Wednesday, May 22, 2024

[Event] Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles

 On Saturday my wife and I flew down to LA for a date with the PEC Los Angeles.

Some background - my wife recently said that she wanted to "learn to drift." This caught me by surprise, as she has never expressed interest in any HPDE or driving schools before issuing this proclamation out of the blue. Keen not to let the moment slip by, I booked a 90-minute driving experience in his-and-hers GTS 4.0s.

This was my first time at the PEC Los Angeles, but I've been to the PEC Atlanta. In 2022 I went with my dad and we tooled around in 911 Carreras. I had a great time, you can read about that here on the blog.

The PEC LA facility is in Carson, where the 405 and 110 intersect. In more casual terms, it's across the highway from where they park the Goodyear blimp. The complex is composed of a purpose-built handling circuit, enclosing a series of driving modules and exercise areas. Inside the main building there is a delivery center, some simulators, a restaurant and coffee bar, a well-stocked gift shop, and a motorsport service center. You'll find some fantastic Porsches in the lobby area, and the only thing between the lobby and the motorsport lifts is a large glass wall.

We arrived early to soak in the atmosphere and get into the spirit (and take photos, and buy tchotchkes). My wife started to get a bit jittery as our start time approached. I did as well, no matter how many driving schools or track days I do, I always feel those butterflies. I told her what I tell other friends before their first driving event like this: we're here to have fun! If you feel uncomfortable, if you're not having fun, that's a sign to make a change and get things back on your terms. Especially in an event like this, where there are a variety of different cars and drivers sharing space, do your own thing and focus on enjoying yourself and learning some new things. Trust the instructor and pick up some new skills in a safe environment.

The great thing about the PEC experiences is that you have 90 minutes, and you're welcome to use them however you like. There is no classroom time. You meet your instructor, they ask about your past experience and what you'd like to accomplish during your session, and then they tailor the 90 minutes to you. Want to do 0-100 runs for 90 minutes? Go for it. Not interested in the low-friction handling course at all? Skip it. In my wife's case, she simply told her instructor that she wanted to slide around, and drive properly fast for the first time in a safe non-street setting. He made sure that she got her fill of the four different low-friction modules.

Here are our steeds for the day - two 718 GTS 4.0s. My wife got the yellow car, which made her easy to spot while I rotated through the other modules. Primarily, it was easy to spot her lazily pirouetting over on the ice hill module while I was on the handling course. Just like she wanted! My car was black, a strange spec. Brown leather interior with the steering column casing in leather, Burmeister, no smoker's package, standard silver trim, multi-function wheel. I have no idea what seats were in the car, I am a bucket man so I can't tell the normal/sport seats apart at a glance (or a sit). The car had something like 1900 miles on it, hardly broken in.

My main goal visiting this time was pretty simple: I wanted to drive "my car" at speed. I specifically wanted to experience driving a mid-engined platform at full pace. I've driven most other drivetrain configurations quickly but this was an unmarked space on my bingo card.

My instructor Greg and I started on the autocross exercise, where I got a feel for the car and he got a feel for my skill level. I found the PDK quite remarkable across the day, super-capable and overall a very different dynamic experience than the 6-speed manual. I tried launch control in one of my autocross runs and wow, quite the kick in the back. Not something I'd want to do on my own clutch, but impressive. We rotated next to the kick plate, one of my favorites from my trip to the PEC Atlanta. After getting the hang of the quick catch, Greg issued more elaborate challenges for me - first he asked me to try to keep the car at a consistent angle post-catch and walk it down the kick plate in a straight line, but holding the angle. Second, he challenged me to catch the car, hold that angle, then swing it the other way through a full 360-degree sweep and exit the far side of the wet area straight-on. I had a lot of fun with this one, on my first attempt I hit the plate a bit quickly and couldn't complete the rotation before running out of wet area; on the second attempt I nailed it and felt like a proper LA stunt driver. We rolled on to the wet skidpad where I kinda-sorta got the hang of things, holding the car in a controlled slide for 1/2 to 3/4 of a revolution. We tried the "ice hill," which I don't remember for Atlanta, but didn't spend too much time there.

While my wife spent most of her time on the low-traction exercises, I was keen to spend time lapping the handling circuit. With 45 minutes elapsed, Greg and I swapped seats and he drove a couple of sighting laps around the handling circuit. This is essentially a track in ~1/2-scale, large enough to provide thrills but small enough to keep speeds "down," though we were definitely moving. I love ride-alongs with skilled drivers and Greg really put on a clinic, I was impressed by his smoothness/throttle application and how much grip the car could deliver. We pulled back in to the pit and swapped seats again.

My impressions of the GTS: phenomenal. The chassis is so balanced, so confidence-inspiring, and so flattering to drive. I came up to speed and felt comfortable so quickly. The motor sounds fantastic and pulls well on the track, where it can live in its 5-8k RPM happy place, helped along by the telepathic PDK. Not once did I think about shifting - the car was simply in the right gear at all times, snapping off shifts with no interruption in power delivery or disruption to the balance of the car. Greg had to goad me on to find the limit of the brakes, far beyond what I expected, providing so much power before finally invoking ABS. We were really scooting on the handling circuit - there were GT3s out there with us, and the GTS held its own. A mildly amusing anecdote: I encountered my first ever Macan EV by... overtaking it on track. There was a press car with Met Gala decals circulating among the students.

Eventually, my exploration of the Cayman's impressive braking capability resulted in a slightly long pedal and greasy tires. Greg told me to park up in the paddock area to take a mental break and let the car cool down. The front brakes smoked while we sat at rest... yeah, I think I'd have to upgrade brakes if I used my car in this way. We went out for another session and then it was all over.

I knew that I'd had a great time, but that was never in doubt. Did my wife like it? Yes! She had a great time - she loved the ice hill exercise and the experience checked the boxes for her intro-to-drifting desires. Most importantly, she said she'd like to come again some time. :)

We wound down with some cool drinks at the cafe and made one more walk around the facility. Some lucky customer had just taken deliver of their heritage livery GT3RS and there was a great customer Dakar on hand as well.

I'm not sure if I've seen this many GT3RSs in a single place, including the factory during our delivery experience. I thought these were rare!

One more fun spot: there is a 992 Turbo parked out front of the facility, it looks fairly standard but there is something not quite stock in the passenger footwell.

This concludes the report from the PEC Los Angeles. If you've ever been curious, I can't recommend it enough. While it's not inexpensive, I think it is a fantastic value when you compare it to a track day. Here's a quick napkin calculation: I typically track my Focus RS at Laguna Seca. Ballpark $350 just to get on track, then I spend roughly $250 for single-day insurance, then I'm paying for my own consumables and wear and tear. I'm probably getting about 100 minutes of driving across 5x 20-minute sessions for $600+. The GTS cost $750 for 90 minutes of driving, in their cars with their consumables, including the $50 extra I paid to drop the liability from 20k to 2.5k if an accident were to occur. I'm also receiving high-quality in-car instruction for the entire time! Not to mention I'm in a Cayman instead of a Focus.

Thanks for reading along. It's a good thing I don't live local or I'd be here once a month.