12 Jun 2013

A day at the Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone

Matt Hubbard attends a day at the Porsche Experience Centre, located at Silverstone Circuit.  

The final leg of the journey to the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone is something of a thrill for any petrolhead.  Drive up to Silverstone Circuit, tell the man you are going to the Porsche Centre and he tells you to turn right and carry on for a mile until you see it.

That mile takes you round the outside of Club, Vale and Stowe corners and then up the outside of Hangar Straight until the Porsche Experience Centre looms up on your right.

I was invited by Porsche as part of the new influx of social and online media into the motoring journalism canon.  As such they had laid on a kind of taster day for us - a little bit of everything that the centre offers.  In this article I'll cover the experiences on offer, rather than the cars tested - which will be reviewed separately.  Anyone can purchase any part of what I tested, be it as a standard track day package, advanced driver training or 'human development'.

The centre itself looks like any Porsche dealer from the outside, but once inside the building the fantastic yellow RS Spyder, sitting alongside Caymans, 911s, Boxsters and Cayennes in the centre of an atrium, signifies that this is a place for more than just selling road cars.

After the poshest fry up I've ever eaten it was straight out in a Cayman R, Boxster S (981) and 911 Carrera S (991) to try out the various tracks.  We were accompanied by a Man From Porsche the entire time we drove one of their cars.  Other manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover just throw you the keys and ask you to bring back the car later.  However, the MFP turned out to be less of a hindrance than expected, because all the MFP are highly qualified driving experts.  Porsche call them Driving Consultants.  In essence they are there to show you what the car can do and how you can extract the most from it and yourself.

The tracks at the Porsche Experience centre are:

Handling Circuit - this is like a cross between a race track and the best undulating B-road you've ever driven.  Every apex is blind, run-offs are non-existent and the tarmac smooth.  And you get to drive the best handling cars in the business on it.  The handling circuit is mesmerising.  It takes 2 laps to learn and then you start getting deeper and deeper into 'the zone'.  MFP was parroting away in the passenger seat.  At first his input was a bonus but after a short while I just wanted him to quieten down and let me go on and on and on until the fuel tank was empty.

Ice Hill - basically a steep (7%) slope with a low friction surface and two banks of water jets which you slalom around.  Ice Hill is designed to test the car and the driver.  You can drive up or down the hill.  Induce a skid (at MFP's request) with the traction control either on or off and try to control the car as it skids.  Great fun and educational to boot.  Only in conditions such as these will you be able to practice dealing with an out of control car.

Kick Plate - this is a flat, low friction section which is constantly drenched by water jets.  The car is driven onto the wet area and skids are induced.  MFP was very patient when I didn't catch the first couple of skids but after a little bit of practice I began to react quicker and control the car accordingly.  The Kick Plate itself is an unnerving device which, when you drive over it, kicks the back end of the car 1 metre either to the left or right.  You never know which way it will go.  The first time I did this I thought I was prepared for the car to kick out but was far too slow and did two donuts.  The second time I handled it much better and with a little practice could catch the car before it span out of control.  MFP earned his stripes at the kick plate, telling me what to do, what to expect and generally being supportive when I cocked it up.

Low Friction - this is a dry track set within the confines of the Handling Circuit.  The surface is smooth and the corners sharp.  There are also a couple of roundabouts.  Lots of fun can be had inducing skids and catching them.  Much like the Handling Circuit this is pretty mesmerising and after MFP had talked me round a couple of times it would have been nice just to get on and whizz round and round for a while but he was so keen to show me how the cars worked we did it in manual mode, automatic, traction on, traction off, sport mode on, sport mode off, and so on.

Off Road - This is an extreme off road circuit designed to show that the Cayenne is capable of doing what any Land Rover can.  It has a few extremely steep slopes, cambered (42°) corners and some large rocks, as well as the usual water splashes and muddy areas.  The Cayenne handled all with aplomb and was particularly impressive when MFP drove us across the rocks and managed to get the car balanced on only two wheels, front left and rear right.  Have a look at the video below for how odd this feels.

Next was a road test of the Panamera and then we were taken on a tour of the Human Performance area.  This is a small gym with the usual treadmills and weights but also with a few goodies such as Batak machine (designed to test peripheral vision and reaction times) and a special inner room which can be heated to 50° C in which drivers, and bikers (Bradley Smith had been using it earlier in the day), can train in preparation for races in hot and humid countries.

Anyone can buy a session at the Porsche Experience Centre (click here to go to the website) and drive any of the cars I drove on any of the tracks.  New Porsche customers get a session thrown into the purchase price.  Porsche GB are proud of their facility, and with good reason.  It's a great place to try out a Porsche but also to enhance your skills as a driver.  The MFP are a massive asset, although they should learn to pipe down a bit sometimes.

The restaurant also deserves a mention.  The food is excellent.