Looking for a birthday gift for a car lover? How about an exotic car experience for a bachelorette party or just a great team-building experience for your office staff? Boy has the Porsche Drive Experience in Atlanta got the thing for you!
Thanks to Atlanta’s Porsche Drive Experience Center and A Girls Guide to Cars I recently got to check out the facilities and offerings at what is otherwise known as The Avengers Headquarters. (Captain America, Civil War) Yes, that iconic building is the place to be if you like fast cars!
Yes, I mean it. If you were to visit the Porsche Drive Experience Center and not dine at least once in the Restaraunt 356, I’d be disappointed in you. This farm-to-table restaurant is the perfect way to kick off an afternoon of speed and luxury. The food and service are incredible and the views spectacular. I had a light salad and rolls for a starter, then chicken with roasted veggies and finished off the meal with some mini desserts and candies on a little sampler style platter. So good, y’all.
I really didn’t know what to expect from the simulator experience. Would it be like video games? (I’m terrible at those!) or more like driving? Would we be in cars or chairs? As it turns out, the simulator lab at the Porsche Experience Center Atlanta is a quiet room with a whole line of cockpit shaped seats you have to lower yourself into. There are pedals, a steering wheel, and a wall of monitors for each “driver” and a manager who not only goes over the functions, rules, and guidelines for having fun but also keeps track of your scores… very important for competitive people like myself!
Still, one look at the steering wheel in that simulator made me guess I’d be really bad at this. There were more buttons than a game console controller and I counted 1, 2, 3 pedals + paddle shifters. Yikes!
The referee quickly put our minds at ease. We’d only be using the throttle and brake, and we wouldn’t need any of those colorful buttons. Just steering. Whew!
I lowered my 7-months pregnant body into the mini-car, put on my headphones and revved the engine in anticipation of takeoff. The rest went by very quickly as I rounded the track over and over, improving my lap time, and crashing less with each round. It was incredible. I could feel the feedback in the pedals and steering, and thanks to the headsets, I could hear everything. I enjoyed every second of it and laughed at myself a lot.
And, I brought home the high score. WHAT?
Being 7-months pregnant I wasn’t sure if the staff would allow me to get on the track, but they were totally cool with it! I was encouraged to tailor my experience to my comfort level, and after one try on the launch control and a few rounds on the skidpad, I opted out of both due to dizziness. But the rest of it I was able to enjoy the entire time!
Now, I’m supposed to tell you, this is not a racetrack. It is a development track, meaning it was built to test the abilities of the cars, not to race. So, we didn’t do any real racing. Sure, we went fast a few times, and we honed our skills on the curves and straightaways, but this experience is more about becoming a better, more confident driver than it is about going really really fast. Unless you’re on the Launch Control segment. Then you can go fast. 🙂
In addition to the big track around the perimeter, this facility boasts a launch control straightaway for taking off at lightning speeds and testing the vehicle’s brakes. It also has a kickplate that will throw you almost sideways onto a wet surface where you’ll learn to correct for slippage and hydroplaning. Next up is a round skid-pad, which is also wet where a coach will walk you through gaining speed while driving in a circular pattern until you lose control of the car, thanks to either understeer or oversteer, and how to overcome those. And last but not least, there is an area of polished concrete that simulates a very smooth road and very little traction so you can get a feel for how each vehicle performs in such conditions. Any of these skills could be life-saving in a real-life situation on a real road.
My favorite was the 1-mile handling circuit. It’s where I could drive pretty fast and take everything I’ve learned about vehicle dynamics and put my knowledge and experience to the test. My coaches were fantastic about letting me push myself a little more with each round, giving me tips for where to aim my vision, how to achieve downshift in a curve, and how to safely pass other drivers in the straights.
I also really enjoyed the dynamics area where we got to weave in and out between some cones. 🙂
My first drive was a Porsche 718 Cayman. This is a mid-engine car meaning the engine is located in the center of the car, and the overall weight ratio is 50:50. The car is light and nimble on the track and it was fun to drive. I’ve also experienced hot laps (a pro-driver took me out as a passenger) in this car at another drive event and all I can say is, it’s fast and light!
But the real fun started for me when I got in the Porsche 911 Carrera S and took off on the first straightaway. This rear-engine car is more powerful, has more weight, and feels more controlled on the track. I could feel the car shifting gears, feel it wanting to let loose and fly down the track, and I just felt a lot more at one with this car. I left wishing I could have spent the whole day driving the 911.
When the pro driver who gave our orientation said we’d be off-roading in the Cayenne I stifled a giggle. And when he compared this vehicle to a Jeep Wrangler my eyebrows nearly shot off my face. Really, dude?
In fact, this course was the most technical course I’ve ever been on, and they wouldn’t even let us drive… we got to be passengers while pro drivers took us up (and back down!) 70% inclines, through 24″ of water, across a scissor bridge, over steep and slick boulders, and more. And thanks to the technology in the Porsche we could see everything that was happening outside of the car, from the screen on the dash. There were a few times where we had only two wheels on the ground while the others spun freely. We hung on for dear life when the car nearly turned on its side, and we looked straight up at the sky and watched the planes take off from the airport next door when we traveled up steep inclines. It was one of the most impressive off-roading experiences I’ve had and I’ve got to hand it to Porsche… the AWD Cayenne is a BEAST.
Welcome to Porsche’s Playground!
The experience centers in Atlanta and Los Angeles have numerous options available. From single drivers to large corporate teams, they are ready to accommodate and thrill every driver. You can even make it a family affair! The simulator lab is open to “drivers” over 5-foot tall, and kids can participate as passengers on a demo lap if they are 80lb or more. Of course, driving on the track is reserved for those over 21.
In addition to the simulator lab and track experiences, the Atlanta Porsche Drive Experience Center offers fine dining, meeting spaces, and a Heritage Gallery with awesome displays and historic information.
Disclosure: The Porsche Drive Experience Center of Atlanta invited me, along with my colleagues attending the Girls Guide to Cars Fall Media Drive and Conference to spend the afternoon at the center. All opinions and experiences are my own.