Fast times at Santa Maria Airport

A bit of Stuttgart has come to Santa Maria.

Over much of the next two weeks, German car-maker Porsche is making its all-new 2012  911 Carrera available for the first time to the world’s automotive press at the Central Coast Jet Center on the south side of the Santa Maria Public Airport.

The event places the city next to Frankfurt, Germany, where the car was unveiled last month, and Los Angeles, where it made its American debut at the LA Car Show on Nov. 3.

Porsche corporate executives decided to make California the site for its journalistic debut because of the deep history between the state and the car company.

“The Porsche 911 Carrera is the iconic Porsche. It’s the Porsche everyone knows. When they think of Porsche, that’s the car everyone thinks of,” said Thomas Becki, head of product and technical press for Porsche. “California is the biggest market worldwide, so it would be logical to present the car in its second home.”

While the car was born in Germany, its development lies in the twists and turns of California’s back roads and stylish boulevards. The state is also the place where the most 911s are sold, Becki said.  In 1970, Porsche sold 28,000  911s in the Golden State, more than in New York, Florida and Texas combined, Becki said. North America continues to lead the world — outside of Germany — in 911 purchases, a statistic that will most likely soon change.

Becki said China will become its top worldwide market in the next three to five years, and the company is already having difficulty keeping up with the production demands for its Cayenne models, which is China’s favorite Porsche.

Approximately 450 journalists from 80 countries, including China, a huge emerging market for the car maker, have converged on the Central Coast to get their hands on the all-new 911.

While a pair of Santa Barbara hotels are hosting the automotive writers each night, the Central Coast Jet Center is the exclusive pit stop where they get a chance to drive the completely redesigned sports car and ride with Walter Röhrl, a World Rally Champion throughout the 1970s and ’80s and the company’s top test driver and technical consultant.

The center has been transformed into a combination of test track and showroom.  The hangar has been lined with sparkling white walls, with Porsche corporate red graphics, rows of white leather recliners set in front of a stage with a wall-sized video screen displaying clips of the new 911 Carrera touring Figueroa Mountain Road and other international locations.

Audio presentations will be presented in English, German and Chinese as waves of the world press descend on the Central Coast.

An elegant European bistro has also been built in the hangar. It features stainless steel and glass-topped bar tables arranged around comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s spotless 1964  911, and offer writers gourmet dining and beverages.

The conversion, designed and completed by Feld + Team of  Wolnzach, Germany, took plenty of planning but came together quickly. Jessica Lilian Fritzch, who designed the show room, began planning the event in July, but put the showroom and stage together in just a few days.  The effort even surprised Central Coast Jet Center owner Jim Kunkle. He said construction crews from Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the United States participated in the conversion.  “We go out there (into the hangar) and get lost. ‘Where are we?’” Kunkle said with a laugh.

Ramsey Asphalt of Santa Maria paved the mile-long test track, which was a key feature to Porsche corporate executives and, of course, Röhrl.  “It shows the suspension, the handling, the acceleration and braking,” Röhrl said of the freshly paved track, which features two straight-aways long enough to get the new car near 100 mph and enough braking and curves to give even a world champion driver a little fun. “I think the new car is more dynamic. On one side it’s more sports car and on the other it’s more everyday car.”

Automotive enthusiasts will soon be reading about the new Porsche and the Central Coast where it was unveiled.  “This is good for us. This is the release of this car to the world’s journalists. To be part of it and to have Santa Maria host it, it’s great. We hope to develop more business like this in the future,” Kunkle said.

By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer Santa Maria Times | Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011

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