Driving and video at Porsche’s new Driving Experience Centre

Published: 17 November 2008

London motor show video

I genuinely learned something new about my driving last week. I’d been invited along to the Porsche Driving Experience, and took to the track in a 911 Carrera 2 with an instructor – Simon – in the passenger seat.

The PDE is built on 10.2 hectares of Silverstone land next to Hangar Straight, but it doesn’t use the GP track. Instead it combines a car showroom/hospitality area with driver training facilities: a 3.1km-long, tight and twisty track designed to mimic a typical B-road; an off-road course (Cayennes only, naturally); and a kick plate and slippery slope to simulate the terror of sliding backwards (well, that’s how I chose to negotiate it) down an icy mountain pass. Watch a Carrera race car lap the Silverstone circuit in our video player below.

Porsches: oversteer versus understeer

Simon asked what I wanted to achieve from the day. I said I wanted to improve my circuit driving, particularly learning to better trust front-end grip and overcome my fear of understeer through fast corners. There followed a brief argument that understeer is always easier to control than oversteer, but I stuck to my guns: I know what to do with oversteer, but the thought of ploughing off track head first bothers me far more.

At first Simon let me build up speed, watching the lines I took, while I carved round the track, trying to come to terms with its purposefully tricky camber changes and elevation changes.

Then came the revelation, one of those rare moments when someone explains one simple bit of technique that transforms your driving for life. Turns out I was braking too late and too hard into the fast corners, then not using as much of the track on exit as I could. That meant I was sacrificing stability on entry.

And because I wasn’t taking the steering lock off and using the full width of the track on exit, I was undermining the car’s traction there too. The solution? Brake earlier but don’t wipe off so much speed. Then visually lock onto the apex, keep a constant throttle and turn in. At that point, said Simon, I’d need to look to the outside of the corner while gradually feeding in the power – only flattening the accelerator once the steering wheel was straight.

What a difference. At a stroke I was instantly quicker, smoother and more consistent. Brilliant.

Porsche Driving Experience: the background

The Porsche Driving Experience grew out of Porsche UK offering driver training with every new 911 Turbo sold from June 2000 onwards. From early next year, everyone who buys a new Porsche will get the full PDE experience – which, hopes Porsche, will eventually equate to around 12,000 customers annually. The best news, though, is that anyone can sample a range of Porsches and get personal coaching for £275.

Not peanuts, admittedly. But when you think of the costs involved in a typical track day (track hire, tyres, fuel, insurance, wear and tear on your own car), and the fact that they rarely include training, let alone sampling great cars, the PDE starts to look like very good value indeed. And, if you are thinking of buying a new Porsche, it’s a chance to test all the range and assess what difference an S here or a set of ceramic brakes there actually does for performance.

One for the Christmas wish list, perhaps, or have a word with the boss and book the PDE exclusively in the name of team building. You can book by emailing drivingexperience@porsche.co.uk or call 08443 575911. You’ll love it.

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator