porsche driving experience centre
Jonathan Crouch tries Porsche's Driving Experience Centre at Silverstone.
The weighting and tactility of its controls, the charisma of its engines, the balance of its chassis. All these things go into making the modern Porsche the experience that it is. The Stuttgart company's engineers definitely aren't ones for leaving the details to chance and every aspect of every car is the subject of obsessive honing and development but there's one area where the control freaks at Weissach have always been forced into being uncharacteristically hands off and that's the driver.
If you've driven a Porsche, you'll already have an understanding of the importance that the German manufacturer places on the driver but once the keys have been handed over, the bag of flesh, bones, nerves and racing driver fantasies behind the wheel is on his or her own. It isn't hard to see how that might rankle with a company which spent the best part of half a century painstakingly finessing its 911 sportscar towards perfection. Now, however, Porsche can exert a little more influence on how its products are driven by UK customers through the medium of the Porsche Driving Experience Centre at Silverstone. I went along to try it.
There's no doubt that the average car buyer has only a very limited grasp of their car's true capabilities. In the case of a car with the depth of talent that Porsche builds in to its products, most owners barely scratch the surface. That's why Porsche invested so heavily in the Porsche Driving Experience Centre. It gives the company the chance to show its customers what their machines can do and how they can get the best out of them. Anyone can book a course from £275, which includes use of a car, tyres, fuel, insurance and so on.
Occupying a 10.2 hectare plot adjacent to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in Northamptonshire, the Porsche Driving Experience Centre features 3.1km of tracks offering numerous different road surfaces and driving conditions. There's also a challenging off-road course and a reception centre housing display areas, a restaurant, a cinema and the Porsche Human Performance department.
The centre runs a series of courses focusing on different aspects of driving and aimed at everyone from absolute beginners to old hands looking to hone their skills. The courses are taken by Porsche Driving Consultants, professional driving experts each with areas of specialisation ranging from road to rally and circuit driving.
The basic Porsche Driving Experience Centre introductory course is offered to every new Porsche customer and I joined a whole group of them eagerly wanting to understand their new cars better by developing their own skills further. You get a half day course that begins with a technical briefing and a familiarisation session on the Porsche handling circuit before progressing onto more challenging areas:
We started with skid control. The Kick Plate is a movable metal slab embedded in the road surface. When a car drives over it, the plate is triggered to kick violently to one side or the other provoking a loss of rear wheel traction and a skid. It allows drivers to experience such a scenario in complete safety and learn the basics of controlling the skid.
Next, it was on to the Ice Hill which stimulates driving on sheet ice with water jets sprayed across a low friction surface. It allows the driver to explore the handling characteristics of their car on the limit while learning how the car behaves in low grip situations.
That completed, my instructor Gordon decided that I was ready for the Low Friction Handling Circuit. This is a track surfaced with low friction tarmac designed to be the perfect environment for provoking and correcting oversteer slides.
Had I had time, I'd have loved to have tried the Off-Road Course, a 4x4 trail specially designed to put the Porsche Cayenne 4x4 through its paces with a series of steep climbs and descents, water crossings and challenging terrain. It provides a real insight into just how much the car is capable of.
Having taken the introductory course, Porsche Driving Experience Centre visitors can choose to take further courses to enhance their skills in particular areas. At each level, the programme is designed to give drivers a greater understanding of principles of car control, defensive driving (the art of avoiding preventable accidents) and advanced driving techniques. In addition, the Porsche Human Performance centre specialise in assessing and improving a driver's personal fitness through a better understanding of their health, lifestyle and diet. Porsche can even offer special programmes designed to hone your physical condition to optimise your performance in motorsport.
Porsche cars leave no stone unturned in the quest for optimum performance and drivability so it's only natural that the manufacturer should also want to help its customers maximise their own performance behind the wheel. That's precisely what the Porsche Driving Experience Centre has been set-up to do and it's predicated that thousands of UK Porsche customers will benefit from its facilities every year.
To find out more, call 08443 575 911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you could write to: Porsche Driving Experience Centre, Hangar Straight, Silverstone Circuit, Towcester, NN12 8GR.