I recently attended a high performance driving school that wasn’t focused on getting the most out of a car on a race track. Instead, the goal of the school was to teach drivers the skills they need to handle emergency situations on the highway. This included dealing with skids, learning the limits of adhesion of the car, and learning how to maneuver a vehicle that is undergoing heavy braking from highway speeds.
When I say that I attended this school, that is really only half of the truth. I was certainly there – shivering in the near-zero weather under the ragtop of my Miata – but it was my significant other who would spend the day polishing her driving technique. She is about to transfer from her front-wheel drive daily ride, a 1994 Dodge Spirit (or the “Esprit” as we call it around the house) to my BMW. Given that she has never driven a car with a manual transmission on a regular basis, let alone a rear-wheel drive one with decent power, we both felt it would be prudent for her to get some experience behind the wheel before the slippery winter weather arrived.
The course was taught by members of our BMW Club, and under the expert direction of their instructors everything went quite smoothly. The event was divided up into 3 groups, with one each at a separate wet skid pad – a large circle that was constantly watered via a hose system – and the third group working on their braking. After an hour or so of individual skid pad work, the groups combined to drive the pads as a figure 8, which made for some interesting encounters towards the middle of the track.
As for me, I huddled in the Miata and began to blanche when the rain turned to snow and my black convertible started to turn white. At least the snow didn’t leak through the top quite as quickly as the rain had, although it did make for a somewhat harrowing drive home on my Falken Azenis. When the school took a break for lunch, the organizer who is a friend and who teaches federal law enforcement officers how to drive well enough to catch the bad guys, asked me if I wanted to play around on the skid pad. I certainly did, and I borrowed the BMW keys from my companion and had a wonderful time at full opposite lock for about 20 minutes.
A couple of thoughts on the school:
– If you are at all on the fence about trying something like this, do it. It’s inexpensive – usually $100 or less – and you will learn a lot about your car and how it reacts when pushed in a difficult situation, which can be invaluable experience should the unthinkable occur out on the road. My girlfriend really took a lot away from the school at the end of the day.
– There were some really great cars that showed up – e39 M5’s, an M-Coupe, and even a Nissan GT-R. I had to feel for the GT-R driver, however, as it was almost impossible for him to break traction on the skid pad exercise.
– During the initial introduction of the skid pad station, the instructors chose the two largest cars – our e34 5-Series and an e39 5-Series – to fill with students and drive around the pads. Both of the cars are lowered, and it was really interesting to see just how much more push the e39 platform had versus the most tossable e34.
As you can see, yes I did geek out a bit when I was there, but honestly, it’s hard not to when there are a pair of BMW M5’s pulling four wheel drifts within a few feet of each other. I’m glad that we went to the school, no matter how snowy the highway became on the way home. Has anyone else out there had any good – or bad – driving school experiences that they might like to share?