One of the perks of buying a car like a Porsche is the access it provides to the manufacturer's "Experience Days" – driving the car on the track while getting some instruction from professional racing drivers. Now Porsche has democratized the process – you can bring any car and Porsche's team will teach you to drive it better. Being Porsche, it is not any any old track, but one the company has built specially to simulate a tight A road. As well as the track, the Porsche Experience Centre includes a small lecture theatre where the theory of driving is discussed and a gym where racing drivers can test their fitness. Lest you think the gym is a bit of a token effort, it is regularly used by F1 ace Mark Webber and features equipment you are never going to see down your local Virgin Active. One of the most remarkable items is a wall of flashing lights with buttons underneath each light. The lights come on at random and you have to hit the appropriate button, at which point the next light comes on. Most people score about 60 hits in a minute, but F1 drivers get 120. That is the difference in reaction time from average to world-class.
On our visit, Vicky Butler-Henderson of Fifth Gear fame was giving part of the talk about driving technique (not a regular speaker, I regret to say). One of the most memorable things she said was that, in ten years of giving racetrack instruction, she had never met a pupil who was as good as they thought they were. With that warning ringing in my ears, we went to the track. The instructor gave clear, straightforward advice – my main area for improvement was to look further ahead so my cornering could become smoother. Interestingly, the mildly squealing tyres I thought were a good sign on one corner were nothing of the sort. They meant I was staying too long with the steering lock on and I was overheating one of the tyres.
After the track experience, we went for some sliding around on what used to be called a skidpan. Of course , Porsche is more high tech than that and has a steep downhill stretch of road with a low grip surface and water fountains that rise out of the track. The idea is to drive around the fountains, sliding the car without actually spinning it. That was relatively straightforward around the first fountain, but the problem was getting it right around the second one. With more speed and a pendulum motion building up, it was very difficult to avoid a spin – as the instructor said in the theory session, accidents in a S-bend nearly always happen in the second corner. The final part of the day was the "kickplate" – you drive along a straight, low grip surface and a strip of metal in the road suddenly slides to one side as your rear wheels drive over it to send you into a skid. Your job is to hold the skid without steering into it so hard you make the car skid the other way – in which case you will almost certainly spin. That was great – after a bit of practice, feeling the car sliding along the road at an angle of 30 degrees without going out of control was a real buzz.
As a way of improving your performance driving, the Porsche Experience is superb. The Porsche Experience is like the cars they produce – modern, high tech and designed down to the last detail. However, unlike the cars, it is affordable for virtually any driver. See for more details.