If you like the idea of driving a first-class sports car way above the legal speed limit on an enclosed racetrack, there is a venue in Atlanta where you can do it.
Stuttgart-based Porsche AG has maintained its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta since 1998, and the company opened a 27.7-acre facility next to the airport at a cost of about $100 million in 2015. It encompasses a museum, a driving simulation laboratory, a restoration workshop, corporate offices, technical training centers, an upscale restaurant, and the showpiece of the place: a 1.6-mile “driver development” track where you can practice your skills behind the wheel and learn quite a few new ones.
“The track has 15 twists and turns like a country road and shows the everyday capabilities of the Porsche,” my coach, Tyler Fling, said before we set out on a recent afternoon. “Braking, accelerating and cornering all come together as one, making Porsches what they are.”
The car we used was a brand-new 911 Carrera S, color Miami Blue, with a base price of $105,100 and a top speed of 190 mph.
It can go from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, but Fling explained that the speeds we would reach would depend on “your comfort level with the car and my comfort level with you.”
Within a short period, as it turned out, Fling was telling me to “floor it.”
Before we got to that point, though, I lamented the lack of a manual transmission, to which Fling replied, “What you’ll be going through is like drinking out of a fire hydrant. You put that manual into it, it’s like drinking out of two.”
The gearbox in this model is charmingly dubbed “Porsche Doppelkupplung” (PDK for short) and has the capacity to make smooth, barely noticeable gear changes within milliseconds.
The course comprises “modules” that present different maneuvering challenges: The Kick Plate, for instance, officially described as “a flush-mounted, hydraulically actuated plate placed before a wetted epoxy surface,” throws the car into a skid, which the driver has to rectify. It’s intended to mimic slippery roads in bad weather conditions.
Then there is the Low Friction Circle, “a more advanced way to learn about under-steer and over-steer,” Fling said. “It’s polished concrete that is wet; we add the extra element where you induce the slide and then correct the car, with vision, throttle and brake input as well. It’s probably the hardest thing to learn.”
You also learn to slam on the brakes at 70 mph while keeping control of the car (easy) and to slalom among cones without knocking one over (I knocked one over).
“It’s all about being smooth,” Fling said, adding that the whole experience can be tailored to the individual driver. “If there’s something specific you want to learn, tell me. There is no set time length for any particular module, so you can stay for as long or as short a time as you want.”
A separate option is the Off-Road Course in the Cayenne SUV model, featuring “21 different off-road obstacles, including a 1:1 ratio hill climb and a 45-degree vertical descent challenge.”
The wheels take a real beating on that one, I was told.
Porsche also has an advanced driving school in Birmingham, Ala., with a 16-turn, 2.38-mile FIA-certified racetrack where drivers can hone their skills with professional instructors and even obtain a racing license.
More information on Porsche’s courses can be found at www.porschedriving.com/home.