My Day At The Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles
Sharpen your skills, spec your new Porsche, have a meal with a view, and drool on some epic race cars.
Manufacturers are stepping up their efforts to provide curated driving experiences, sharpening skills as much as generating buying interest in new models, offered to automotive enthusiasts of any driving skill level. Porsche has taken things a bit further, developing its own courses on dedicated facilities, in addition to setting up shop at famous circuits around the globe, known as the Porsche Experience Center.
No stranger to driving fast models on fun roads and tracks, with many years of instructing under my belt, I wanted to see what the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles was all about. During a recent trip to LA, the good people at Porsche set me up with a coached session in a new 718 GT4 with one of its top instructors, paired with special tour of the Porsche Motorsport North America service point. Twist my arm.
A 53-Acre Playground
As you park at Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles, you're greeted by a 919 you may recognize from the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship. Step in the front doors, and you're treated to a rotating selection of Porsche road and race cars from Germany. Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles has modules designed to improve your skills with a massive fleet of 911, 718, Macan, Cayenne, Panamera, and Taycan models available, and there are plenty of options depending on your experience level.
If you want to strengthen your abilities without the risk of damaging cars, cones, or your ego, PEC LA has a simulator lab with some sweet rigs that can give you the feel of physics in the car while letting you choose from plenty of global racing circuits and a plethora of Porsche's road and race cars. You can also take a ride along in the passenger seat, while one of the instructors takes you around the circuit. Customers purchasing new cars can spec their new porsche at PEC LA, and even take delivery of their car at the facility.
Need a bite before or after your driving session? The Speedster Cafe is a grab-and-go sort of eatery, and upstairs Restaurant 917 is a finer dining experience in a modern venue. PEC LA has a cool retail shop packed with plenty of Porsche attire, Porsche Design accessories, and lots of heritage products too. Company team building events are a common occurrence at PEC LA, with a bunch of meeting and presentation rooms able to suit small and large groups. More employers should do offsite experiences that involve playing with Porsches.
Come on, Porsche. Let me drive it in anger once.
No, that's not one track. It's the whole facility.
The Hero Car Of The Day
Porsche's GT4 has been ripping around epic canyon roads and race tracks for eight years, and is now in its second Cayman generation, as a 718 variant. Its naturally-aspirated 4.0-liter mid-mounted flat-six cranks out 414 horsepower and 309 lb-ft (419 Nm) of torque in 6-speed manual trim, and 317 lb-ft (430 Nm) if you opt for the new PDK variant.
Through Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) and a mechanically locking rear differential, the GT4 rips from 0-60 MPH in 4.2 seconds if you equip it with a manual, with the PDK sprinting to 60 in 3.7. Top speed for the PDK GT4 is 188 MPH, with the 6-speed manual model hitting 189.
Given the choice of transmission, I opted for the three-pedal setup that boasts a superb short-throw shifter, and Porsche supplied this Guards Red model for my experience. Porsche optioned this GT4 with the carbon bucket seats, steel brakes, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, which is a great setup for any fun driving you plan to do.
The Driving Exercise
Assigned a pro instructor, Porsche gives you access to the minds and backgrounds of proper racing drivers who know how to get the most from the car. I was paired with Assistant Chief Instructor Shawn Hayes, who has about a decade of experience teaching drivers of all skill levels how to extract the most from any car. We did lead-follow work along the faster modules, with walkie talkies in each car, and Shawn stood just off course to communicate with me when I was on the smaller courses.
To build fundamentals of car control, PEC LA has a low-friction circle composed of polished concrete and sprinklers to teach various understeer and oversteer behaviors during low-grip driving. With a 1-mile acceleration straight that includes a 33% banked tribute to the carousel turn of the iconic Nordschleife, you can stretch the Porsche's legs. An ice hill with a 7% slope and computer-controlled water jets simulates an icy mountain road. A smaller dynamic area focuses on basic techniques over dry traction, with a bunch of customization options for various skill levels. Choose a Macan or Cayenne experience, and you can add off-road challenges--covering a ravine, fallen timbers, and a 40% descent--to your experience.
