September 24, 2016 - Atlanta Today was the day that I had been waiting for. Since the day I had received a voucher from my salesman at The Porsche Exchange that came along with my GT4, I had been waiting for my chance to try out a GT4 on Porsche's test track in Atlanta. Although the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta (PECATL for short) had been open for more than a year, I had not yet had the chance to make the pilgrimage to the center of all things Porsche in the U.S. For those who don't know, PECATL has a variety of test track scenarios upon which to test a new Porsche. There is the 1.8 mile main handling track, the low friction handling track, the low friction circle, the braking and slalom exercises, and finally the dreaded kick plate. There is also an off-road course, but not for GT4 drivers. Porsche offers a variety of experiences that you can sign up for. I encourage you to visit their website for more details (Porsche Experiences). Since I had purchased a GT4 it only seemed fitting that I take the GT4-only class, a 2 hour journey through the ins and outs of Porsche's latest GT car.
If you are planning to sign up for one of these experiences I would highly encourage you to give yourself extra time to explore the premises. We arrived several hours early which gave us the time to visit all areas of the building that were open and to peer through the glass at those which were not. If you don't already know this, the building was used in several scenes from the recent Captain America - Civil War movie due to its modern architecture and "sleek" style. When we arrived the Porsche Exclusive store was not yet open so we decided to tour the museum that was one floor down from the main floor. Although it is not nearly as comprehensive as the museum in Stuttgart, it did contain several notable Porsches including the first Boxster prototype and a series of Coca-Cola themed race cars. The museum also contained memorabilia from the Porsche family as well as informational displays on subjects such as the creation of a Porsche crest.
Race Car on Display:
Various Awards that Porsche has Received:
Boxster Prototype on Display:
There are many more pictures from the museum and I invite you to view them at one of the links at the end of this article. After we finished in the museum we peered through the windows of the historic restoration shop where a black 356 Spyder was being attended to along with a couple of older turbos. The shop was closed on the weekend but it was evident that restoration work was being done and perhaps a visit during the week would allow you to see it. We walked back upstairs and the store was now open. If there is some piece of Porsche merchandise that you are looking for you can probably find it in the store, well unless it is GT4 related that is. The only GT4 items they carried (model cars) were completely sold out. Sadly Porsche does not yet make a GT4 watch or GT4 shirt, hat, etc. I was tempted to show them my custom made GT4 luggage (Click Here to See It). We ended up buying a cookie stamp set which we figured would be good for making cookies for the next local Porsche club event, along with a couple of posters and a ladies shirt. The total was enough to have the shop include a free 911 Carrera 1/43 scale car. Does anyone need a bike? The store has them! (No word on whether you can ride off on one...)
Porsche Bikes on Display at the Store:
Our next stop was to go outside and look at the classes that were currently underway. There is a small café on the main level (Carrera Café) and just outside is a platform observation deck overlooking the track facilities. We watched various students driving on the track, including Niki Lauda's grandson in a yellow GT3 turning some impressive lap times. There were others observing as well and you could always hear the gasps or oohs and ahhs as someone spun out on the kick plate exercise or low friction circle. The individual driving the lone GT4 available was not having a good go of it on the kick plate exercise, spinning out every time. The AWD cars seemed to fair better, no surprise. We watched for awhile longer then went back inside to explore the building further and look at some of the cars on display. Here are a few examples:
Look it comes in Purple!
And a pretty shade of blue...
One of the items included in the voucher I received from my dealership was a lunch at the 356 restaurant located on the 2nd floor and overlooking the track. When I signed up for the class I was also able to make a reservation for a specific time for lunch. We arrived a few minutes early and were shown to our reserved table. One point of note, if you are driving you cannot consume any alcohol. Do not blow your chance to drive by having a beer at lunch. So while my date enjoyed a tasty German beer, I had a nice southern tea. There isn't a wide selection of items on the menu but almost everything was interesting or unique in some way. I ended up having the Schnitzel and my girlfriend had the Salmon as our main courses. We also had interesting starter courses, hers some sort of mushroom dish and mine some sort of seaweed and quinoa dish. There was plenty of food so we took to-go boxes for our ride home on the plane. You know that time when the person next to you is eating a bag of peanuts and you whip out some leftover schnitzel and spatzel... The service was excellent so we tipped well as it was unclear as to whether or not the voucher was going to cover a tip or not.
My Main Course:
When lunch was finished we went back downstairs to plan out where we'd take some pictures and videos from. We also found the simulators and scheduled some time in the simulators for my girlfriend while I was going to be finishing up on track. More on the simulators later. For awhile we'd been carrying around one of those pagers like the ones you receive when waiting at a restaurant. When the pager went off it was time for me to return to the front desk and meet my instructor. I did not know any of the instructors in advance so I did not request anyone specifically. My instructor introduced himself, we'll call him "Lenny" to protect his identity and we sat down in the Carrera Café to go over my past experience, along with expectations and my goals for the day. I think I jokingly said "to have fun and become the world's greatest GT4 driver... no pressure..." We hit it off well and headed downstairs to find my car. As far as I could tell they only had 1 GT4 available, a nice blue one with bucket seats, sport chrono, and PCCB brakes. We walked around the car to check it out then climbed inside to adjust the seat and controls. I suggest spending some time to do this right as you don't want to spend the next 2 hours fidgeting with these sorts of things. Here is a picture of me about to embark on my journey... (Yes that is my Racing Yellow CaymanClub shirt with K-Man S on the front)
So it's not Yellow, but hey I like Blue too...
