08 Feb 2017

vRetreat Day, Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone, UK

I was honoured to have been invited to attend the inaugural vRetreat event in the UK. The event, arranged by Red-Track Ltd, took place at the Porsche Experience Centre at Silverstone on 27 January 2017, and was attended several well known bloggers and virtualisation community members. The day was made possible by Zerto, Veeam and Cohesity who presented on their respective products and upcoming capabilities within their product suites. This provided ample opportunity for those present to discuss several product features and their possible use cases in the world of hybrid and public cloud infrastructure.

Now, normally I, like many would see vendor presentations mainly as a necessary component to make the event possible, as someone has to sponsor the event in order to pay for the facilities to host such events. Even though that was still very much the case here, there was a difference this time. Rather than a vendor representative walking into a room and presenting, the vendor representatives were very much “part of the audience”. This enabled the presenters and attendees to get to know each over over the course of the event, thus creating an environment where discussions were more open and frank.

As the vRetreat was attended by some who had to travel quite a distance, accommodation was arranged for all attendees at the Silverstone Golf Club, a short distance away from the Porsche Experience Center. This further enhanced the vRetreat experience as a whole, as all the attendees and some vendors got to socialise prior to the event to “break the ice”.

The day started with us arriving at the Porsche Experience Centre, a purpose built facility opened by Porsche to provide the public with a chance to experience the latest Porsche cars on a purpose built set of racetracks, with an assigned Porsche Driving Consultant (PDC) in the passenger seat. The Porsche Experience Centre is located next to the hanger straight of one of the world's best known race tracks, Silverstone. Silverstone has been the host track of many motorsport championship races, including the British Grand Prix  leg of the FIA Formula One World Championship. It is also the racetrack where the F1 Drivers Championship first started back in 1950. As a massive F1 fan of more than 20 years, just driving into the main entrance gates of Silverstone, is like walking into a cathedral of motorsport.

Porsche Experience Center, Silverstone 

Arriving at the Porsche Experience Centre we were greeted by the centre’s friendly staff, and after signing in and obtaining our passes, we sat down for some breakfast, which was  prepared and well presented by the catering team at the centre. In addition to be being a driving facility, the Porsche Experience Center is also used by many businesses for corporate events, with conference rooms available, and catering.

After breakfast, we took a few minutes to look around some of the new Porsche cars that were parked on the ground floor, which has a showroom kind of feel to it. What made this “showroom” experience even better was that all the cars are open, so you can open the doors and sit in the cars, unlike many car showrooms where all cars on display are locked, and for “eyes only”.

Following on from a lot of “umming and ahing” over some of the leather stitching on the seats and  dashboards of some very lovely cars, we made our way to the conference room assigned to us. Although off of the attendees were massive car fans, we are still IT techies at heart, so we didn’t find it too difficult to temporarily forget about the high octane action that was happening on the tracks outside of the four conference room walls, and concentrate of some 0’s and 1’s talk.

First up to present was Darren Swift from Zerto. Although I’ve not had much dealings with Zerto in the past, some of the talking points around their product did spark some curiosity from my side, especially on the public/hybrid cloud replication front. I’ll cover Zerto in more detail in another post.

Following on from Darren and after a short “break” which consisted of some more “umming and ahing” over a £140,000 Porsche Panamera parked in the showroom, we returned to listen to talk about a presentation by Michael Cade from Veeam Software. Having used Veeam for many years (since Veeam FastSCP back in 2007) I was more familiar with the software in the presentation, but again, we had some good discussion about Veeam Agent as well as the Veeam solution for backing up Office 365.

Again, following on from Michael’s presentation and yet another short break, this time drooling over the interior of the new Porsche 718 Cayman S and Boxster S models, we returned for the last techie chat session and presentation of the day, this time by Ezat Dayeh from Cohesity. As I’ve not had any dealings with Cohesity myself prior to this, it turned out to be a very informative presentation, and I’ll be sure to look into Cohesity in due course. The storage analytics side of the product looks to have a lot of potential. All of the presentations will be covered in greater detail by either myself or the other attendees present at vRetreat.

