P4-2017-10: The Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta, by John Khami, SEMPCA member

View of the Porsche Track from the Carrerra Cafe Patio

“Punch it.   PUNCH IT. “

“Ok.  We are.  We are.  We’re moving. “

We got to the curves in a second. Maybe two.

“Tap the brakes before you get into the turn.  Never brake when you’re turning,” said the coach in the passenger seat.

I touched the brake pedal, made it into the curve and then another, then a short straight where I got excited, the car moved quick and I hit the brake … in the turn.

“Don’t do that again.  Look three curves ahead,” said the Porsche coach.

“Concentrate on the road ahead.  You’re gonna know where  you are and where to turn by looking ahead.”

“Sure thing,” I said to myself.   We were doing about 80 on the Porsche test track coming out of the curves onto another straight that took us to a long turn that I straightened out and under control hugging the edge of the road.  I heard the rumble strips buzzing under the wheels.

Porsche’s Driving, Development and Experience  Center in Atlanta is located on the site of a former Ford Facility next to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport where old Dixie Highway and I-75 about the property.  My wife, Ann and I arrived early that morning for our 1.5 hour class.  We stopped at the Carrera Café’ for coffee then walked out to the patio overlooking the course and watched other Porsche drivers skid off the wet kick plate, drive around the slalom cones at the dynamics area, wait their turn to get onto the low friction circle.  Above us, a passenger jet was coming in for a landing.

When the 11 a.m. time slot opened, we slipped into our seats, sunglasses on our faces and an instructor next to us.   We rolled onto the outside track.   Ann was in the Cayman with a lady coach and I had the 911 Carrera.

The Porsche Development Center in Atlanta Georgia teaches drivers how tires grip, how the traction control systems on a Porsche work, how to control the car in different road conditions.  The coaches turn the stability systems on and off as they watch you drive and how you react to the different challenges.

We began driving at a steady pace to learn the 1.6 mile course doing an easy seventy on the straights.   After two laps the speed increased, the fun started at the curves.   Then to the hairpin turns, back out to a straight and around the course again for more laps.

As we drove to the Low Friction Circle, the instructor asked if I knew how to handle a skid.   I said. “ Sure.  Turn in the direction of the skid.”   He was good with that and  nodded several times to agree.

At the Low Friction Circle there is a constant water spray that keeps an  oversized round concrete pad wet and slick.  I pushed the car to forty, the on-board stability systems tried to compensate but the Carrera went into a skid, then fishtailed into a circle.

I steered into the turn with water kicking up and misting from around the Carrera.   With my hands off the steering wheel, my foot off the accelerator, the car continued moving left, then moved to the right, bucked to the left again, then slowed to idle.

“You did that well,” said the instructor.

I looked at the coach and said, “You know, you instructors down here in Atlanta should understand something about all of us up in Michigan.”

“What’s that?”

“We drive in snow.”

He turned, looked at me for a second or two then said, “All right, all right.” “Let’s go to the Kick Plate. Get moving.”

Looking ahead at the Kick Plate

We drove to a long, rectangular concrete pad covered with water with more water spray.   We stopped in front of the area.   I looked ahead watching another 911, go into a turn, skid to the left, the driver turned in the opposite direction to the right, the Porsche looked like it was leaning on the outside wheels trying to straighten and compensate.  The Porsche slowed and the driver came off the pad.

“This is where we test your reaction time.  Turn into the slide like before.   Get the 911 up to 35 or 40.  The track computer on the left senses the speed of the rear wheels.  Then it lifts a hydraulic pad in the road that kicks you in a right or left direction to put you in a forced skid.”

I listened.

“The road is wet. Control the car.  Straighten it out as best you can.  Do not do what that other driver did just now.   You stay in control. “

I drove onto the first run at a slow twenty.   The plate kicked the car to the right.   We skidded and all was good on the recovery, no problem  but the next run was at 35 and the coach turned off the stability system.   The plate kicked the back end up and to the left.    The Carrera went into a spin.  I turned in that direction.

“Turn in, turn in.   Quick. Make the turn.”

The 911 went in circles.  Water sprayed all over the car as we kept turning.  The back end came around then forward before we slid-off to dry pavement that stopped the Carrera.  It was like hitting a bump then trying to control the car on an icy or wet road.

Snow is snow but that  kick plate was quite a challenge. We spent some time understanding the dynamics on that part of the course.  Then we were back circling on the track for more driving experiences to finish off the day.

The coach said, “Feel what a Porsche can do. How it handles.  How it breathes.  Believe in its response.  Don’t brake in the middle of a turn.  Always brake before a curve and look two curves ahead.   Stay to the right on an inside turn.   Straighten the road by driving to the left and then come out of that arch.”

“I need more time to learn this.  An hour and a half is not enough.”

“When are you coming back, he said. ”

I thought for a minute and said, “How about in a year and maybe drive a 918 for the return trip? ”

There was silence as he stared out the windshield.   He turned, gave me a blank look and smiled.   He wiggled his index figure as he pointed to the Porsche building.

“Just … just  go back to where we started and park the car. Ok?”

After 90 minutes, it was high fives and grins in a Carrera with no helmets and no traffic.   The Porsche coach was great.

The Atlanta Porsche Driving and Experience Center was a sweet ride.

SIDEBAR

Things to know at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta:

Book early.   The phone number is:  (888) 204-7474  Ext. 1

Address:  Two Porsche Ave, Atlanta, GA 30354

Internet:  Porsche Driving Experience Atlanta

When you arrive, look for:

  • The “Carrera Café “ where coffee, muffins, espressos or a quick snack are offered with house made desserts. The patio overlooks the course.
  • “Restaurant 356” where fresh foods are assembled for lunch and dinner and presented with Porsche’s flair. “Restaurant 356” is open to the public and for private events and overlooks the test track.
  • The retail shop with Porsche Drivers Selection, Porsche Design and Porsche Museum gifts all in the same location.
  • Driver Simulators for groups or individuals.
  • The Classic Workshop where a classic Porsche can be repaired and restored.
  • The Heritage Gallery with vehicles from the Porsche museum and private collections on display.
  • A Business Center with state of the art AV equipment, track views and room to accommodate meetings from six to 140 people. Private Events for up to 600 seated in the main building.
  • The Solis Hotel is located next to the Porsche Development Center in Atlanta and is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Interior of the main Building at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta