Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit marked a major milestone Tuesday with an international launch event at the North Cowichan track for two new Porsche luxury automobiles.
The launch will have attracted about 440 motoring journalists from up to 47 countries to GAIN Dealer Group’s 19-hectare automotive resort and its sister hotel, the Villa Eyrie, by the time it reaches the finish line July 30.
The rollout of the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid and Panamera Sport Turismo marks the first time an auto manufacturer has launched a new model on Vancouver Island.
The first wave of journalists from Canada, the U.S., Italy, Latin America and Asia were kept busy test-driving 21 of the new-model cars, with two Porsche 911s and a 918 Spyder on standby.
Most of Tuesday’s drivers, chiefly from Canada, the U.S. and Germany, flew to the Island Monday and stayed overnight at Villa Eyrie, the group’s Malahat mountaintop resort.
After their test drives, they were invited to visit Port Renfrew, returned to Victoria, then flew by Harbour Air to Vancouver where they stayed at the Rosewood Hotel before flying home, GAIN Dealer Group chief executive Peter Trzewik said.
“The effort that goes into launching a car worldwide is amazing,” said Trzewik, reflecting on the extensive planning by the German automobile manufacturer’s team here over the past few days.
Giant Porsche signs appeared alongside a fleet of gleaming vehicles in colours from “crayon” to metallic sapphire-blue, with the red Porsche logo embedded on part of the track at 4063 Cowichan Valley Hwy.
Trzewik said GAIN Dealer Group didn’t have to seek the kind of business that will put the circuit on the global map, attributing Porsche’s decision to launch here to growing word-of-mouth about its existence.
“They found us,” Trzewik said, noting events such as a large-scale Audi R8 launch for Canadian customers and dealerships held there last April have attracted attention.
“Any one of those things send ripples into the industry. So now, with this event, what will it do afterwards? How many people will know about Canada having a track like this and Vancouver Island as a place people will want to come to? We don’t know. We’ll see.”
Dave Petryk, CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island, said the potential economic and tourism benefits cannot be underestimated.
“This is huge,” he said. “With the amount of media attention this is getting, and the fact they’re doing it on Vancouver Island, it’s certainly going to give attention to the destination itself.”
He said tourism officials would be closely monitoring the automotive publications and broadcasts to see what kind of spinoff attention Vancouver Island gets so that it can be properly measured.
“Our biggest sector of visitors to Vancouver Island, and to B.C., is the people we define as ‘touring,’ and most of that is done by car,” Petryk said.
“Where you get this kind of profile, it starts to build on what the driving routes are, and how people can enjoy the destination by drive-touring the area.”
Ben Weinberger, a spokesman based at Porsche AG headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, said he was impressed after visiting the region during a scouting trip for potential launch sites last fall.
“We wanted to focus on the beautiful island here, the woods, the waterfront and the nice roads,” said Weinberger, adding both the country roads and challenging track are ideal for Porsche-driving.
He described the Sport Turismo as “a kind of station wagon, but we don’t call it that because it’s not,” and the Turbo S E-hybrid as a winning combination of two engines with a combined 680 horsepower.
“It has a V8 combustion engine and an electric motor that can drive up to 50 kilometres pure electric. But with the combustion engine, you don’t need to be afraid of the range and you’ve got a lot of power,” he said.
“Every Porsche, no matter whether it’s an SUV or Panamera four-door model, a Boxter or a 911, they all share this Porsche design DNA. You look at it and you just know that: ‘Hey, this is a Porsche.’ ”
Although the hybrid vehicle is quite heavy because of the dual engines and battery in the trunk, it is “very agile and very high-performance,” he said. “And if you buy a Porsche, you want to have a bit of fun.”
Anja Wassertheurer, Porsche’s director of product and technical communications, said it was great being so close to Victoria, where she studied at Parklands Elementary and the University of Victoria on a Rotary exchange program.
“I’m so pleased somebody decided to do this in Canada. It’s such a lovely country with wonderful landscapes, so why wouldn’t we launch such a beautiful car in these surroundings?” she said.
The Stuttgart-based former race car driver said any initial reservations she might have had about the racetrack were soon dispelled.
“At first we thought it might be too tiny at 2.3 kilometres, because we have a car that is five metres in length, so it’s not the perfect terrain. But what we can show is that it behaves like a real sports car even though it’s pretty heavy and large,” said Wassertheurer, who describes the Panamera sedan model as a “limousine with the Turbo S E-hybrid for the first-time ever.”
The term “limousine” is “the European way of saying sedans, and they call station wagons ‘saloons,’ ” Erick Ayapana, associate road test editor for Motor Trend, said with a smile.
Since reviews are embargoed to ensure fairness for all media participants, Ayapana said his first review likely won’t appear until July 25.
“This is actually my first Porsche drive event,” the Los Angeles-based automotive writer said.
“It’s really well done. It’s a beautiful area and environment, and the track itself is surprisingly technical. It’s just enough to let you explore the limits of the vehicle. It’s well done.”
Trzewik anticipated the new Porsche models would do well once they are rolled out to retailers, in part because of the automotive icon’s enduring popularity.
“When we bought the [Victoria] Porsche store in 2013, there was Vancouver and Victoria,” he said.
“Now there’s Vancouver, Langley, Kelowna, a new store in Vancouver and us. So out of two dealerships came five, so the volume always goes up.”