The experience centre at Silverstone is where you can really explore the potential of Porsche cars, writes Geraldine Herbert
As the needle on the speedometer zips toward the red line and we nudge closer to the bend, I am reminded by my instructor to “brake, brake hard”. A few laps around this very twisty racetrack and the nuances of braking, accelerating and steering are finally being digested and I learn the crucial lessons of track driving; there is no coasting, no cruising and certainly no time to admire the view. There is only braking and accelerating and nothing in between.
This is the Porsche Experience Centre, opened in November 2008 and built right next to the iconic Silverstone racetrack, the home of British motorsport. Such has been the success of the centre that it has become a blueprint for Porsche across the globe and a number of similar facilities have been developed around the world.
At the heart of it is a handling track that is almost five kilometres long and designed to emulate a winding rural road with blind corners, elevation and camber changes. The track can be used as one continuous lap or split into six different test environments. All sections can be used independently of each other and include Straights, Kick Plate, Ice Hill, Low Friction, plus there is an Off-Road section if you want to find out what a 4×4 can really do. All of them give you an opportunity to understand how the car’s engine and chassis control systems work.
There is also a variety of track configurations and surface conditions on which the potential of Porsche cars can be explored and understood.
But the Experience Centre is much more than simply an exercise in speed. Two skid pans, the kick plate and ice hill, complete with water fountains are available. The kick plate is a section of track that has a computer-controlled hydraulic plate to simulate over-steer, it randomly moves the car left or right, putting the car into a skid and as the car loses rear wheel traction you can experience and learn to control sliding on surfaces like ice and water. You also get a chance to switch off the safety aids like electronic brake distribution and traction control, which clearly demonstrates just how valuable these features are.
The ice hill has a 7pc slope, an ultra-low grip plastic resin surface, and a sprinkler system which simulates sheet ice and will test even the most experienced drivers.
Coinciding with the recent launch of the new Porsche 911 range we had the opportunity to drive a wide variety of models at the centre. For 2016, the new 911 range, even at entry level, is now turbocharged in response to pressures to limit emissions and improve efficiency. At the lower end of the range, the models are powered by 3.0-litre six-cylinder boxer engines, tuned to develop 365bhp (Carrera) or 414bhp (Carrera S).
Further up the range, the Turbo and the Turbo S have larger 3.8-litre engines, delivering acceleration from 0-100 kph of around 3.0 seconds and are only available with four-wheel drive. Higher charge pressure boosts the power output of the twin-turbo six-cylinder engine in the 911 Turbo to 397 kW (540 hp). Thanks to its turbochargers with larger compressors and other optimisations, the 911 Turbo S now develops 427 kW (580 hp). The greater power of the S models comes not only from turbochargers with larger compressors but also a specially designed exhaust system and a different engine management tuning.
Having sampled the entire new range, the most fun I had on the handling circuit was in the Carrera S, it is light and just so agile and the most astonishing was from the 911 Turbo S in a full launch-control; by hitting the throttle and releasing the brake pedal at the same time it allows you to achieve the maximum acceleration of 60 mph in under three seconds from standstill.
So if you fancy driving a fast car fast, then can I suggest a Porsche Experience day in Silverstone. After a couple of hours with a Porsche driving instructor, all of whom have professional race-car-driving experience, you will not only see what a Porsche can do but you will also improve your driving skills.
And if you are thinking of buying one, all new owners get an invitation to the Experience Centre to learn how to properly control and handle their shiny new toy in a safe environment.
8th April, 2016