Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles: Zero track experience, zero worries
I was so intimidated by the prospect of driving Porsche sports cars around a racing circuit that I had butterflies in my stomach a full 24 hours before the event. Yet, to my relief, all the anxiety and nervousness disappeared the moment I walked into the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles (PEC).
Opened in 2016, the PEC Los Angeles is a 53-acre playground for those who want to learn more about vehicle control, both on- and off-road. And, with seven unique driving courses, the facility is engineered to educate everyone – from novice to expert – regardless of their existing talent level.
First on the program is a classroom introduction, which serves as a lighthearted overview of the different venues. This is followed by a pre-selected agenda encompassing a hand-picked few of the modules. My schedule included the Off-Road, Autocross, Ice Hill, Acceleration Straight, and Low Friction Circle.
I started out paired with an instructor named Gavin, who just happens to train drivers in the entertainment industry when he isn’t at the PEC. He handed me the keys to a late-model Porsche Cayenne crossover SUV and pointed me to the Off-Road course.
While it’s no rugged Moab, the unpaved area effectively simulates rough terrain with obstacles that include fallen timber, a 40-degree ascent, and a mind-blowing 78-degree decline. There are even extremely steep side slopes (where it felt as if the vehicle was going to roll over!), and a teeter totter made up of logs that was supposedly impossible to sit level on in a vehicle (I nailed it on my first try – just sayin’). This course allows drivers to see how the Cayenne’s technical systems operate in off-road conditions – impressively, I may add.
Next on the agenda was an Autocross course, which I tackled in a Porsche 718 Cayman – effortlessly dodging little orange cones that were set up to simulate sharp turns and twists. My instructor Anthony, himself an experienced autocross driver, drove me around the course once at breakneck speed to get me familiarized with the layout. With my head still spinning from his E-ticket ride, I took it a bit slower when it was my turn, focusing on not knocking over any of the cones (as some of the others did). This zero-risk exercise – cones are immune to damage – demonstrated the virtues of vehicle balance and smoothness.
After the head spinning ceased, we made our way over to the Low Friction course which consisted of driving on a curvy, polished concrete surface. This provided the perfect opportunity for working on how to control a vehicle during tail-out, oversteer conditions. Thanks to my instructor, a bright young woman named Toni, I quickly found I was capable of holding a conversation and maneuvering the vehicle without issue. Toni and I both seemed confident in my newly-acquired driving skills, and we stayed on the course for quite a while just fishtailing and chatting.
Next up were two courses designed to improve a driver’s vehicle control skills when encountering a skid or spin on wet or icy roads. The Ice Hill, with a 7-percent downhill slope and computer-controlled water jets, induces a speed-dependent Slip 'N Slide effect as you turn, forcing you to quickly react and correct to stay on course. The Kick Plate course, on the other hand, is a super-slippery pad with a computer-controlled hydraulic plate that randomly induces loss of rear wheel traction as you cross it, putting you into a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. This one is best approached at a low speed of about 17-20 mph, and I was able to successfully correct the Porsche on my first my first two attempts, but then I started to overthink how I was driving and spun out.
After the weather driving courses, we moved on to the Acceleration Straight -- what I referred to as the "drive it like you stole it" course. Here, I could explore the full-throttle launch-control capability of our Porsche 911 GT3, and I got a taste of what it’s like to drive fast on a banked curve which happens to be a replica of the Karussell (Carousel) found on the famed German Nürburgring racetrack.
All in all, the time spent driving on the various courses at the Porsche Experience Center was a great learning experience on how to execute certain driving maneuvers in specific environments. The PEC team turned intimidation that I started the day with into confidence and comfort. While I may not encounter these driving conditions in my day-to-day commute, the skills I learned make me a better, smarter and safer driver.