Porsche engineers built the original Gran Turismo Sport for the 1964 Targa Florio In the 60's, many races took place on public roads and covered long distances. As a result, the engineers from Zuffenhausen needed a Porsche that was fast, comfortable and safe; allowing the drivers to completely focus on the race. The GTS was the answer.
The car seen above, the silver Porsche Carrera, was the first to wear the GTS badge, and was driven flat out for seven hours and ten minutes by Porsche factory drivers Baron Antonio Pucci and his passenger Colin Davis. The Porsche 904 GTS crossed the finished line first and went on to secure its rightful place in Porsche history.
Today's Porsche GTS
Today the current GTS models continues this trend with a distinctive interior and exterior trim, as well as increased handling and performance package above and beyond the base models (click here for info on the Boxster GTS, Cayman GTS, 911 GTS, or Panamera GTS).
We recently headed back to Atlanta, and the new Porsche Experience Center (PEC), to drive the current GTS model line-up and see what the PEC has to offer. While it's true that we got a taste of the PEC during the grand opening, this event was an all day affair that provided an experience much more true to what you would get as a visitor.
The experience starts the moment you arrive at the Atlanta airport
As you enter the baggage claim area of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport, a giant Porsche mural greets you and sets the tone for your upcoming experience.
If that's not enough, be sure to glance above you during the registration process one you arrive at the PEC. If the 917 next to the desk doesn't do it for you, the 3D mural hanging from the ceiling should.
If you're hungry after your flight, you can enjoy a quick bite to eat or coffee before heading into the classroom to prepare for the upcoming day.
Breaking it Down
I have to say, I was completely blown away by my time at the PEC and it’s taken me some time to digest it. There are many modules for drivers to test Porsches (including their own) and learn about their unique driving characteristics. For the new Porsche owner, you even have the option of taking delivery of your car at the PEC. It’s a great way to assess your new Porsche and your driving skills in a safe and fun environment.
Because there was so much to experience and absorb, we’ve broken our day into seven (7) different modules. The first six are linked below. The 7th, the off-road course, will be featured in an upcoming post of its own.
- Cayman GTS / 991 4 GTS — Handling Circuit
- 911 4 GTS / Cayman — Hurley Haywood Hot Lap
- Panamera GTS / Boxster GTS— Dynamics Area
- 911 4 GTS — Low Friction Handling
- Boxster GTS — Kick Plate
- Boxster GTS — Low Friction Circle
Cayman GTS / 991 4 GTS — Handling Circuit
The handling circuit was the most fun and eye opening for me as I’ve had lots of opportunities to drive various makes and models through the years, but never back-to-back like this. For instance, it was amazing how much of a difference the six inches in separation between the engine placements on the mid-engine Cayman vs. rear-engine 911 made on the precision driving course.
My first laps were in the PDK equipped Cayman GTS. The instructor guided me through the first few laps to help me get the most out of the car and to complete one smooth lap after another. The driving course at the PEC mimics a twisty country road instead of a race track (if you're looking for a twisty road near you, don't forget to check out Porsche's GTS community and their GTS routes app). This type of course is where the Cayman shined for me. It felt so planted on every turn with no hint of understeer. Looking ahead and pointing the Cayman to where I wanted it to go, it always followed through. As my confidence grew, so did my aggressiveness with the throttle and brakes. The Cayman was just as happy taking casual laps as it was aggressive ones. The instructor encouraged me to forgo some braking zones that we were using earlier and, instead, just steer through them without slowing. This is where the adrenaline started to build and where the Cayman was most happy. Perfectly set-up turns only need the mildest of steering inputs.
Moving onto the 7-speed manual 911 4 GTS was a different experience. Having the engine hang over the rear of the car causes it to grip the ground very differently, as a result, the handling was dramatically different. Instead of rotating through turns like the Cayman, the 911 pushed through them due to weight, balance and power differences.
