Don’t knock the weather. Nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while, so said American cartoonist Kin Hubbard – and you know he’s right. But here I was in LA, really hoping the weather wouldn’t change. The day was filled with clear blue skies, but heavy rain, strong winds, and also a high risk of mudslides in the California wildfire-affected areas were forecasted for the next morning, which is the day I was supposed to drive a Cayman GTS at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles, or PECLA for short.
We were invited to the global unveil of the new-gen 911 and, as if that wasn’t enough, the kind-hearted PR manager Anja had arranged for a driving programme at PECLA. The facility is designed to help owners, prospects and fans experience the thrill of the brand, right from its vehicles and merchandise to Porsche Design accessories like travel gear, bikes, and speakers. Spread out over 53 acres, the facility boasts various modules like a handling circuit, an acceleration straight, a low-friction handling track, a skid pad, and an off-road course.
Of course, there’s merchandise and Porsche Design products too.
The facility also has a simulator lab for some digital racing fun, along with a ‘Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur’ outlet for prospects to customise a Porsche before taking delivery. There’s also a café and a fine dining restaurant, which, if this were not exclusively an automobile magazine, would find a very favourable review. More recently, the centre became the new home of Porsche Motorsport North America.
BANG ON TARGET
As predicted, early next morning, at 6am, the skies open up, pouring loads of water. The storm does help with the wildfires but it causes landslides and, of course, drenches the PECLA track. This meant the handling circuit was off limits, leaving us with only the low-friction handling track, the skid pad, a specially setup gymkhana section and a brief stab at the acceleration straight. Still, driving in the rain is always fun and more so on a low-friction track that’s now wet. It would be very interesting, to say the least.
The North America Motorsports team also resides here. For visitors, the facility is eyes only though.
My driving coach for the next two hours was Clint, proficient in not just his driving and interpersonal skills, but also in quickly spotting my mistakes and offering helpful inputs. The first course was the low-friction track. Earlier, in anticipation of the handling circuit, I had opted for the manual GTS. But, with the low-friction, polished concrete surface now wet, the track’s inclines and manoeuvres like low-speed long-duration drifts, this didn’t seem like a great idea. However, Clint was quick to point out that there was little to worry about, given the few gear changes required. Also, to begin with, we would keep the car in second gear only to blunt the throttle response.
Despite this and the traction control being fully active, my blue Cayman is soon slipping and sliding its way around. Corners are tackled without connecting them together, thus requiring me to find the front-end grip each time and then letting out the rear, which comes about with a mere tap of the throttle. It’s all about balancing the pedal and steering input through the corner, before bringing the front end back in line again. I’m soon doing this to Clint’s satisfaction and so he instructs me to start stitching the corners together. This is a massive amount of fun and I’m thoroughly enjoying the Cayman’s balance. Thanks to its near 50:50 weight distribution, the Cayman pivots around its centre like it’s got a pole running right through it. It’s simply sublime, and for the next 10 minutes, I’m only driving around looking through the side windows. The key here is to not look at the immediate corner you’re in, but sight the next one and drive for it. Clint pays me a compliment for doing this well but later is perplexed why I can’t do the same on the slalom. Through the cones, I keep looking at the one immediately ahead, which makes me drive too far away from them, and consequently I end up with a slower time. Here too, the key is to look at the next cone, but progressively shifting my gaze while hammering through a wet track is something I didn’t fully master. Well, there’s always next time, Anja. Once again, the Cayman’s superb balance is something that comes to the fore and seemingly violent steering inputs don’t faze the Porsche.
Thumbs up to my instructor Clint – proficient in driving and instruction skills .
The skid pad is also open to us, and while I fancy doing the full circle in a complete drift, it’s a lot harder than it seems. I manage to get the tail out, but keeping it for the entire circumference is something I only got to experience from the passenger seat. Before I know it, two hours are up and it’s time to head in and hand over the Cayman. I’ve learned a lot and had an absolute blast. Online travel portals should seriously consider adding PECLA to their list of top amusement parks in LA.