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More to track days than just burning rubber

LAST week, if you will recall, I was quite enthusiastic about the new Porsche 911 and its fantastic, grippy, confidence-enhancing handling.

LAST week, if you will recall, I was quite enthusiastic about the new Porsche 911 and its fantastic, grippy, confidence-enhancing handling.

It was such an easy car to drive quickly, and I was able to not just keep up with the other cars on the track, but to even pass a few.

But credit where credit is due: it wasn't just the car. I'd say a third of my success was due to the Porsche's balance and poise, but surely some percentage must be chalked up to my own on-track prowess: I'm going to say about five percent or so. The rest? Well, that'd be due to my racing instructors, Tony Morris Sr. and Tony Morris Jr.

Yes, they're related.

Now, some of you have heard the words "race track" and already glazed over. Here we go again with the usual hyperbolic enthusiasm where I describe daring passes, wheel to-wheel battles and all sorts of things that occurred only in my (fertile) imagination.

Not so. This is a different kind of track day, less about getting all the speed out of your system in a raging, tire-squealing catharsis, than about developing smoothness, excellent vision skills and learning some respect for your machinery.

The best thing about driver-instruction days like today - this one was put on by Morrisport at Mission Raceway - is the sheer variety of cars you get on the racetrack. Naturally, most of the Porsches are clumped together, and I'll soon be heading out with them, but the current on-track grouping includes a new Scion FR-S with a brake-upgrade, a heavily modified Subaru STi, a standard-looking Honda Civic and a Mazda MX-5 that showed up with a set of racing slicks mounted on a tiny little trailer.

It's damp out, and the track's a bit spotty with highly variable traction. At the driver's meeting, we're all cautioned to take it easy for the first few laps, and warm up to the car.

My first laps will be with Tony Sr., and we'll be piloting that bright-yellow 911 Carrera S. Tony Sr. has a history of racing in Canada since the early 1970s and has managed Porsche Canada's Western press fleet since 1994, driving around with automotive journalists for nearly two decades. Which is probably why his hair's gone all white.

As mentioned, the first starting grid is Porsche-heavy, but there's no doubting the bravery of the guy in the Ultima GTR. A fibreglass-based kit car with the heart of - in this case - a Z06 Corvette, this thing takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pilot. I resolve to stay the heck out of the way.

As we head out, Tony Jr.'s soft Scottish brogue both instructs and keeps me informed of what's coming up next in the track. Amusingly, he's also quick to point out areas where his son will be doing things a little differently: "Junior will have ye goin' straight through those curbs, but never mind that, stay off them."

Under his tutelage, I find the 911 responding to smooth inputs with whippet-like rapidity. It may be a bigger car than last year, but it's a delight to drive, to the point where I receive a gentle rebuke to not chase after the more experienced drivers: after all, Sr.'s got enough white hair for now.

Back in the paddock, I'm leaning over the fence and watching the amateur group go past. This is perhaps the most impressive group on the track - a cluster of young men in powerful cars (a brand-new M5, a Ferrari California, Porsches and M3s), all are here to learn how to handle their cars in a safe environment, rather than the headline-making highway hijinks you might expect.

"We want them to improve their skills, learn to respect their vehicles and ultimately, be safer drivers on the street," Tony Morris Jr. responds when queried as to the day's most important lesson.

Actually, safety's been a recurring theme throughout the day. All motorsport has some element of danger, but here Tony's experienced team of instructors, corner flagging crew and other support staff are keeping a careful eye on the proceedings. Which is not to say that Junior's not above taking an over-enthusiastic driver aside for a gentle "chat."

Round 2, and I'm out in a bright red Panamera GTS. I hate the Panamera; it's such a big heavy boat of a car.

These, and other disparaging thoughts are promptly blasted out of my head by a "woof!" from the Pano's 4.8-litre V-8 engine as it lunges down the track.

Wa-hey! This titanic Teuton is way more fun than the clinical 911, and Tony Jr.'s instruction is a bit more hands-on as well. I mean that literally: he grabs hold of my steering wheel mid-corner and dials in a few more degrees of lock.

Oh yeah, and those curbs? Straight through 'em, take no prisoners.

Tony Jr. clearly takes after his father in the motorsports department. He's a past Indy winner and cut his teeth at the old Westwood racetrack. Where he differs is in the aggressiveness of his racing lines. With his pointers and encouragement, I reel in a Ferrari - in a four-door sedan!

At the end of the day, a cluster of happy but tired faces gather around to hear the final words of encouragement and caution. It's in these late hours that mistakes can be made, and it's important that everyone drive home, shinyside up. Hands are shaken, new friendships made. The regulars all nod to each other: see you again next time.

A great day, to be certain, and I leave the track with renewed appreciation for both the cars, and for the incredible patience of my teachers; looks like there might just be two Saint Tonys.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@ Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.