As guys who spend a lot of time around cars, talking cars, studying car theory, and driving hot rodded muscle cars, we occasionally feel like we've got all the bases covered on car control. We've read books, we know the terminology, we know what theoretically needs to be done in certain situations, and we're no stranger to a track. In other words, we figured attending a high-performance driving school would be a breeze. Nevertheless, it took actually getting on the track under the eye of a seasoned instructor to realize that we weren't translating that knowledge effectively into proper technique. There simply is no replacement for seat time-and lots of it.
Sponsored by GM, Bondurant...
Sponsored by GM, Bondurant always has a fleet of fairly fresh Corvettes, including Z06s and ZR1s, and CTS Caddys.
But we'll go one step further and say that there's no point in spending lots of time and money practicing incorrect techniques. We had spent a great deal of time (years, really) ingraining bad habits because we'd never taken the time to get professional help. Actually, we had assumed it was just something we could learn by doing. The reality is that no one is born knowing how to handle a car, and only a rare few figure out how to on their own. Sure, some people are just luckily endowed with better reflexes, faster reactions, and a tendency to take to extreme driving with ease, but everyone has a learning curve and everyone will be better after proper instruction. Even pros who earn big bucks to drive multimillion-dollar cars in the world's greatest races take classes. Why? Because there's no such thing as a perfect driver, and it's difficult to see your own shortcomings, but a seasoned instructor can easily observe and pinpoint ways to fine-tune techniques for different tracks.
The first exercise is an introduction...
The first exercise is an introduction to throttle steering using the instructor Caddy CTS. We drove within a small circular track increasing speed while slowly turning the steering wheel to compensate for the outward push, or oversteer, and the turn radius increases. When instructed, we completely lifted off the throttle while holding the wheel steady. This takes away the forces from the rear tires and causes weight to be transferred to the front, which in turn increases grip. The effect is that the Caddy slows and the turning radius decreases sharply. What we're learning here is that oversteer is caused by carrying too much speed into a corner and that lifting off the throttle can be more effective than braking for correction.
Of course we're far from pro drivers; responsibilities limit us to a handful of track days a year at best. And rather than driving a purpose-built track machine funded by sponsors, we have a worked-over street car with a few upgrades paid for with our own hard-earned money. But the rationale is the same; what good are thousands of dollars worth of the best engineered chassis, suspension, steering, and other performance parts if you're not capable of putting them to use effectively? Whether you've got aspirations of impressive lap times at Laguna Seca, or never plan to tackle anything more aggressive than a curvy road, attending a high-performance driving school will absolutely help you enjoy your car more. Bob Bondurant's School of High Performance Driving certainly gave us a wake-up call; we discovered we needed much more work than we had ever thought. Our braking technique was incorrect, our heel-toe downshift was sloppy, and our corner entry was working against us. And the instructors said we were well above average.
That actually wasn't to our advantage though; the best thing you can do is leave everything you think you know in your hotel room and enter Bondurant's classroom with an open mind ready to listen. All those previous misconceptions will actually just impede your progress. Of the several schools available, our choice was the package often referred to as the signature Bondurant course, the four-day Grand Prix Road Racing School. This course offers the most instruction and track time for students to really hone their abilities, plus it fulfills the requirements for an SCCA regional competition license. That's a good thing too; we've got plans to put our projects to use.