911 4 GTS / Cayman — Hurley Haywood Hot Lap
After my laps in the Cayman and 911, I pulled back into the pits. Hurley Haywood was there and I joined him for two laps in the Boxster and one lap in the 911. For me it was a life changing experience. I love driving and pushing cars to MY limit. But being in the passenger seat with someone who can drive a Porsche to ITS limit is another experience altogether. Hurley used a racing line that stuck to the center of the track and the tires were working overtime. He was simultaneously smooth and aggressive. We were right at the edge but it was hard to tell. After our laps he told me that between the two models, his favorite was the PDK Cayman. He absolutely loves the 7-speed PDK as it allows the driver to focus on the driving—and it doesn’t hurt that the gear changes are lightning-quick.
Panamera GTS / Boxster GTS— Dynamics Area
The Panamera GTS might be a large car, but you would never know it while driving. As we started moving through the slalom course, the instructor told me to keep the Panamera wide and swing it through the cones. It behaved perfectly and as we moved through the slalom my confidence and speed grew. I exited the course and went back to the start line. This time my instructor told me to press the brake to the floor as hard as I could with my left foot, and then press the accelerator to the floor. As soon as I released the brake, it felt like I left my stomach at the start line. The Panamera GTS rocketed to 80 mph and back to zero in about 7 seconds. The carbon ceramic brakes are just as impressive as the 440 horsepower, naturally aspirated 4.8-liter V8.
To experience the other end of the line-up in the slalom, we switched to the Boxster GTS. I immediately noticed the turn-in; it was sharper, and the Boxster GTS attacked the course without swinging wide to enter. It’s amazing to me that the Panamera GTS felt almost as nimble as the Boxster GTS.
911 4 GTS — Low Friction Handling
The low friction track was by far the most challenging module of the day and one of my favorites. The object is to keep the car sliding over the highly polished surface. It’s much more difficult than it sounds. You need to start applying power once you turn-in and feel the front wheels gripping. This will allow the Porsche to easily pivot around and with slight turning and throttle feathering you can maintain the slide. It’s very much like driving on a sheet of ice and it’s a great way to learn how your Porsche will react if you live in snowy conditions.
Boxster GTS — Kick Plate
Those of us of who live in snowy climates know the fear of hitting a sheet of ice and sometimes helplessly spinning out. I was about to experience this in a controlled environment. The kick plate at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta is the only one of its kind in North America. Porsche has connected a plate of tarmac to a hydraulic actuator. From a control room the staff can vary the intensity of the kick as well as the direction. I’m sitting in a Boxster GTS and the instructor gives me the green light and tells me to speed up to 25 miles per hour. I apply throttle and let out the clutch and head toward a wet patch of concrete. I have no idea what way I’m about to get kicked. Suddenly, it felt as if someone hit the car from the left side and the Boxster started to skid. There were milliseconds to react while keeping the throttle applied and steering into the skid to regain control. It was an incredible challenge, and after two unsuccessful attempts of steering incorrectly, which sent me spinning out of control, I was able to successfully completely a few passes. Luckily, the instructors are some of the most understanding and patient people I've met.
Boxster GTS — Low Friction Circle
Learning to control a skid is a skill that could some day save your life. Unfortunately, very few, if any, driving schools teach. Fortunately, Porsche does and the low friction circle is a great way to learn and perfect this skill. Looking ahead to my destination, turning the wheel and feathering the throttle sent the 6-speed Boxster GTS into a slide around the circle with ease. While not as challenging as the low friction track, there’s plenty of space available if you happen to spin out, and it’s just as fun. I was able to keep the momentum up a few times, and complete a few laps before switching directions.
It was an unforgettable and overwhelming day for me at the new Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta
As someone who loves German cars and driving more than anything, it’s the perfect culmination of experiences. Not to mention the food! Both the Carrera Cafe and Restaurant 356 provided the perfect places to relax for a few minutes and take it all in.
Porsche has built such an immersive program that if you are passing through Atlanta you would be crazy not to add a day to your trip and plan a visit. I left feeling more confident in my driving ability and full of adrenaline. Also, if I had to pick, by far my favorite car of the day of the Boxster GTS. A friend in the auto industry once said to me that, "It's easier to close the roof on the Spyder than to open the roof of the coupe." That has stuck with me and gave me a great appreciation for cabriolets, especially ones that handle as well as the Boxster.