My instructor gave me the choice of where I wanted to start so I chose the handling track, a 1.8 mile long track with only 2 small straights and lots of twists and turns. The first lap we drove slowly just to get acclimated and learn the turn in points, braking points, etc. On lap two we picked up the pace and by lap three I was getting the hang of the course and building my confidence. Since we had 2 hours to pick and choose between all of the exercises after about 15 minutes we decided to try something else and I chose the kick plate. Visions of this same car spinning out all morning long were fresh in my mind and I thought what the heck, let's give it a shot. I have never done a kick plate exercise before so I didn't really know what to expect. What you are supposed to do is drive about 15mph constant speed for your first time out and when the kick plate hits, save the car from spinning. Did I mention this was on a surface covered in water and we were on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2's? Here's a video of my first couple of attempts:
As you can see, I didn't spin out, even when getting up to 20mph. Ultimately I got close to 30mph before I spun one time. I was pretty happy with the results and my instructor told me that I had some of the fastest hands he had ever seen. In fact after the first attempt he asked me "what did you just do?" and I said "I don't know, saved the car?" and he said "yes you did that, but also you didn't jam on the brakes, you gave it gas and steered out of the spin". I told him that I thought that was what I was supposed to do. He told me it was, but almost no one ever does that right the first time out. So I'm impressed my instructor, yay, points for my dad teaching me to drive in the snow! The next exercise we tried was the low friction circle. It is basically a circle of concrete covered in water where you drive faster and faster. You can see it in the video above just beyond the kick plate exercise. I wasn't very good at it at first as I kept fighting the traction control, but once we took the traction control off and my instructor showed me how to continue the drift I managed to drift around the circle almost 2 complete times which I thought was pretty good, especially since the tires are like ice skates once you get sliding in the GT4.
The next exercise was the slalom and braking. Braking was pretty easy, get the car going fast, then jam on the brakes and stop between the cones, see how many G's you can pull. Ultimately the best I saw was 1.3G's of braking. Although I didn't order the carbon ceramic brakes for my car, I have to tell you I was certainly impressed with their ability to take repeated punishment and never fade, never have an issue. Noisy at times yes, but they stopped you like the proverbial Hand of God. I started to second guess not ordering PCCB, then I remembered the replacement cost if a rotor gets damaged. Next up was the slalom. Like any other slalom you were to weave left and right through the cones and increase your speed as you did so trying to hold a good path. My first couple of runs were with the suspension in normal but then we switched to sport mode to firm up PASM. For me there was a significant difference because I could now steer the car with my torso. Yes, if you had a camera pointing at me you would have seem me moving my hips left and right, in essence using my body to steer the body of the car through the cones and only using my arms to guide the steering wheel where necessary. Once again my instructor commented that my run was one of the best he'd seen and praised me for looking ahead and not fighting the wheel. I tried to explain my body movement driving method to him but I'm not sure I explained it very well.
My instructor next asked me if I wanted to learn how to control a GT4 even more. Well sure, who wouldn't? We next headed to the low friction driving course. Think of it was a small twisty autox course with significant elevation change and super slick concrete surface (no water). Cars run this course all in 1st gear. I watched people sliding all over the place, including off track. My instructor told me not to go off track and with the exception of dropping a rear wheel a little off one corner I managed to keep it on the course and started steering the car through corners with the throttle. My instructor wanted me to further hone my skills so he turned off all the traction control nannies, something he said that they aren't supposed to do with students but he trusted my driving enough to let me do it. Night and day, now I could power around a tight corner keeping the nose of my car pointed at the apex and thundering out on throttle, woo-hoo, this was good stuff!!! We ran probably 2-3 more times like that, having a blast every time. By this time I had sampled everything so he asked me what did I want to go back to and try to get even better at. I told him the main handling track so off we went...
Chasing down unsuspecting victims...
After a couple of laps my instructor asked me if I wanted to go faster and I said "Sure" so he made it a point of only calling something out if I needed to hit an exact spot but otherwise letting me give him feedback on what I was doing, turn in here, more throttle there, trail brake here, etc. Not to brag but we passed everything else out there, 718's, Cayman GTS, 911s, Panamera Turbo S, didn't matter the GT4 carved them up with ease. Where was Niki's grandson and the GT3 when I needed him?? At some point self preservation takes over and I didn't want to push us so hard that we'd drift out coming out of the short main straight into the right hand sweeper, but we had the tires dancing, that's for sure! Shortly thereafter it was time to bring the car back in. Had 2 hours gone by that fast? It seemed like 20 minutes! I could spend a whole day here and I certainly envy the instructors for getting to do so as their jobs. My instructor and I exchanged contact information and he said he was more than happy to instruct me again if I came back. While I don't have immediate plans to do so, I certainly do want to do so at some point as it was a lot of fun.
Once back inside I found my girlfriend at the simulators. These were really cool with force feedback wheels, multiple screens, etc. and once she grew tired of driving she let me take over for the remainder of her 30 minutes session. She turned a pretty good time her first time out in a simulator, perhaps I need to get her on track and see what she can do in a real car. Here's a picture of the simulators: (Yes she is driving a GT4 in the simulator!)
Once finished in the simulator it was time to gather our things, meet our Uber driver (such a pain to get them through the security gate), and then head back to the airport for our flight out. I wish we could have stayed longer and perhaps stayed at a hotel to make our day a little less hectic, but other commitments dictated our jet setting trek across the country. Last, but not least, a few days after returning I did receive a survey in email from Porsche regarding my time at the experience center and I gave the facility and its staff high marks. I would certainly recommend this experience to others.
I've put up all the pictures and videos from our adventure to PECATL on both OneDrive and in our gallery here on Planet 9 (although some pics here ended up upside down for some reason). Here are the links, hope you enjoy them!
Planet-9 Gallery: http://www.planet-9.com/gallery/browseimages.php?c=930
If you have any questions please feel free to ask below!