PECATL: West Track

We head to Atlanta to check out the expanded Porsche Experience Center.

Photo: PECATL: West Track 1
June 29, 2023

Porsche’s Experience Centers (i.e., sports car playgrounds) are a part of the company’s modern brand experience worldwide. These part driver development and part thrill-ride courses are located in Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Japan, China, and (in 2024) Canada. There are also two Experience Centers in the United States, one in Los Angeles and the other in Atlanta.

The Porsche Experience Center Atlanta (PECATL) opened in May 2015. This facility, situated on the 27-acre Porsche Cars North America (PCNA) headquarters campus in south Atlanta, was designed to allow interested members of the public—Porsche owners or not—to book time on a race track. PECATL has since welcomed roughly 400,000 visitors who have experienced all or parts of what is now known as the “South Track”.

Porsche announced its expansion of the PECATL facility in December 2021. The project added the “West Track” portion of the Experience Center on 33 acres of land connected to the PCNA/PECATL campus. Porsche offered us a chance to drive on this newly completed stretch of tarmac shortly before it opened to the public in April. Today, we experience the fruit of Porsche’s labor to allow PECATL to accommodate more customers.

To the Track

Your author previously drove the South Track when it opened in 2015 (“One Porsche Drive”, October 2015, #231). That portion of the Experience Center entails a 1.6-mile handling circuit, an autocross area, a wet skidpad, a low-friction handling course, a kick plate, and an off-road trail. I enjoyed all the modules of the South Track and found the facility to be top-notch in every regard.

The freshly constructed West Track has four main sections. Like the South Track, it has a handling circuit, an autocross area, and a wet skidpad. The one module it has that the South Track doesn’t is a low-friction incline called the “Ice Hill.” After a brief explaining the day’s activities, we head off to experience each section. The Porsche team selected three distinctly different vehicles for each module so we could feel their unique characteristics on each section of track.

Photo: PECATL: West Track 2

1) Autocross

Our drive begins on the handling dynamics/autocross portion. Porsche bills it as “An expansive area of asphalt that allows for flexibility to continue to improve driving skill and technique.” Today, it is configured to allow for Launch Control starts, hard braking at the end of its front straightaway, and a hairpin right-hander into a road-cone-guided slalom that takes you back to the starting area.

We are given seat time in a 982-gen 718 Cayman GT4, a Taycan Turbo S, and a 992 GT3. The GT4 feels the most playful and tossable through the slalom, the Taycan Turbo S delivers a supercar-level (2.6-second) 0-60 mph Launch Control blast out of the gate, and the GT3 impresses with its excellent brakes and ultra-precise steering. Overall this autocross section isn’t dramatically different from the one on the South Track; both are fun enough to spend hours lapping.

2) Handling Circuit

Next up is the main track. Like the South Track, it was sketched out by Hermann Tilke of Formula One circuit design fame. While the 1.3-mile West Track is 0.3 miles shorter than the South Track, it is dramatically different. Where the older track felt like a drive on a deserted country road, the new circuit is laid out to flow more like a race track. Porsche insisted this new course have elements of some of the world’s greatest race tracks. As a result, it has approximations of the Corkscrew from Laguna Seca, the Bus Stop from Daytona, and the Carousel from the Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Porsche selected a 992 GT3, a Taycan GTS, and a 982-gen 718 Spyder for us to drive on track. Exiting the pits in the GT3 takes us through a section reminiscent of the S Curves at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan. That leads to hard braking, followed by two left-handers, a right-hand 30-foot rise uphill that leads to a 25-foot drop downhill to the left—similar to Laguna’s Corkscrew. You then head down a straightaway that is slowed down by a left into a right-hander chicane, like the Bus Stop on the back straightaway of Daytona’s road course. Next, after a hairpin right, you blast down a long straightaway leading to a long right-hander. That’s followed by a left leading to the banked Carousel, another left, and a straight that takes you back past the pits.

Without a doubt, the GT3 is the ultimate track-day weapon here. While a GT3 RS offers more downforce, it isn’t necessarily needed on this lower-speed course. My top speed on the day couldn’t have been more than 120 or 130 mph. But that isn’t a bad thing. This course is designed to provide a safe environment for drivers to learn rather than allow for all-out big (more dangerous) speed.

Photo: PECATL: West Track 3

The Taycan GTS is a respectable performer that feels lighter than its 5,077-lb curb weight, although its 590-hp output feels anemic relative to the 750-hp Taycan Turbo S we ran on the autocross course. The 718 Spyder also impresses, as it feels more forgiving when pushing hard relative to the other cars.

Despite being shorter than the South Track, the West Track feels like a racing circuit. It isn’t as fast as a place like Laguna Seca or Road Atlanta, but it is still very satisfying to drive. If I had to choose, I would pick the South Track for driving more road-centric vehicles and the West Track for more track-day-oriented machines.

