rd gear corner, reasonably fast to set up for going down the hill.

Craner Curves: A great sweeping set of turns ending in Old Hairpin. Start off about in the middle of the road and it’s like holding one continuous  slight right turn to position yourself on the right hand side of the road for the left hand curve. I was doing a little bit of braking here (as I might have been a bit of a chicken) but you can (and I did once) lift off only before hanging a left through the last curve.

Old Hairpin: One of the two corners that can make or break your lap at Donnington. It’s quite a shallow corner to go up the bridge, more shallow than it looks if you’re just looking at the corner. Sarah said it’s better to look ahead through the track and you can see it’s shallower. We were taking this corner in 3rd and braking quite a lot. In fact there is less braking to be done and do it in 4th. The key is that as you hit the apex, push on the gas. This will give you the mechanical grip to propel you around the corner and stay on the track. Don’t lift off though once you’re committed! I didn’t quite get this perfect and needs work.

Starksy’s Bridge: I know it’s not named at to the right but that’s all I think when I think of the corner name! I have to admit that after old hairpin quite often I’d let someone through (like a Radical) and as such I didn’t ever get a feeling for the ‘right’ line here but it’s two simple left handers in a row where you want to carry the speed you gained in Old Hairpin through to McLeans.

McLeans: A 3rd gear right hander that didn’t cause me any trouble – reasonably easy to get the line right here and clip the apex nicely. If you carry enough speed you should get a bit of 4th gear time before coppice. If not, you can probably get through faster.

Coppice: Another lap breaker. It’s a double right apex but according to Sarah the line is to hit the first apex only and then quickly start to feed in the gas using all of the track to drift over to the left before piling on the power up the straight. There’s a lot of power to be gained here as well as lap time lost if done wrong. Again, a corner I didn’t fully master. The first apex is just after braking which happens over the brow of a hill which means the car can go a bit light, especially in the rain. Then after that it’s a case of measuring the power so as not to go off of course, but also not to leave lots of tarmac wanting.

The Esses: A nice little chicane at the end of a high speed straight. Both me and Adrian used this straight as an opportunity (rear traffic permitting) to see how the brakes were doing under hard braking. They did well. Good enough for now! The Esses themselves are pretty easy, clipping the apexes and keeping good speed onto the straight.

Great stuff.

About Rob

I'm an average petrolhead - I love cars and get as much driving experiences as I can out in the world from test drives to track days.