November 23, 2017

EXPLORE THE WORLD OF PORSCHE ADVANCED DRIVING AT SILVERSTONE

Get a taste of one of the world’s most famous sporting brands: Drive the Porsche of your dreams and hone your driving awareness and car handling skills on the purpose built Silverstone tracks.

Porsche_Experience_Centre_Silverstone_writeonmotoring_02Upon arriving at the centre, the first thing you notice is the wail of flat-six boxer engines coming from the test tracks. The excitement and anticipation continues to build as you enter the futuristic looking Porsche premises. In the central section of the building, dubbed the atrium, resides a selection of Porsche cars from the past and present for you to take-in, before meeting the instructor in the visitors’ lounge area and being briefed on the different elements of your course. The action packed day also includes refreshments and a top-notch lunch.

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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 owners 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.

THE COURSES

Porsche_Experience_Centre_Silverstone_writeonmotoring_04Porsche 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.

THEORY

Porsche_Experience_Centre_Silverstone_theory_writeonmotoringRoad safety theory makes up a considerable portion of all driving experience courses at the Porsche Centre.
We learn about the importance of driver awareness and safety and how the core aims of the Driving Experience is to provide the chance to improve skills on an ongoing basis, enabling us to deal more effectively with hazards on the road.  After some sobering facts – road casualties remain high at 200,000 per year – we undergo an observation exercise, before delving into some self-analysis on where we feel we need to improve our driving.

Our teacher for the classroom session is Porsche Driving Consultant Ben McLoughlin:

“The reason Porsche do a lot of advanced training out on the road with our customers is because of the inherent dangers of using the road network: out of all transport deaths, road, rail air and sea, 96% occur on the road. Alongside learning how to handle the car at speed, our driving courses are primarily designed to make motorists safer drivers. Part of that involves showing them how to get the most from the array of driver aids in modern Porsche models, but no amount of technology can compensate for poor driver judgement. The aim of these courses is to make people more aware about what they’re doing behind the wheel. After all, speed itself isn’t a killer – inappropriate speed is.”

FIT TO DRIVE?

Porsche_Experience_Centre_Silverstone_fit_to_drive_writeonmotoringSo far, much emphasis has been put on driver skill and car performance, but what about the physical abilities of a driver? Cue a visit to the Human Performance Centre. Here visitors are able to see the scope of this state-of-the-art health and fitness training/research facility. Drivers like F1 star Mark Webber use it to get into top condition
for races. Porsche Human Performance plays an integral part within developing drivers at the Experience Centre. Clearly the most important component of any car is the driver.

Porsche Sports Scientist Jack Wilson explains: “The team in Human Performance focus on the physical and mental preparation of drivers on any level, from general driving to high-level motorsport. We also work with athletes in many different sports: triathlon, cycling, running, more extreme sports; they all come here to find out how fit they are and how they can get better. But it’s not just about the elites: the facility is open to everyone. Drivers of any level use our Batak machine to improve their reaction and hand eye co-ordination, or use our CV and resistance equipment to improve their fitness strength and stamina.”

TRACK WORK

Porsche_Experience_Centre_Silverstone_writeonmotoring_05With theory and fitness covered, we head out onto the track. 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.”

First up is the handling circuit in the Porsche 911 Carrera S. I’m immediately struck not only with the car’s performance, but by the surefooted agility and communicative feel of its chassis, steering and brakes. But this isn’t a sports car requiring a deft-touch to cooperate around corners – far from it. 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.”

Make no mistake, I could have quite happily stayed doing this all day long, but the full course involves venturing 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. Have my car control skills suddenly improved I ask? “Afraid not” says Horne, “it’s the Porsche Stability System (PSM) at work. The system automatically maintains stability even at the limits of dynamic driving performance. Sensors continuously monitor the speed, yaw velocity and lateral acceleration of the car. If the car begins to oversteer or understeer, PSM applies selective braking on individual wheels in order to regain stability.”

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. Now a balanced throttled is needed in conjunction with significantly quicker and more positive steering correction. Suffice to say, it’s much more difficult 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.

Once all aspects of the circuit had been covered in the 911, we switch to the Boxster S and then
Cayman R. It’s interesting comparing the differences between rear engine and mid-engine sports cars. All the cars have pure agile handling, but the unique characteristics of the 911 are always apparent.

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.

All-in-all, Covercars gives the Porsche Experience Centre the thumbs up. 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

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