The Silverstone Porsche Experience.
By Hugh Maguire.
Most if not all of you in the Porsche Club Ireland will have heard of the Silverstone Porsche Experience, however many I know have not had the opportunity for one reason or another to go and enjoy a day with Porsche at their purpose built facility at Silverstone near Towcester in England.
Like most of us Porsche aficionados the idea of spending a day driving a variety of Porsche cars on a purpose built test track is tantamount to heaven, so when the opportunity to try the Porsche Experience was offered to me by the Porsche GB Press Office I jumped at the chance.
The idea behind the Silverstone Porsche Experience is to offer Porsche and indeed non Porsche drivers the opportunity to drive either their own car or one of the supplied Porsche cars from the Porsche model line-up on their specially designed track.
While most customers are Porsche owners, there are some who pay to just drive their own non-Porsche cars at the centre or to come along and choose a package which includes driving one of the supplied Porsche cars.
The facility is located within the environs of the Silverstone race track but is actually completely separate though some packages include laps of the Silverstone Circuit.
The superbly designed centre is true to Porsche high standards. The centre has a beautiful showroom, restaurant, viewing area for guests, a human performance centre, and the purpose built test tracks.
The tracks consist of one high speed circuit which has undulations, adverse cambers, fast and slow corners, and a short straight where you can best explore the handling characteristics of your car. There is a tarmac low friction track where you can safely explore the limits of grip of a car, and fine tune your own abilities at car control. It also is the ideal place in which to compare say the 911 Carrera 4 against its two wheel drive stablemate.
There are also two areas which simulate very wet or even icy conditions.
The Ice Hill is a very low friction surface that slopes downhill and is kept wet. Here one can explore just how tricky it can be to control a car in a big slide. Then there is the Kick Plate, a device which suddenly and without warning kicks the rear of the car out to the left or right as you drive over it, you then have to catch the rapidly developing slide before it becomes a full blown spin. Finally there is an off-road section where one can get down and dirty in the new Cayenne. Seems a crime to do that to it but hey that’s what its for too!
All of these exercises are conducted with an experienced Porsche instructor who rather than trying to reign you back will encourage and educate allowing you to get the very best from the car.
That’s the background. So what was it really like?
For those of you pressed for time the whole thing can be comfortably done in a day from Dublin. I flew with Ryanair to Birmingham airport which is only about an hour from the Silverstone circuit. Porsche GB had very kindly arranged for one of their press cars to be delivered to the airport for me so with a grin from ear to ear I collected the keys to a 911 Carrera 2S with optional PDK, Sport Chrono Plus and Porsche Ceramic brakes. Now as my session at the Porsche Centre was not scheduled to start until 1300hrs and I was in Birmingham by 0830 with a full tank of fuel and a car just begging to be driven, I decided to take the scenic route to Silverstone!
This is not a review of the 2010 model year 911 Carrera 2S but I would be remiss if I did not mention the car in a little more detail.
A few quick superlatives will sum it up. Fantastic performance, quite incredible brakes and truly a world class high performance car. The PDK gearbox would convert even the most ardent fan of manual gearboxes like myself and while Sport Chrono Plus is useful its an extra I could live without.
Suffice to say that the drive to Silverstone was thoroughly enjoyable.
On arrival I was greeted by my instructor Rob. He has many years racing experience and indeed still races but equally importantly he has been instructing in Porsche Cars for nearly a decade, so he really knows them.
With typical Porsche efficiency he had been briefed that I was a Boxster owner and therefore offered the use of the new Boxster Spyder as part of my track experience. To further enhance the day he also suggested we use the 911 Carrera 2S I had driven there and compare that with a 911 Carrera 4S they had at the facility.
By the way the full range of Porsche cars is available and depending on the package you choose you can drive any of them.
After a tour of the Porsche Experience Centre which included a look at the Human Performance Centre where all the attributes you need relating to high performance driving, such as reaction times, reflexes and so on can be tested we headed up to the restaurant for lunch.
After a lovely relaxed lunch Rob conducted a short drivers briefing and then it was straight out to drive the cars.
We took the 911 Carrera 2S out first. Starting on the test circuit where I really could push the car to the limit in complete safety. The design of the track, with its variety of cambers and corners enables the driver to quickly get a feel for the car. The Carrera 2S of course performed impeccably, and the Ceramic Brakes demonstrated their abilities to the core delivering tremendous stopping power lap after lap without a hint of fade. The PDK box too came into its own with millisecond up and downshifts at the flick of the paddle.
After a number of laps with the PSM on I drove the 911 with it turned off, again demonstrating and learning how the car reacts on the limit in each case.
Having explored the 911 at higher speeds we took to the low friction track to explore car control. Here I could deliberately provoke the 911 into a slide and then hold it there as we went through a series of S bends, great fun!
Having exhausted the angles to which a 911 will slide we headed for the Ice Hill. This proved very interesting. Driving down the hill you are suddenly greeted with a Wall of water which you must swerve to avoid. In doing so you quickly learn the handling traits of your chosen Porsche and indeed how easy a spin can develop. It is very rewarding and great fun when you get it right and control the slide.
Next came the Kick Plate. Rob gets you to accelerate from a standstill to about 25mph, without warning the car is then Kicked sideways on the wet low friction surface and you the driver must try and control the ensuing slide. Its fascinating that as you increase the speed the slide becomes so much more difficult to control. It is a great exercise from which you learn a lot but its also frankly great craic.
With our session in the 911 Carrera 2 S complete we repeated the process in the Carrera 4S and I found this most interesting as it immediately highlighted the quite different handling characteristics of both cars.
For me the 911 Carrera 2 S wins. Its just a more involving drive as the car moves a round that bit more. It just feels more rewarding to drive.
We finished up with the promised fast laps in the new Boxster Spyder. What a car! Perfect mid-engined balance, plenty of power and wind in the hair motoring when you want it.
I still maintain a Boxster offers one of the purest driving experiences around and the new Spyder is the pinnacle of that.
Finally with the day complete I hopped back into the 911 for the one hour or so run back to Birmingham airport. What a car! What a day!
To those of you who have not yet gone to the Silverstone Porsche Experience I highly recommend it. I have done other manufacturers Experience days, but the Porsche one is by far the best, allowing you to drive to the limits of your own abilities while really learning the abilities of your chosen Porsche.
You will come away a better driver, with a more in-depth knowledge of what a driving a Porsche is all about.
For information on the courses available and their prices log on to :
www.porsche.co.uk or call +44 844 357 5911.