Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone
As a little pre-Christmas treat we decided to head to the Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone and take a look. Open since 2008, PECs will be popping up all over the world after Silverstone’s success.
You can go for a driving experience package based around a specific model, a YouDrive session which involves taking your own car on track or go all out with the Porsche driving school, with different levels of expertise. Centred around learning, there are tracks which offer different environments; handling, low friction, ice hill, kick plate and off road, alongside conference rooms, a human performance centre and of course based on the Silverstone site, one of the world’s best and most famous tracks is within touching distance.
All Porsche purchases in England now come with a half day at the PEC included in the price, giving the new owner a chance to learn more about their vehicle and experience the technology in action under demanding circumstances such as ice while acquiring new driving skills in the process. Another use for this is as a deal clincher, prospective buyers can be invited along to drive models they are interested in and effectively be sold on their benefits by experiencing them in action.
Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone
The cars available to us on the day for track driving were the Porsche Boxster S, Porsche Cayman R and Porsche 911 Carrera S. We had around 30 minutes in each car and during those minutes would use all the different parts of the track.
The handling circuit isn’t your average track, it is designed to be more similar to country roads with blind corners, elevation changes and even centre road markings so you can treat it as a road if you wish. The circuit isn’t the longest by any stretch of the imagination and although there is no straight to speak of, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get your foot to the floor to feel the acceleration and hear that engine rev. The PDC (Porsche Driving Consultant) will switch the technology on and off for you at various times, allowing you to see the differences in a realistic setting.
A small track of polished limestone provides the perfect setting to break out the oversteer and some well planned spins. It really is amazing what happens when you follow your instincts and take your foot off the accelerator and how that is the last thing you should be doing. The low friction circuit was fun and an eye opener and spinning out of control seemed to be my thing!
Now this is what I call fun, a rectangle of low friction painted tarmac equipped with water fountains which gives the unique effect of sheet ice on a road. The PDC starts off by giving instructions that will send you into an uncontrollable spin, I then heard a phrase for the first time which became extremely common “brake and mind your head on the window”. The car is just spinning down the hill beautifully and as soon the tyres hit the regular tarmac it suddenly grips and comes to an amazingly quick stop. I was addicted straight away and every time the adrenaline rush was fantastic. After doing it wrong, there are opportunities to see the difference between technology on/off and some interesting hill starts.
My personal favourite of the day was the kick plate which is a computer controlled hydraulic plate which you drive over, it will then kick the rear tyres either right or left sending the car into a spin onto another rectangle of low friction painted tarmac covered in water. The idea is to catch the slide, correct the car and calmly drive off for another go, but it just isn’t that easy. The kick plate is random so you don’t know which way the slide is going to go, and while you work that out and steer appropriately you must ignore your instincts and keep your foot on the pedal. If you don’t keep the power on, you will spin regardless of what else you do and overriding those instincts is one of the hardest things. It didn’t matter how many times I drove over that kick plate, it always had an element of surprise and set my pulse racing. To be honest, catching the slide did come with a sense of accomplishment but spinning was more fun. The PDC indulged me a little and gave me a few new ways to come up with some interesting spins.
After a nice lunch a trip into the classroom and some driver theory. Naturally after track driving in the morning, no-one was particularly excited about the theory but it is a big part of the Porsche Experience Centre and was actually quite interesting and thought provoking. We talked a lot about awareness and accidents and I honestly found the 30 minute presentation, information and debate more useful than a half day speed awareness course!
Human performance centre
The final activity of the day was in the gym and seeing the types of testing and training that top racing drivers go through. So much is made about the cars when looking at motor sport but just as much effort goes into to analysing and improving the driver’s physical fitness and conditioning. After a quick tour we were all offered a go on a Batak machine which tests hand eye co-ordination, reaction times and peripheral vision by hitting lights as they come on. I think most people were pretty chuffed after their efforts and we thought that the top score of 79 wouldn’t be a million miles away from that of an F1 driver. We were then told that the top guys get 130+ and most racing drivers will get 120+. To put that into context, 3 of us going at the same time only managed 102!
So that was our day at the Porsche Experience Centre and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t just about driving fast cars but the learning that came with it. The cars were remarkable but the centre even more so. There are packages available for the general public to buy and I would thoroughly recommend it for any car enthusiast.
With the new Cayman R and the 50th anniversary of the 911 coming in 2013, it will certainly be a busy year.