Atlanta is home to a handful of incredible motorsport venues. Between Atlanta Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motorsports Park, and of course the legendary Road Atlanta, those alone could keep a modest car enthusiast content. Atlanta has become a hub for leading car manufacturers from all over the world, becoming home to North American headquarters for Mercedes-Benz, Groupe PSA, and Porsche. It also hosts one of GM’s innovation centers.
Porsche didn’t just want a headquarters here in Atlanta (or the Avengers for that matter). They built a car enthusiast dreamland. Along with the $100 million headquarters, Porsche elected to add on a test track, hotel and restaurant as well.
This makes one of two Porsche Experience Centers in North America. So, what is a Porsche Experience then? I’m glad you asked.
Porsche Experience Center: Atlanta
At face value, Porsche Experience Center (or PEC) is a venue that contains various obstacle courses and a one-mile track. An experience I did there included 90 minutes behind the wheel of the latest model Porsche with a driving coach that giving you in-depth instruction as you crest over hills, barrel into corners, or regain control of the car as a kickplate spins you out of control.
It’s an instructional course with driving coaches that help you hone your skill. It’s a next level training unlike like that day at the DMV when you first got your license and you ran over that one orange cone and they docked you 10 points. The various tests of skill to prove that you belong on the track.
For the incredibly skilled and experienced coaches, sure they would probably call the whole exercise academic. After all, you’re paying for just their instruction, right? But, we’re not them. For most of us, the experience is a pure release of endorphins. To that end, my experience there with the 911 Turbo and 911 GT3 was in a word–exhilarating. Why was this so fun? Maybe it was because this was the first time I had been there. Maybe it was because it was the first time wielding these incredible supercars around this 20-acre playground. Maybe it was due to the pride I felt being an Atlanta-native experiencing this in my own backyard. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but what I do know is that Porsche might be on to something.
The test track contains 6 different attractions:
This large piece of asphalt was as close to an autocross event as you can get here with the slaloms to test your skills of agility on one side. The other half was used as a drag strip where you can test out launch control. For those that appreciate straight line speed, this is a fun place to be going from 0-60 in three seconds.
Low-Friction Handling Circuit
Want to feel like a drift king around the streets of Tokyo? Oh, it’s just me? Ok. Nonetheless, you can hone those drift skills around these on-and-off camber corners. This was low-key one of my favorite courses. Of all the courses, this was the least busy, but man it felt good consistently carrying understeer around the curves.
The kick plate is nearly my favorite obstacle at PEC. As one of only two in America (the other is at the Porsche Experience Center in LA), this obstacle gives you the thrill and experience of regaining control of your car as you react to a sudden uncontrolled spin. Given the random aspect to it, this was a thrilling experience that I would go again just to experience. It is by far the best unique experience there.
One Mile Handling Circuit
You would be correct to accuse me of absolutely fanboying out driving high-end Porsches around your typical racetrack. Who wouldn’t? Empirically, the Kick Plate should be at the top of this list, but emotionally this one wins out. Feeling the precision engineering in full and unfettered display in its natural habitat was incredible.
And while I got to feel what I was convinced was the edge of what these cars had to offer, I was able to turn the cars over to my driving coach Chad to show me a thing or two. I was humbled. Turns out the car comes alive in the hands of a professional. Almost like it was taunting me, screaming THIS IS HOW YOU HIT THE APEX AND ACCELERATE INTO THE NEXT CORNER, DUMMY! But, oh how I loved it, nonetheless.
I did not get to experience this part of the test track, but if taking a Cayenne off-road in a lap of luxury sparks your fancy, then this is for you. Get off the beaten trail, over hills and through water. Test your skills and the safety features of the Porsche SUV. Unfortunately, they won’t let you do that in a $200,000 sports car, I asked.
Want to carry out a long and glorious drift? Yes, you can do that here! If you get two particularly adept drifters going around, it’s almost like watching synchronized water dancing, but like with robots with laser eyes instead of people. Personally, wasn’t my choice for how I wanted to spend 90 minutes but it looks like fun.
911 Turbo vs 911 GT3 Experience at PEC
My 90 minutes with driving coach Chad were as cliché as ever. Yes, I have to say it. It went by too fast. This is one of the few experiences from Porsche that forces you to split your time between two cars for your 90-minute session. Force may be a strong word. More like gently guide you from one supercar to the next.
That said, I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it again. The balanced 911 Turbo vs the raw 911 GT3 are exactly the dichotomy Porsche wants you to feel in the Experience. To that end, bravo. Who knew Porsches have such nuanced personality? As a practical guy, the 911 Turbo is the one I would choose if I could ever afford these two beasts. The 911 Turbo is like that high school sweetheart that you know in your heart is the one while the 911 GT3 is like that one time in Amsterdam.
The Porsche Experience center is on our list of 10 Things Every Atlanta Car Enthusiast Must Do.
Xtreme Xperience at Atlanta Motorsport Park
My experience at AMP with the Ferrari 458 was my first time behind the wheel of a full-fledged supercar. In my head and in the moment, it felt so fast, like I was racing around the track at the speed of light. But of course, watching the dashcam footage later, it was clear as day I was driving like a grandma. It was embarrassing.
Aside from my lack of track skills, Xtreme Xperience is great! For 3 laps, you can, also with the help of an instructor, drive around the circuit and fulfill your dream of racing supercars around a track. With Xtreme Xperience, you’re not limited to just Porsches. They have a great selection of the top supercars to choose from, including Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini. But, unlike PEC, after 3 laps, or less than 15 minutes, your experience is quickly over.
