Monday, 3 September 2012

Porsche Experience Centre - Silverstone

29th August 2012

I'll try not to wax too lyrical about this but this was a fantastic experience.

I decided to visit the Porsche Experience Centre after having had such a great time at Mercedes-Benz World on the AMG experience, as the Porsche session looked similar in style (ie a lengthy session on a variety of surfaces). The Porsche experience though is 90 mins compared to the AMG 60 minute session.

When you book the experience it's quite unique compared to other experience centres in that you get to specify the exact car you want. Their first question to me was "what type of 911 do you wish to drive? A GT, a GT RS, a Turbo, or Carrera?" (nb Boxster and Cayman options are also available). I went for the Carrera because it was the brand new 991 model whereas the other models are the older 997 models (at the time of writing Porsche haven't released them yet in 991 trim). The Carrera price of £275 was also the cheapest. Next question: "would you like the Carrera or Carrera S?" I went for the S. Next, "would you like the 2S or 4S?" I went for the 2S. "Would you like manual or PDK?" I went for PDK and requested paddles as opposed to button shifters. Price for all these choices was the same.

Also of note and different to all other driving days I've been on is that there was no option for reducing the insurance Excess (because I don't think there was one) and no option for in car footage or professional photographs. So £275 really is the total and final price.

I booked a 9am slot. This turned out to be a good move as the track was empty at that time (and by chance it was dry whereas it rained an hour later). The experience is at the purposes built Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone. It is based at the circuit but Porsche have their own tracks, ie you don't drive on the famous race circuit (which you can do separately - see my Ferrari Experience review).

The centre is small but smart. I received a very nice greeting and was advised my instructor would meet me shortly. I could look at a range of Porsches, sit in them should I wish. Upstairs was a lovely restaurant and cafe where I was offered a range of complimentary drinks and even a full English breakfast. I skipped the food but signed the paperwork whilst sipping a cappuccino.

My instructor Gill was fantastic. There was no group briefing as you might expect. All briefing was done in the car. So, straight to the Porsche. Okay, I'm not here to review cars, but the 991 has a beautiful interior, and the seats are exceptional. We talked through the buttons, made sure the sports exhaust was switched on, and off we went to the dry handling circuit. Fortunately, it was dry. Gill asked what I wanted to get out of the session and for me it was about improving my track driving skills (ie make me faster, smoother and safer) and improve my wet weather driving skills. The track is like a British B road with fairly tight and twisty corners and different cambers - a great challenge for car and driver alike.

Gill really worked with me on my driving technique and we had many, many laps, with the promise of more to follow. Next came the wet kick plate area. Basically you practice controlling the car after hitting 'black ice'. This was useful and my car control certainly improved a lot.

Next up was the downhill wet slalom. Again, an opportunity to learn more about controlling the car in wet conditions. Then a few hard braking exercises in the wet and dry.

Next up was the wet circuit where we had the joy of learning to force the car into opposite lock, ie drift the car around the corners. Using the various traction settings allowed increasing amounts of drift. Fun!

Somewhere in all this we had done more laps around the dry handling circuit, but by this point it had started to rain and so we hit the dry handling circuit again, but of course it had become slippery. This was great to continue learning about driving quickly but with less grip, so again I learned a lot about car control. I should say, Gill was there to teach to me drive faster, and at no point did she ever get me ask me to change up early or ease off - she encouraged me to learn and to have fun. She really did provide great tuition and also encouraged me to just have fun with the car.

The circuit was busy by this point. Basically, when people buy a new Porsche they get a half day at the Centre to learn about driving their cars. I guess they were new to it but let's just say I had to do a lot of overtaking!

The experience is amazing. For me, I wanted to learn how to drive faster, so that's what I got. If you want something different, they will cater for you. One thing though - the car is phenomenal. I've driven other fast vehicles as you can read on the blog, but this latest 911 is incredible. The cornering, braking, and rawness of the acceleration are breath-taking, as is the incredible engine note. When it hit the red line the sound of the engine will make you grin like a Cheshire cat, as will the way you are forced back in your seat. But the car is also refined and comfortable. I just wish I had £85,000 to spend on a new car...

A final few goes at the kick plate and then time to end. 90 minutes of fun and learning. I enjoyed another cappuccino, admired the cars again, and then left, smiling all the way home.

Seriously, one of the best £275 I have ever spent.


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