I went to the Porsche Driving Experience Centre at Silverstone the other day. And as soon as I arrived, I knew it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal. Choose from any of the current range of Porsche road cars and head out with an instructor.
My instructor was called Ian. He told me he ‘used to do a bit of speedway racing when he was younger back in the day’ and it was only later his boss told me he’d been British champion. Typical of this place, understated but good. Ian was brilliant.
Out we went and he showed me round the various bits of the track. It’s all interesting, but there are two highlights – an ice hill (shown above), and a kicker (below). The ice hill is exactly as the name suggests. You drive down a hill and it is like ice, a clever lo-grip surface coated in water and you swerve between fountains.
Then there’s a kicker. You drive toward a patch of black stuff in the road, just before another red water-covered super-slippery area, long, permanently wet. Look at the pic – it’s the black bit between the yellow bits. A machine knows when your front wheels hit the black thing. And then it knows when your rear wheels hit the black thing. The black thing is like a giant conveyor belt in the road, about four metres wide, that moves sideways. As your rear wheels run over it, the black conveyor belt moves violently right or left, kicking the rear end out in a random direction. The violence of the kick can be controlled by the operator in a nearby shed, a bit like that bad guy in Moonraker who controlled the G-Machine while Roger Moore was inside it almost dying.
Anyway, imagine the feeling of the rear of the car being slammed sideways by the black thing and then imagine trying to control the resulting slide, on ice. Not easy. I found myself correcting the wrong way once or twice. Sometimes you get it back, but if the car’s traveling too fast, you just can’t, even if your stability control help is switched on.
And there is a very fine tipping point. I did one run at 23mph and managed to catch the car. Then did another at 27mph and just couldn’t do it. I asked Ian about it and he said ‘no chance, even if you were the best driver in the world’. And it was a difference of four miles per hour. I thought about all the people using icey motorways over winter, doing 40 or 50mph too much speed on bad surfaces, then thought about how just 2 or 3mph made all the difference between control and a spin.
All the while, Porsche’s Active Stability Management system was doing its thing (when it was on), juddering and chattering and keeping things in order. More than anything, this Driving Experience teaches you about what that system does, how to brake and control the car in an emergency, and generally how to react when things go wrong. It’s the sort of experience most people have for the first time during an accident. And even if one person (one) takes one (one) thing away from the day, and they use it to save their life or someone else’s, then the entire multi-million pound investment Porsche has made in this place will have been worth it.
It ain’t cheap. But worth inquiring about if you’ve got a Porsche (any Porsche) and you fancy blowing some wedge.