Porsche is not the sort of organization to miss an opportunity. Create the bestselling spec racing car in the world? Check. Return to Le Mans with a factory LMP1 program with the 919 Hybrid, and take the win in its second year? Check.
When it came time to establish a new headquarters in Atlanta, Porsche went all out in designing not just a facility that’s core to its business, but one that provides space for its 450 employees and encompasses all aspects of its business – and perhaps a little bit beyond.
Virtually unheard of in North America, the new Porsche Experience Center connects visitors to its brand and its vehicles in ways that broaden and deepen those relationships, chiefly if you’re a customer. While the offices are a small part of the facility, the majority of the center is designed to be enjoyed by visitors, whether that’s picking up a Porsche model in the gift shop, grabbing a latte in the café, or taking a performance driving course in the latest Porsches. A layover to make Anthony Bourdain jealous
For drivers like us, our attention immediately turns to the driver development of course, because we know that’s where all the fun is had. But the Porsche Experience Center is much more than that. Whether you’re a customer or otherwise, this is one place you want to visit.
It’s tucked into an 11-hectare plot of land, right between I-75 and the eastern end of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. At first glance, you’d think that putting an office building beside an active airport would be an audible disaster, but inside the building it’s a masterpiece of silence.
The day of my visit, the first object I spotted wasn’t a piece of art, nor was it a trophy case, as many car companies like to do. It was a racecar that caught my eye, and perhaps it is both part art and part trophy. Indeed, I was greeted by the famed Dauer 962 that podiumed at Le Mans in 1994. I remember images of that car when I was a kid and seeing it in person was spine tingling. Around another corner, there’s a 917 just hanging out in a corner. Casually. As if a 917 can ever do casual.
While I’ve visited Porsche Classic in Stuttgart, which is the place for restoring or servicing your vintage Porsche – it’s the only place I’ve seen nine 959s in one location in fact – the Experience Center offers the same restoration services that are available in Germany. They’ll undertake any Porsche restoration you can challenge them with and, during my visit, a 1973 Carrera RS restoration was nearing completion.
There’s a small collection of Porsches on site, too, ranging from a tractor (yes, a tractor) to the special 914/8 the company cooked up at the behest of the Ferdinand Piëch to the very limited edition 997 Sport Classic.
Just as some of my crazy acquaintances have been known to do, if you’re personalizing your new Porsche, I’d recommend dropping by the Porsche Experience Center for its Porsche Exclusive studio. This is one of the few places you can get hands on – both feel and see – all of the bespoke touches with which Exclusive is capable of finishing your new Porsche.
Any Porsche enthusiast will spend hours here and, thankfully, there’s the full-service, fine dining Restaurant 356 in addition to the aforementioned Carrera Café. By mid-afternoon, a hit of espresso from the café did the trick for me.
The drivers among us will undoubtedly appreciate the driver development circuits and no matter which form of driving you’re looking to improve upon, they’ve got you covered. There’s everything from a 2.7-kilometre high-speed circuit to an off-road circuit that’ll challenge your skills, but will otherwise simply remind you the Cayenne and Macan are fully capable SUVs.
The highlight for me was hustling the 911 GT3 and Cayman GT4 around the road course, since there’s no better way to experience these two track day specials. They have the speed to make circuit driving exciting, and have the precision to give the driver the ultimate confidence. It didn’t matter whether the walls were close because I could place these cars with millimetre accuracy. There’s simply nothing like driving a track-bred Porsche on a road course. Let alone one designed specifically for them.
High speed isn’t everything and proof of that is the facility’s low traction circuit. Finished in polished concrete, I could have spent the entire day drifting 911s and Cayman GTSs around these corners at a remarkably slow 20 km/h. Still, you can’t spend all day, every day on track.
For more cost effective wheel time, nerd-level enthusiasts can also book time in the simulator studio. If you’re familiar with sims, you’ll recognize the rFactor software in use, but your choice of virtual Porsches is individually custom programmed for accuracy to the real world machines.
Top-level club and pro racing drivers will want to take advantage of the in-house Human Performance Center. Finding the specialized training for motor racing has been a challenge for drivers in the past, but Porsche’s organized the trainers and tools a driver needs for mental and physical development under one roof.
Whether you’re a Porsche owner or a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast, it’s a perfect place to visit next time you’ve got a layover at ATL. The address? One Porsche Drive. Grab a drink and a bite, maybe even take a new Porsche for a spin. This is one place you’ll want to exit through the gift shop.