So, done with the techie stuff. We made our way to the restaurant in the Porsche Experience Centre, where a fine 3 course lunch was provided again by the excellent catering staff. Following on from that, we made our way back to the conference room, where a Porsche Driving Consultant gave us a safety briefing. He explained how it’s all going to work, the cars we’ll be driving, the tracks available to us and what they are used for etc. This was also a time for us to ask any questions we had. One of the questions asked by one of the attendees, was “How long will we actually be driving for?”, to which the Porsche man replied “About 180 minutes”. By this time, you could feel the excitement building as 10 men turned into the 10 boys they actually are. You know the saying, boys never grow up, our toys just get more expensive as we get older.

We made our way outside to the cars where each of us was assigned a Porsche Driving Consultant (PDC), who would look after us for the remainder of the day on the track. My driving consultant explained to me that we would have about 90 minutes in the first car, a 718 Cayman S, followed by a short break, and then about another 90 minutes in a 911 991.2. Now as someone who is actively looking to buy a 911, hearing that in about 90 minutes time I’ll be behind the wheel of a new 911 on a racetrack with a license to drive it has hard as I can, was like music to my ears. It doesn’t really get much better than that! 

Driving the 718 Cayman S

Cayman S

The Porsche 718 Cayman S is the coupe version of the 718 family, with the Boxster S being the convertible brother of the Cayman S, it therefore also carries the same 718 model number. Many believe that the Boxster and Cayman S is a “poor man’s 911”, but you could not be more wrong if that’s your opinion. The 911 and 718 are two completely different cars, with different engine layouts, weight distribution and handling characteristics. The 718 S model is a mid-engined 2 seater sports car with a 2.5L Twin Turbo powerplant capable of delivering 350 hp (257kW) and maximum torque of 420 Nm. The manual Cayman S gets from 0 - 62mph in 4.6 seconds, and the “automatic-manual” PDK version does the 0 - 62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds with launch control.

The Cayman S I got to drive was fitted with the PDK transmission, which was one of the very many things that completely shattered my preconceived opinions about everything I thought I knew about cars (and I’m a huge car fan). Up until that day I was almost convinced that a sports car has to come with a manual transmission. Well, the Cayman S and PDK box very quickly got me to change my opinion about that. You see, the PDK dual clutch transmission has just that, two clutches. Here’s my attempt of a simple explanation how the two clutches are used in the PDK transmission:

The first clutch is responsible for 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th & reverse, and the 2nd clutch is responsible for 2nd, 4th & 6th. With the car in 1st gear, clutch 1 is engaged and driving the car forward, however in the meantime, clutch two has already pre-selected gear two. When the gearbox changes from 1st to 2nd, it releases the drive from clutch 1 and engages clutch 2, simultaneously, in one mechanical move, which results in a gear change with no loss of power or drive. It is astonishingly quick and smooth. There is simply no way that a manual transmission can make a shift so quickly and smoothly. It should be noted that the response from the transmission when calling for another gear by pressing the paddle on the back of the steering wheel is instant. It’s almost like playing a video game. Just, it’s not!

Anyway, back to the driving. Pulling out of the car park and heading towards one of the race tracks, the Porsche Driving Consultant (PDC) directed us to the figure of 8 track, a large square surface with a figure of 8 race track painted on the surface. This is an ideal place to learn the car and how the weight transfers between acceleration, braking, and turning. We spend a short while there and soon made our way to track 1 where I really got to drive the car fast, around a twisty track that was designed with a lot of different types of slow and fast turns.

