Playtime At The Porsche Experience Centre
Much to my dismay my Euromillions numbers still haven’t come up. This is a constant source of frustration as I need that multi-million pound jackpot to fund a project. An expensive project.
First of all I need to buy some land. The large field behind my back garden should do the job. Then I need to hire a team of engineers to construct my new playground. The fact that this playground would be an almost exact replica of the Porsche Experience Centre could be coincidence, or it could be due entirely to the fact that I recently enjoyed a fantastic day out there.
If you haven’t visited the Porsche Experience Centre then you really should get yourself booked in. For a start it’s attached to the side of the Silverstone grand prix circuit. If you were already eager to get there then arriving at the Silverstone gates and driving past the grandstands next to the track, with the new pit building in the background, just adds to the anticipation.
Then you pull up outside to see a selection of Porsche’s best. When I arrived I was greeted by a bright orange GT3 RS parked up alongside a white GT3 RS 4.0. Two of the best 911s of recent years. Wow. Walk inside and you’re greeted by another selection of models to feast your eyes upon, including a fabulous DHL-liveried RS Spyder race car and a gorgeous little 1955 Spyder tucked away inside a meeting room.
At this point it’s worth mentioning the café upstairs. They do some fantastic food and offer a great selection of drinks and, once you’ve satisfied your appetite, you can head outside onto the roof to watch the action on track.
The Experience Centre Tracks
Porsche have built more than just a simple race track. The Experience Centre includes a range of different layouts and surfaces that allow their professional instructors to push you and your car to its limits and test you on some of the finer details of car control.
One of the best sections is the Low Friction surface. It’s a highly polished track that feels like damp tarmac and is ideal for demonstrating the finer points of car control. Here I got to sample how a Porsche 911 can switch from understeer to oversteer, with my instructor explaining exactly why it was happening and how to deal with it. It was fascinating stuff.
Next to the Low Friction section is the Ice Hill, an epoxy resin-covered slope that is covered in running water that makes it as slippery as its name suggests. It’s a good place to learn about balancing your throttle and your steering inputs. It’s also a good place to spin wildly out of control if you feel like you want to ignore what your instructor is telling you.
Over in the far corner of the circuit is the Kick Plate. As you head out onto another slippery resin-coated surface, with sprinklers adding to its ice-like qualities, a metal plate suddenly throws the back wheels of the car to one side. Which side? You don’t know, so this is a game of reflexes. Can you catch the car before the rear wheels overtake the front? Or are you going to finish up pointing back the way you came?
Then there’s the Handling Track. It is, quite simply, fantastic fun. It’s not a fast track and you’re unlikely to see 4th gear as you navigate the tight turns and short straights. What this track does is challenge your skills and make you think about how the car is handling.
The track isn’t very wide and there’s not much tarmac on which to gather up your mistakes so you really don’t want to make a hash of things. All the time you have to be careful with brakes and throttle, as any mistake messes up your line for the next corner that is never far away.
One corner in particular stands out in my mind, an off-camber, downwards sloping right-hand bend up near the kick plate. The entry point is slightly blind as the corner drops away down the hill. You have to time your braking and turn-in to perfection but more importantly you have to wait patiently to get back onto the throttle. Too soon and the negative camber amplifies the forces pulling you away from the apex. Just wait, hold a steady throttle to keep the car settled and when you’re lined up for the next corner you can mash the throttle pedal to the carpet. It’s a great feeling when you get it right, a learning experience when you don’t.
The beauty of the Porsche Experience Centre is that you can also get behind the wheel of some of the finest sports cars available.
My day started off in the all-new Porsche Boxster. To the untrained eye it may look very much like the last Boxster but Porsche have worked hard to improve their popular convertible. The cabin is a huge improvement and oozes quality and I love the 991-inspired detailing on the outside.
The Boxster may be more refined but that doesn’t mean the driving experience has softened up. It still has that wonderful balance that comes from its mid-mounted flat-six engine and even though it represents the cheapest way of joining the Porsche club, you never feel like you’re buying a budget model.
From the Boxster I jumped into the Cayman R. This Peridot Green example had a very basic interior, stripped of anything that didn’t count towards the driving experience, even the door handles! But it makes up for the lack of creature comforts with an aggressive bark from the exhaust and practically no pitch or roll from the chassis. You point, it goes, and you feel everything that’s happening beneath you. Glorious!
At the top of the Porsche range is the iconic 911. Now in its 50th year and latest 991 generation, it is such an amazing and enduring piece of engineering. What stands out most for me about the 911 is the way it talks to you, telling you exactly what’s happening underneath each corner of the car. The new electric steering has come in for some flak from certain corners of the motoring press. I haven’t driven enough 911s to pass comment but what struck me most was how this supposedly inferior system is still light years ahead of the mainstream manufacturers. Driving a 911 is a graphic example of how numb most road cars have become.
With the Carrera S’s dual-clutch PDK gearbox set to ‘auto’ you can potter about with great ease as well as in comfort thanks to the adaptive chassis. But when you want to make serious progress, or you get onto the track, a few button presses transform it into a tightly controlled, howling banshee that will catapult you forwards at astonishing speed. It may sound like a bit of a cliché but after fifty years of evolution the Porsche 911 is about as close as you’ll get to the perfect fast road car.
Did I mention the off-road course? This is designed to show off the talents of the oft-derided Cayenne. Some dismiss it as little more than an urban 4×4 with sporty pretensions but in truth its talents run much deeper. The Cayenne has got some serious off-roading hardware that allow it to tackle ridiculously steep (1:1) slopes with ease, both going up and down. Locking diffs, variable height suspension, hill descent control, and a chassis that’s strong enough to handle the twisting forces of 42 degree cambered corners and the very tricky balancing stones. While most Cayenne buyers will never know what their car is capable of you can’t say that Porsche haven’t put the effort in.
How Can You Have A Go?
There are a number of ways you can get yourself on track at the Porsche Experience Centre. The first, and most expensive by some way, is to buy a Porsche. Then you’ll be invited to come along to the Centre in your new car and get some expert tuition from Porsche’s instructors.
If your pockets aren’t deep enough to stretch to a new Porsche you can buy one of the Experiences. The YouDrive events allow you to go on track in your own car (no, it doesn’t have to be a Porsche) and have some fun and you can even upgrade to get some one-on-one time with an instructor. Or you could buy a few laps of the circuit in anything from a Boxster to a 911 RS, and even spend a full day with an instructor by your side. If you want to see what experiences are on offer then head over to the Porsche Experience Shop and choose from the range.
In the meantime I’m going to go and buy another Euromillions ticket. You never know, this could be my lucky day, and I need to be able to have my Porsche fix whenever I want it.