For the next two days, our real-world road conditions involve not much pavement.

The Cayenne already has proven its capabilities on some extremely high-speed pavement. On the Nuerburgring, where 160 turns test power and precision, the Cayenne Turbo posted laps as fast as Porsche's Boxster S. Imagine, an SUV is as quick as a sports car.

Cayenne Project Manager Egon Verse says the 444-horsepower Cayenne Turbo owns the eighth fastest lap by a road vehicle in testing at Hockenheim, Germany's Grand Prix circuit. "And that includes sports cars," Verse says proudly. (As he left for Australia, the Cayenne S with its normally aspirated 334-horsepower V-8 was at Hockenheim. "I think it's in 12th place," he reports.)

The Cayenne Turbo can do 165 mph on the test track, and the S will hit 150. We'll not approach those speeds today, although we'll get closer than you might expect. Australia's Northern Territory is one of few places left that posts no speed limit on its open roads.

Although this is the dry season, a storm off the Gulf of Carpentaria has flooded several communities. Alice Springs' biggest weekend of the year is the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, a waterless spoof in which bottomless boats are run along the dry bed of the Todd River. As we arrive, the Todd is a torrent, and our cars are the color of tomato soup after wipers have painted them with gallons of pink slop removed from windshields.

Actually, such horrible conditions provide a good test of the car and show the skills of the Porsche engineers, who seem to make only small-degree inputs to the steering wheel as we run at rally-stage speeds on the wide, flat, unpaved roads.

But speed doesn't mean foolishness. Safety is stressed at meetings and on the radio. Tire carcasses that litter the road's shoulders provide shredded reminders this can be an unpleasant place to travel.