3) Low-Friction Circle

Wet skidpads (a.k.a low-friction circles) are usually a blast to drive. They offer you the opportunity to get a car out of shape at low speeds so you can test a car’s breakaway when it loses traction and your ability to catch a vehicle when it gets squirrely. The West Track’s skidpad measures 196 feet in diameter and has varying levels of polished concrete as you get closer to the center. For our run, Porsche lined up a 992 Turbo S, another 982-gen Cayman GT4, and a Panamera Turbo S.

The top-of-the-line 992 proves tricky to keep under control once it’s kicked sideways by too much throttle and steering angle. My instructor advises me to give it gas (with no traction control on, mind you), cut the wheel left, and then manage the slide with varying steering and throttle input levels. The 911 Turbo lives up to its decades-old “beast” nickname and spins out if the driver has anything less than a lightning-quick reaction time. This 640-hp machine demands to be driven with respect.

I expect more of the same from the GT4. However, the mid-engined sports car is much easier to manage once it’s gone almost sideways. I still lose the crude drift I have going and spin out. Even so, the Cayman has a higher threshold before ending up backwards in a deluge raining down from the skidpad’s sprinklers.

Photo: PECATL: West Track 4

By this point, I expect the Panamera Turbo S to be the most demanding drive yet, but it turns out to be the opposite. The sedan’s longer wheelbase makes drifting surprisingly easy to do. After my run, an observer comments that my drift in the Panamera was like something out of a commercial. I assure you that my drift was 95 percent the Panamera’s finely balanced chassis and five percent my skill.

Although the above may sound like an exercise in frustration, it was fun. I could have easily spent 40 minutes to an hour in each car, experimenting with getting them sideways and then practicing how to keep them better in a controlled drift. It turned out to be the section of the track I wanted to stay on the most.

4) Ice Hill

Porsche calls the Ice Hill section “A highly polished concrete surface with an 8 percent slope and computer-controlled water jets to challenge even the most experienced of drivers.” Like the wet skidpad, this module seems simple, like something you’d potentially bore of driving on quickly. Also like the skidpad, it is much more fun to experience than you’d initially think. We have a Macan GTS, 718 Cayman S, and 992 Carrera GTS lined up for runs up the hill.

The Macan goes up the incline at 15-20 miles per hour without slipping or sliding. On our next run, this time with the traction control turned off, a hefty dose of throttle breaks the wheels loose and renders us unable to progress forward. The SUV climbs to the top without interruption with the electronic assists back on. The Cayman S and 992 GTS yield similar experiences.

This section is essentially a wet skidpad on a sloping straight rather than a flat circle. As such, you can feel how a vehicle reacts to losing traction in a controlled environment. It’s the ultimate way of learning throttle control with little to no risk of crashing. To wrap things up, we head down the hill in the Macan GTS at a moderate pace. Despite my gut telling me the car is going too fast to stop at the bottom of the hill, the SUV slows to a more reasonable speed without incident.

Photo: PECATL: West Track 5

The Ice Hill is not subjectively as fun as the skidpad, but it presents a challenge that is likely the highest of all the West Track’s modules.

The Verdict

In addition to driving the South Track in 2015, I was fortunate enough to have a go of all the modules at the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles (“PECLA”, May 2017, #245) before its grand opening in 2017. For years I was occasionally asked if I liked the Atlanta or Los Angeles Experience Center track better. I enjoyed the Atlanta South Track’s country-road style course, but the L.A. facility’s race-track-like course was subjectively better. In 2023, I believe the Atlanta West Track is just as good as—if not better than—the 1.3-mile course in Southern California.

Both the South Track and L.A. road courses are stellar. The one thing that elevates the new track in Atlanta to a slightly higher level is the Carousel being integrated into the racing circuit. In L.A., the Carousel is located away from the handling course. But that is a minor detail. Ultimately, the Los Angeles and Atlanta facilities are outstanding.

If you wish to participate in a driving experience at PECATL, you can find more information at Packages start at $450 for an hour and a half of drive time in a 718 Cayman and go up from there. Many of Porsche’s current production sports cars and SUVs are in PECATL’s fleet of vehicles available for driving on the track.

Perhaps the only complaint about Porsche’s Experience Centers in the U.S. is that there aren’t more of them. A PECATL or PECLA-like facility in the northeast and/or midwest would likely be a hit with Porsche fans in those parts of the country. But, for now, an outstanding Porsche-owned driving facility is just a drive or plane ride away for many.

Also from Issue 302

  • 992 Carrera 4S vs. C4 GTS vs. Turbo
  • Carrera 3.2-Based RSR
  • 718 Boxster T Drive
  • Chopped 1977 911S
  • 25 Years Ago: The GT1 Wins Le Mans
  • Market Update: 964 & 993
  • 992 Dakar Tech
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