Focused on higher performance driving, Shawn toured me around PEC LA's modules that properly test any intermediate or advanced driver. When asked what I wanted to dive into first, I opted to toss the GT4 around the 1.3-mile handling circuit. It's no race track, so it's a bit narrow, but it's set up to mimic the experience of a canyon road while honing in your corner negotiation and braking techniques. After a couple laps, I quickly learned the optimal line, and we picked up the pace to properly exercise the Porsche 718 GT4.
Around the PEC LA dynamics course, the GT4 was a champ. The 718's mid-engined platform is exceptional for the twisty stuff, and showed off how planted it was in the tighter bends. The 4-liter engine loves to rev, screaming at higher RPMs, and delivering plenty of power under high demands. Gear ratios have carried over to the 982 from the 981, and I occasionally found myself questioning whether I should be pulling high RPMs in 2nd gear or low in the power band in 3rd. Ratio gripes aside, the GT4's 6-speed manual offers some of the shortest, most precise throws you'll ever feel.
Steering feel and precision are still some of the best you can get at any price point, easily the 718 GT4's best attributes. In this 982 generation, Porsche gave the GT4 even more lateral grip, thanks to plenty of new downforce trickery underneath to help you stay planted the faster corners, but you'll need a faster track or canyon road to truly flex the upgrades. While Porsche does offer carbon ceramic brake rotors--for an extra $9,000--the steel ones were more than competent around the PEC LA circuit, with loads of fade-free stopping power as I'd make longer sprints toward some low-speed bends.
Next we took the GT4 around the wet skidpad to play with some wet behaviors, and then jumped over to low-friction handling course (polished concrete surface filled with sharp low-speed turns, elevation changes, and camber variations designed to induce oversteer and understeer). This one was a bit tricky, as not only are your predictive inputs tested, but the slippery surface quickly exposes any mistakes. The unique module I loved was the kick plate, which is one of two in North America (the other is at PEC Atlanta). This section has a hydraulically-activated plate that kicks the rear of the car around to simulate being punted by a competitor on a wet race track while teaching you how to regain control, and I assure you, you'll screw it up the first few times the kick hits.
Kid In A Race Car Candy Store
Behind a glass wall in the main gallery room of Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles is the Porsche Motorsport North America workshop, where car owners and teams alike can have current and heritage motorsport models serviced in a spotless facility. The public can peek through the windows, but few get to wander behind the scenes. Being a spoiled reviewer, Porsche parted the velvet ropes for me.
The first car that caught my eye was the iconic 917, sporting the classic Gulf livery. This particular 917 was getting some extra work done as part of a restoration, and I was happy to see it up close. A wider glance revealed a damn fine sampling of Porsche racers with famous liveries including Marlboro liveried 993 GT1, a Martini 991 GT2 Clubsport, and a pair of exposed carbon 935s. A 959's engine was spread across a table, in the process of being rebuilt. As we walked toward the back of the shop, engines from the air- and water-cooled eras were on stands, being serviced by techs at the top of their game.
959S engine rebuild in-progress
I've got wood.
The service floor was an exceptional sight, but then I was guided to the parts department. Like you'd see in your local dealer, everything is sorted by chassis and part category, but at the PMNA facility everything is on a massive scale. Race car part catalogs from decades back are stacked high along huge shelving units. Need pistons for a 962? They have them. Throttle bodies for a 956? Of course. To support customer racing teams that run vintage and current Porsche models, there's a massive body part section to provide spares in case any drivers make contact on track.
In addition to servicing, building, and supplying parts for engines of a wide variety, Porsche also dyno tests and tunes in-house, and while I was paying my visit a 997 RSR engine was being put through its paces. As a guy who has spent several years in major dealer operations before working around racing teams as a motorsport photographer, the whole operation was impressive.
A Fantastic Porsche Experience
Getting to take in the full customer perspective at Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles was great, and allowed be to give my skills some exercise in a controlled environment in the spectacular GT4. Being granted access to the Porsche Motorsport North America shop was icing on the cake.
If you're looking to improve your driving abilities with the help of expert instructors, check out a new Porsche model, and have a fun day with friends or coworkers, paying a visit to the Porsche Experience Center is a great way to spend some of your hard-earned cash.
Let's do that again!