Speed School Goes Bespoke
At the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles, an array of rigidly structured training programs make fine use of the brand’s sporty lineup. But for the ultimate coursework, the Porsche Academy curriculum delivers a more flexible, individualized learning experience.
“What do you want to work on?” asks instructor Andrew Chinnici on the first of my four scheduled driving sessions. The question cracks open a Pandora’s box of possibilities, mostly because Porsche’s $100 million Experience Center in LA packs so many driving exercises into its 53-acre facility; it’s like ordering off the menu for a personalized meal from the chef. Perhaps to gain intel on my basic skills, Chinnici first invites me for a civilized game of Catch Me If You Can following a brief classroom session. It wasn’t my first time around Porsche’s 1.3-mile handling circuit, but shadowing Chinnici in a similar vehicle enabled him to scope my braking points, cornering lines, and exit strategy in his rearview. While I may have handicapped myself by choosing a conventional three-pedal manual transmission while chasing his quick-shifting, automatic transmission-equipped Cayman GT4, tracing his virtual tire tracks nonetheless initiated a bonding process that had us in close vehicular company over a total of 5.5 hours of spirited driving.
Next, we focused on my least favorite subject at Porsche University: the wet skidpad. The circular setup is particularly challenging in Porsche’s mid-engined Cayman, which reacts sharply to inputs and can almost instantly turn a sideways drift into a shameful spinout. Timing is of the essence here, requiring a careful balance between accelerating, instigating a slide, and feeding corrections before the car’s sideways trajectory goes south. Adding the uncertainty of irregular water depths—thin spots here, puddles there—and the mind and body work overtime to keep the Cayman from spinning out of the circle. Oftentimes the effort devolves like a spiraling game of golf: try harder, and the target slips through your fingers.
Switching it up to a skid-plate session offered the sweet relief of variety. Here, the idea is to accelerate to around 20 mph before the ground beneath you literally shifts, using a randomized computer program. There’s no way of knowing whether you and your 3,200-pound ride will be kicked to the right or the left, but that’s the beauty of the exercise; it forces you to tap into a primal, reflexive part of your brain and counter-kick the car into stability.
Another module, the low friction handling course, or the so-called Ice Hill, is a challenging (but potentially rewarding) opportunity to “Scandinavian Flick” yourself into the proper path and gracefully maneuver your car through the J-shaped course. Later, stepping up to the 911 GT3 and GT3 RS allowed for the fresh challenge of adapting to a different model’s handling characteristics and driving dynamics.
After hours of close instruction and evaluation, it became all but impossible not to find and expose those pesky areas that need improvement. Like a series of Savile Row fittings that reacquaint you with the intimacies of your unique build, Porsche’s Academy coursework hones in on your weaknesses as a driver and addresses them head-on. Our takeaway? After this level of individualized attention, it’s all but impossible to go back to a one-size-fits-all learning approach. From $4,300 to $5,700; porschedriving.com