Explore the world of Porsche advanced driving at SilverstoneBy Philip Shoulder
March 05, 2013
The Silverstone based Porsche Experience Centre is situated on a 10.2 hectare purpose built site and allows Porsche customers and enthusiasts from across the country, the opportunity to drive a range of Porsches, both on road and track.
Since opening in 2008, 35,000 visitors have passed through the centre’s doors, although Porsche Driving
Experiences began back in 1973 at different race tracks across the country, to provide a safe way of coaching new vowners on the vastly more powerful 911 Turbo’s handling characteristics. Over subsequent years, this has expanded to encompass all Porsche cars, culminating in the development of the Silverstone Centre, which also features an off-road circuit, to demonstrate the off-road ability of the Cayenne SUV.
The Silverstone success has led to proposed development of further sites around the globe over the next two to three years: in Atlanta, U.S.A and Shanghai, China.
Porsche Experience Centre offers a wide range of experiences and driving courses.
These experiences are designed to focus on a particular type of driving, model of Porsche or driving environment.
The most popular being 90 minutes behind the wheel of a 911, Boxster, Cayman or Cayenne.
Also available are a range of specialist courses designed to offer a unique insight into the world of Porsche.
These include Porsche Sport Driving School and YouDrive@Porsche, where you can drive your own car on the centre’s tracks, along with Group Events and Motorsport Events. Motorsport courses are clearly structured and build on knowledge from the previous level – each level must be completed in turn before graduating to the next.
All courses are taught by experienced instructors. The Porsche Driving Consultants, as they are known, come from a variety of specialist driving backgrounds, including motorsport. All are either ROSPA or IAM (Institute of Advanced
Motorists) qualified and all share the passion for coaching motorists to be better drivers.
The centre’s circuits come to 3.1km in total and can be split into four separate areas and used independently of each other, or connected together to form a longer handling circuit.
Porsche Driving Consultant, Simon Simpson explains: “The unique configuration of our tracks means we can replicate any weather condition, which aids us in demonstrating the technology on the vehicles and looking at the comparisons between rear and mid-engine cars.”
As a track novice with no idea about racing lines, my first lap consisted of merely throwing the car into corners,turning the wheel and hoping for the best… and while I didn’t exactly get ‘the best’, the results were far better than they had any right to be.
The car’s chassis and electronic wizardry, compensated for my ham-fisted helmsmanship into respectively smooth and linear progress around tight hairpins and over undulating uneven road surfaces.
As the course progressed my Porsche Driving Consultant coached me on how to get far more out of the car, by adopting the correct racing line and positioning and breaking points of the circuit: “As we approach this corner, get the weight down on the nose, change down into second gear, keep a light throttle as we progress through the bend, now feed in more power and wind the steering off, keeping the power balanced all the way through.”
We then venture onto the site’s other circuits, to learn about car control when there’s little or no grip available.
My Instructor Barry Horne explains that the Low Friction Circuit uses a polished limestone composite surface simulating freshly fallen snow, and the two concentric circles and demanding series of bends gives the perfect chance to develop car control in slippery conditions.
On the way into the bend I’m told to get into the correct gear, position the car, feed in some power to provoke the rear end to step out, before steering into the direction of the slide, balancing the car all the way through and using a steady throttle to maintain a controlled slide.
Well, that’s the theory anyway. In reality we end up spinning in circles most of the time, except on one occasion where I get the balance of throttle and steering just right.
It’s far from straightforward, yet is incredibly satisfying when mastered and forces you to understand the physics at work when the car begins to oversteer.
We then drive the same circuit with the electronic traction and stability aids activated. I am amazed at how much more controllable the car now is on this slippery surface, even after deliberately provoking the car into a slide.
Next up is the Ice Hill - a 7% slope with a smooth plastic coated surface that is then saturated with water to give a sheet-ice effect. Walls of water jets create artificial barriers that my instructor encourages me to attempt to drive around.
Negotiating the ice hill without the electronic aids proves very difficult and would only be fully mastered with considerably more practice than allowed in the time frame of one course.
However with the systems switched on minimal corrective action is required to maintain control of the car.
A mid-corner skid has got to be up there with every driver’s worst fear. Horne explains that the Kick Plate replicates hitting diesel or wet leaves mid bend and causes the car to enter a skid. “The aim is to get people comfortable with this feeling and to quickly be able to get the car back in a straight line.” A computer-controlled hydraulic ram set flush into the road surface moves the car’s rear end a metre to the left or right as you drive across it – forcing you into a skid. We start of at 15 mph and with the stability systems switched on and I’m amazed at how easy it is to catch the car before it begins to spin. All that’s required to do is to turn the wheel in the direction of the skid.
"As speed increases up to 30mph it’s necessary to be quicker and more positive with my inputs.
"Finally we try a number of runs with PSM deactivated. The difference is night and day and once again highlights the effectiveness of the Porsche Stability Management System in giving the driver the best possible chance of maintaining control of the car in difficult conditions.
We end the day with a spot of off-roading. The purpose built course - which features ascents and an assortment of rough terrain - not only gives drivers a grounding in off-roading skills and proves the real mud-plugging ability of
Cayenne, but also puts the Porsche Traction Management and Hill Control systems to good use while negotiating the course’s 42 degree slope.
Not only does it offer anyone with a passion for cars and driving to have a blast in a range of different Porsches; but most importantly it helps them develop hazard awareness and understand the dynamics of car control in a safe simulated road environment.
Consequently the skills mastered here can more easily be applied back in real-world conditions that drivers find themselves in.
For more information, visit www.porsche.co.uk/experience or call 08443 575 911