Porsche’s Experience Centre at Silverstone
I was recently invited down to Porsche’s Experience Centre at Silverstone to test out a new Porsche. I had such a great day that I thought I would not only do a feature on the car, but also the Centre to let you all know what it has to offer.
So what is the Porsche Experience Centre?
It is a set of purpose built test circuits to develop the drivers handling skills and demonstrate the capabilities of Porsche’s sports cars. The Experience Centre consists of five test environments; the Handling Circuit, the Ice Hill, the Kick Plate, the Low Friction Circuit and the Off Road Track.
Anyone who purchases a new Porsche is invited down to the Experience Centre at Silverstone to learn how to handle the exact car they have bought in a safe environment. The experience isn’t actually free, it’s included with the price of the car, however it is possibly the best introduction to your new car that you could wish for and what a great experience it is too.
Porsche treat the experience with great compassion and aim to make it unique to each driver. I arrived at around 12 o’clock, was greeted in the reception area and given the opportunity to look around Porsche’s showroom before the actual experience begins. The showroom housed a selection of their sports cars to look around and admire. Lunch was provided in the restaurant overlooking the test circuits, it was great to just sit there and watch every modern Porsche variant possible come flying past the window. During lunch I was introduced to my instructor for the day and he took the time to get an understanding for exactly what I wanted to get out of the car and the experience as a whole.
Lunch over; I went into a short 10 minute briefing that gave me all the information I needed about circuits and general track safety, and then I was let loose.
Walking out into the centre’s car park I felt like a kid in a sweetshop, at that time there must have been 40 Porsche’s parked up in every colour, model, and specification and I wanted to drive every one of them. I was introduced to the car I was driving for the day, and was shown everything I needed to know about it before being given the opportunity to ask questions, and then we set off.
I started on the handling circuit to get a feel for the car, it has lots a twists and turns, numerous camber changes and technical corners which really bring out the best in all Porsche’s sports cars. Whilst warming up on the track the instructor was giving me advice on racing lines for their circuit and information about how to extract the best performance out of the car. The handling circuit was a fantastic challenge and it was awesome to see such a selection of others Porsche’s all around you at the same time.
Next up we went on to the kick plate, which is possibly my favourite place on earth. The kick plate is around the size of a garage door, the aim is to drive your car over the plate and it will move randomly to the left or right throwing the car into a spin out onto the catch area. The catch area has a special slippery surface that is dripping wet from a sprinkler system. The kick plate provides as much fun as you can possibly ever have in a car, but in completely safe environment. To activate the plate I drove onto it at between 15 and 25 mph, needless to say the first few times I came out the other side backwards, or after doing 360’s. After a few more goes I was catching and correcting the car, and grinning like a fool all the way down the catch area. My instructor gave me great advice on how to correct and control the car and then how to maintain a slide for as long as possible. The kick plate simulates the loss of lateral grip allowing you to safely practise how to correct it in case it ever happens on a public road.
Low Friction Surface
Onto the low friction surface which consists of some tight corners and a two large open areas for drifting, donuts and general rubber burning. The tight twisty corners were a great opportunity to explore the boundaries of the traction control system and more importantly give you a chance to play with it turned down and my favourite, turned off.
Next I was on to the Ice Hill, it doesn’t actually have any ice on it, but you have my word it is just as slippery. It has a 7% decline, an ultra-low grip plastic resin surface, and a sprinkler system which, when all put together, simulates sheet ice. There are also two water barriers to give you something to slide the car around on. The Ice Hill was the perfect place to explore the car’s over steering to the extreme and practise bringing it back inline. Brilliant! And if you get it wrong the only thing you will hit is a wall of water which will give the car a quick wash. The Ice Hill also gives you a safe environment to learn how to balance and control the car once the back steps out.
Off Road Circuit
Unfortunately I didn’t get a go on the off road track, but I did take a quick look at the track and it is pretty impressive, it was described to me by the instructor as a short but extreme terrain. There are a range of purpose built slopes including a 42 degree climb and decline slope, a tilt slope allowing you to drive with the car up to a 45 degree angle on its side and various large rocks to drive over and lift wheels off the ground it looks like a blast.
My instructor then took me back to the Porsche Experience Centre restaurant to grab a cup of tea and discuss the car, its capabilities, and driving tactics, a great opportunity to review progress of the day so far. Then I was asked how I wanted to spend the rest of my time on the circuits, I opted to throw the car around a few more corners on the handling circuit and just enjoy the car and the track.
I couldn’t speak more highly of the teaching and driving ability of my instructor. I felt that after the 90 minutes I had on the circuits I came away from the track a lot more prepared to handle and enjoy a Porsche safely on the roads.
Following the track experience I was invited to attend the Human Performance session, this is where you are educated on how to get the best out of yourself as a driver and get an understanding for what kind of physical preparation drivers undertake for professional racing. You are informed about all the different tactics and training that the drivers need to do regularly to be at their very best on race day and you have the opportunity to try all equipment. I had a go on the Batak machine, this is a grid of lights used to test racing drivers’ reaction times by pressing large red buttons as soon as they light up. I scored 33 in 30 seconds; needless to say I’m no F1 driver. A demonstration from the tutor showed me how fast a trained person can be, he scored 56 in 30 seconds which was really impressive. The centre also has a heat chamber used to get drivers used to performing in temperatures of up to 50C, to test their fitness drivers would use either a running machine or an exercise bike whilst in the chamber. The Human Performance demonstration was a great reminder that the car is only 50% of the driving package and human performance can make a huge difference.
To summarise over the entire day Porsche do an exceptional job of training drivers how to get the most out of their new purchase in the safest possible way. For the consumer it is the best introduction to your new car and gives you more confidence behind the wheel. I enjoyed every minute of it.
As a further note, you don’t actually need to purchase a Porsche to spend time at the Experience Centre, you can just book a half-day session in a 911 GT3 if you wish, and let’s face it, who wouldn’t? I would definitely recommend this as a treat for anyone with a keen interest in cars.
Author: Paul Hadley