The benefit, however, is that you can jump from car to car or ride the same one for another 3 laps. In that respect, it’s a great all-around experience. You also get drivers with a huge range of experience. You had people like me who have never driven a sports car before out on a track, to people who are seasoned vets and all in between. With the instructor there, it doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or a pro. They can adjust to your skill level. As with all venues like this, there is a large emphasis on safety. You don’t have to be worried about being run off the road. They make it safe but fun.
While the actual drive in the 458 was regrettably forgettable for me, I thought the star was the track itself. The highly technical two-mile circuit is so much fun! With two famous corners incorporated into the track design as its highlights, every inch of the track feels incredibly engaging. In fact, I think I was so enamored by the track that I forgot I was driving a Ferrari!
No matter though, because I experienced a hot lap through Xtreme Xperience in a Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX, and my what an incredibly different experience it was. Yet again I was humbled and realized just how much of a novice I really am and how much more I can learn.
It’s hard to compare Atlanta Motorsport Park to the Porsche Experience Center. Probably because one has a road course in addition to other obstacles and one is a purely road circuit. Where Porsche Experience Center is like Disney World with smaller rides and packaged experiences in a safe space, AMP is like The Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia where the entire experience was thrilling.
For the raw racing experience, AMP takes the cake. It’s 16 turns let you really experience the dynamics of the car in every corner. With its 98 feet in elevation changes, the hills turn up the difficulty to 11, especially with the blind corner to contend with! In my opinion, that is what really adds to the level of difficulty and what sets AMP apart, not only from PEC, but from other motorsport parks. It just has a bit of an edge that can feel a bit intimidating and makes it all the more rewarding as you conquer the track.
For those focused on skill building experiences, PEC is what you are looking for. PEC is a great mix of learning and unadulterated fun because you can do both there. You can be honing your skill in one moment and then flex your other skills around the track in the next, all while having a professional coach you around the track.
Because PEC feels safer and is more focused on instruction, I think it appeals to novice drivers over Xtreme Xperience at AMP. While you can absolutely have fun at AMP as a novice, it can feel intimidating and put off some drivers. If you’re thinking of starting somewhere first, I would suggest PEC.
If you consider pure value, I think the PEC wins. Not only do you get a diverse set of activities to choose from, you get 90 minutes out there on the test track. If you wanted to just do laps for your entire 90-minute session, you can.
Cayman GTS at SPEEDVEGAS
The track at SPEEDVEGAS is simple but effective. When compared to AMP, statistically the tracks are surprisingly similar. SPEEDVEGAS clocks in at 1.5 miles (to 2.0 miles at AMP), it has 12 corners (to 16 at AMP) and has 60 feet of total elevation changes (to 95 feet at AMP). Yet, the track in Las Vegas feels more accessible and less intimidating than AMP. That certainly helps its appeal, given that it’s just outside of Las Vegas and likely attracts many newcomers.
I think its welcoming feeling is due in large part to its location in a large flat western desert. It makes distances seem deceiving giving you a false sense of size, almost quaint. But in reality, it is no slouch. Once you’re out on the track, you quickly lose those doubts. In fact, it sports a 0.5 mile straight on one part. It’s an incredibly well-designed course that is not intimidating at all but is surprisingly rewarding.
Going out in a Cayman GTS, my purpose out there wasn’t to drive an exotic sports car. It was to get out on a track for 5 laps, carry as much speed as I can around the corners and have a blast doing it. Again, with an instructor by your side, you can really focus on just having fun. To that end, it serves its purpose.
If you thought SPEEDVEGAS was a one trick pony, you’d be wrong. Turns out there’s more! Not only does SPEEDVEGAS offer you the standard track experience, but they also have an off-road track that is similar in length. Let me tell you, their promotional video they show during the safety briefing is extremely effective. With off-road racing, jump ramps, sweeps, and brake zones, I know I’m partial to driving on pavement, but I may have to branch out the next time I’m in Vegas and try it out!
BMW M3 at Road Atlanta
Last year, I had the exciting first-time experience of attending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Being the BMW fanboy that I am, I bought myself a BMW Car Club of America membership and the corral parking that the membership afforded me. In addition to attending the main race on Saturday, we decided to scope out the happenings on Friday. Naively, I look at the schedule on Friday and at about mid-day I saw an event for a parade lap. Envisioning pomp and circumstance, balloons, clowns, and parade floats, I puzzledly inquired about this event. The lady with the sign-up sheet said you drive around a couple of laps in your car on the track. WOW, YOU CAN DO THAT?! I exclaimed. Sign me right up I said.
My experience around the track was a complete blur. It’s like imagining you’re Tiger Woods as you play on the renowned greens of Augusta. The whole experience was like a dream, a dream I want, no I need to live again next year! Driving around that course in my car was the ultimate experience I’ve had because it’s so personal. My takeaway for next year—don’t get stuck behind the SUVs. Oh, and don’t be so excited that you forget to put your car in sport+ mode. And make sure that dashcam is working, dammit!
I thought I couldn’t top that experience, I really did. Then the morning of the race I happened onto complimentary hot laps from BMW in their M5’s. We only had one lap, but wow was that an experience. This was yet a third time I was humbled experiencing the calm and control of a professional driver on a racetrack. The sound of the tire squealing over the rumble strips, the acceleration, my father’s white knuckled and pale face holding on to the car handle for dear life because I told him to ride shotgun. It was all just an incredible experience I could never forget.
A lap at Road Atlanta is on our list of 10 Things Every Atlanta Car Enthusiast Must Do.
I set out attempting to compare tracks and experiences and I’ve realized that each track and each car has its own personality that makes it difficult to compare. Professional drivers continue to school me everywhere I go and I’m ok with that. The real takeaway I have is that I would be up to go back to any one of the tracks in a heartbeat. And you should to.