On Monday, a few co-workers and I got a chance to feel what it might be like to be a race car driver at Proformance Racing School
For $475, you get to show up with your own vehicle, receive some classroom instruction, and have instructors show you how to get
the most out of your vehicle in extreme driving conditions, simulating events such as avoiding a child or animal, how to regain
control of your vehicle after entering a curve too fast, keeping your awareness up while engaged in tactical maneuvers, and
experiencing full ABS lockup up while maneuvering away from a hazard.
These skills are innate in most drivers, but few people actually go out and test the limits of their vehicles, and without
practice, there is little opportunity to improve those innate skills.
I expected to come in and learn a few things not to mention have fun. And it was
a lot of fun. It seems like such a
waste to buy a sporty car if you never intend on driving it faster than the speed limit. And if you plan on driving
significantly faster than the speed limit on public roads, do us all a favor and stop. It's stupid, unsafe, and you're a
menace to society when you do it.
So those were some of the reasons I was excited to take my car out and drive it around. The emphasis is driving safely,
improving your driving skills, and having fun. It started off a bit slow. We sat in the classroom, and received training about seat position, mirror position, and about keeping your hands at "9 and 3", among a bevy of other tips like "high eyes", and "steer away from the trouble". And to document my fun day at the track, Christine tagged along just to take some pictures.
The driving school doesn't mind. They encourage significant others or friends who don't want to drive to come out and spectate.
So Christine spent the morning with us in the class sessions (more on this in a bit), and took pictures while we did the exercises on the track. For the afternoon, she called it a day and went home.
Meanwhile, that afternoon I took my A3 out onto the track (along with Ted with his Corvette, Scott with his A4 3.2, and Joanne with her Porsche Boxster) to do some lapping. The goal is to improve your racing line and racing skills, not to time you around the track, so I don't know how fast I ever got going. I can tell you that when you're driving really fast, you don't have a heck of a lot of time to notice details like the speedometer. At that speed, you drive with your senses, with your sense of feel on the wheel and the seat, your sense of sight on the road (not the speedo), and your sense of hearing telling you what gear you need to be in next. So that said, I don't know how fast I got going, but I'm pretty sure that on one of the straightaways I was north of 135mph. I was surprised that I was driving a car that fast, in control, with confidence.
Ted, Scott and I also went in 3 ways to rent a Lotus Elise for one of our sessions. That was quite an experience as well. First of all, getting into one is a challenge. They are low to the ground, and quite cozy once you're inside. Second of all, they don't have as much power as you might think. True, they do 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, but it's just a measly 186 horsepower produced by a 4 cylinder engine. The difference is it weighs a thousand pounds, and even though my A3 has 10% more horsepower, the Lotus weighs about 300% less.
The Lotus, unlike my A3 with a relatively higher center of gravity, goes where you point it with little complaint. So it's a bit easier to drive a road course in. It also has a high-revving engine. It redlines north of 8,000rpm, which means you can drive the
course we were on exclusively in 3rd and 4th gear. A real kick in the pants is getting above 6000rpm. That's when the Toyota/Yahama engine kicks in its Variable Valve Timing, and it's like a turbo coming on at that high an RPM level. Whoo! It's like the
car was just taking it easy until you decide to drive it a little harder. Vrooom!
So all that tells you how much fun I had for $475. Nearly non-stop from 8am to 5pm, I was having a blast. Most exhilirating $50/hr I probably have ever spent.
But that's not the best part of the story. Yesterday, I got a call from Christine who started the conversation off as "I want to first say I'm OK, but I just avoided a car accident." She proceeds to tell me that a utility truck swerved into her lane from an onnramp, causing her to make an emergency lane change maneuver. The best part of it is that when she got in her car that morning, her hands gravitated to the bottom of the wheel when she heard the voice of our instructor in her head: "Hands on 9 and 3".
Fifteen minutes later, she was ready to make a quick and precise lane change and "steer away from the incident". When I asked "so do you think having your hands at 9 and 3 helped you avoid the collision", her answer was "definitely"! So if the $475 seemed a little steep at the get go, if it can help someone avoid an accident a few days later, that's money well spent in my opinion.
I mean what's the cost of the inconvenience of having a dented or totalled car, not to mention what kind of injuries and treatments (or worese) one might have to endure if involved in a multi-car pileup on the freeway?
The great news is, now that I've taken the course, I can pay $175 and head out to the track for a half-day of lapping practice. Every so often (when there are no cars around on the freeway) I get tempted to open up the throttle to get a taste of what my car is capable of. Now, I have a safer, more legal option, and one I'm certain I'll be taking advantage of. And who knows, this time I suspect I might get Christine to even get behind the wheel. :)