We then made our way over to the straights. There we got to test acceleration and braking. Accelerating from 0 - 60mph, as fast as possible and then hitting the brakes as hard as possible. The car has to slow down to a complete stop from 60 - 0mph in half the time it would take to accelerate from 0 - 60mph. In other words, if the car takes 4 seconds to go from 0 - 60mph, it has to be able to get back to 0 from 60mph in 2 seconds. It is a rather violent experience. This exercise showcases the car's stopping ability as well as its stability under heavy braking. Some exercises also focus on breaking hard and steering the car into another lane in the process. Thus teaching you precision car control under heavy braking to avoid obstacles in the road.

“The straights” is also the place where we got to play with the car’s launch control feature (PDK only). At one stage I was sitting on the start line and I saw Simon Gallagher pull away like a rocket with launch control next to us. He had a smile on his face like a naughty boy and this captured the whole day in a few moments for me. The PDC then said: “Yes, if you pull away like that and you don’t have a smile on your face, then you’re not alive”. I agree. I don’t think that it’s possible to get to play with cars like that and drive them to their maximum on a track without managing to crack a smile.

Following on from the straights, we did some more fast racetrack driving, this time on track 2.

After about 90 minutes it was time to park the car and grab a coffee before picking up the keys to a 911 (991.2) Carrera 4S.

Driving the 911 Carrera 4S

991.2 911 Carrera 4S

The 911 is the icon in the range. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what a Porsche 911 Carrera is, then I assume that you’re not a car fan at all or, that you’ve not been on planet earth for the last 40+ years.

The new 911 991.2 is fitted with a 3.0L Twin Turbo engine, which is quite different from the traditional normally aspirated 911 engines. Yet another misconception I had before arriving there on the day, was that somehow the new 3.0L turbo engines are somewhat inferior to the 3.8L normally aspirated engines in previous generation “Carrera S” models. I expected a dampened sound, and a laggy turbo experience in the low rev ranges (like you get with most turbo charged engines), with a sudden burst of power when the turbo kicked in. Again, I was wrong. Very wrong. 

The 3.0L twin turbo engine (fitted with the optional sports exhaust) is still very loud, sure may be a tiny bit quieter than the normally aspirated engine to a finely tuned ear, but take nothing away from her. When you put your foot down, she does roar with that distinct 911 sound behind you. As for power delivery. Smooth! From the bottom ranges to max RPM, it doesn’t feel like a turbo. It still feels like raw, smooth power all the way through the rev range. Every Time I would accelerate hard down the back straight, I’d say to the PDC: “Gosh this engine is good!”

As for grip, the 911 is in a league of its own. Even on that damp and sometimes even wet track, the car just obeys your every input. Amazing grip under acceleration, braking and turning in at high speed.

In addition to all of the driving activities undertaken in the 718 Cayman S, in the 911 we did some work on the skid pans. Basically, these are slippery areas that are constantly being sprayed with water. They provide the perfect environment to learn how to correct the car when you encounter a spin. The PDC, again very professional, would explain how the car will react and explain to you what you need to do in order to catch the spin and correct it. It’s harder than it sounds, but after very many runs on all of the skid pans, I managed to keep the car pointing in all directions. I did almost lose complete control of it only once, but still managed to keep it from swapping ends.

At the end of the 90 minutes in the 911, I was ready to make my way to a Porsche dealership and place my order for a new 911. But the sensible, realistic me kicked in and stopped me from doing that. Needless to say, if I has a spare £100,000.00 sitting around, I’d know where to go and spend it.

I’m still looking to buy a 911 Carrera S 997 Generation 2 (2009 - 2012) probably with PDK. I have been for quite a while now. It’s all about finding the right one at the right time.

All in all, a big thumbs up for the vRetreat day. Great discussions around the presentations with some of the brightest minds in the community, great food, amazing facilities and very friendly and professional staff all round at the Porsche Experience Center. And yes, if you have £300 sitting around and you don’t know what to do with it, buy yourself a 90 minute 911 driving experience at the Porsche Experience Centre, Silverstone. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll be smiling for days on end. I’m still smiling days later!

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Last modified on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 14:02
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