A car control experience

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After I purchased my car last year (Infiniti G37 sedan), I drove spiritedly around town and in winding roads, but I was always a bit nervous to try push it harder. I hadn't driven any RWD cars long term before, let alone a relatively high-powered one. Every car I've driven in the past was a low horsepower to weight FWD or AWD car. So I wanted to find a way to feel more comfortable with my car, as well as improve my own driving skills, but not get arrested. Enter the driving education event.

Run by the local BMW CCA club, this was an event held at Pacific Raceways' giant parking lot that they call the car control clinic. There weren't any light poles, barriers, cars, people, or anything else to hit, so no risk of any potentially expensive car damage.

The cars in my group consisted of a few BMW 3-series sedans and a Z3 roadster, a Mark III Toyota Supra, and my G37. Instructors' cars included a variety of older and newer M3s. Yummy.

Introductions around, and were asked what our prior driving experiences were. When it was my turn, I just said I had played lots of racing video games, which got a good laugh out of everyone.

Then we went through the basics of seating positions (sit as upright as possible, and close enough that knees are bent and arms relaxed), mirror adjustments (cannot see the car itself), and hand positions (12 and 3 o'clock). They emphasized that we had to keep pushing beyond what felt comfortable, and recommended we actually be aggressive and go overboard just to know what the limits are. Sounds good to me!

A series of cones placed in a straight line, about 50 feet apart. Weave in and out between the cones at 30mph. A flagger standing at the end of the line about 300 feet away flags when they want you to skip a gate before continuing. This was to teach keeping your vision up farther away instead of looking what's immediately down in front of the car. I missed it the first time, as did everyone else. And I thought I already looked far ahead, boy was I wrong.

[b]Emergency braking[/b]
Simple - get up to 50mph through the gate, and destroy the brakes. Feel the ABS kick in to be familiar with it. After a few times, they then made a sharp turn out of the cones right after the gate, and we had to not hit any of them. The idea being if you were going too fast, you would encounter understeer under hard braking as you turned the steering wheel, thus the car would plow straight through the cones. The scenario was that this was a turn going around a drop off cliff. Too bad I went off the cliff... multiple times :D Finally I figured it out on the last run by not turning the wheel as much and slightly releasing the brake, and escaped cliff doom. I hit the horn a few times I was so happy!

[b]Collision avoidance[/b]
The scenario is that there was a little kid going to go pick up their ball in the middle of the street, which is where they placed a cone to avoid. They said to get to 40mph through the gate. I was avoiding the cone without any trouble, so I got aggressive, almost to 50mph. They noticed so they put the cone farther and farther to the side. On my last run, they put the cone about two lanes distance because they wanted to really push me. I think they were messing with me... Well kid is still alive and well with his ball :)

Oh what good fun this was! A big water truck flooded a large circle, and a cone placed in the center. The idea was to drive in circles around the cone and feel when the car starts to oversteer or understeer, and then react accordingly. The first several times, I spun out and stalled the car for not knowing how to react to RWD slides. And I became so dizzy from running circles around and around... Eventually I caught on, and almost figured out how to continuously drift around. I just wished I had a few more minutes to practice.

[b]Track parade laps[/b]
Driving laps following the instructor cars on the main racetrack. Here we were going a slow speed throughout just learning the lines, corner entries, braking zones. It was only five laps, but man alive I wanted to run this at a faster pace! I can't wait to get back here.

So the next best thing to run a makeshift course using cones they set up that utilized everything we learned throughout the day. After the instructor drove my car a few laps with me as the passenger to demonstrate, it was my turn. Lap after lap, faster and faster. Then I turned off traction control and kept pushing it, until I finally went overboard. I went into one of the turns too fast, sliding sideways, and sent a dozen cones flying off a good 50 yards. How embarrassing.

[b]Riding shotgun[/b]
We were all invited to ride along with the instructors to finish off the day as they drove the main racetrack at speed, along with other HPDE drivers. Watching their lines, their hand positions, where they enter a turn, as they were talking through them, all very informative. What a thrill.

Basically going back over what we did or didn't do throughout the day. Also reiterating what was stated at the beginning, including really pushing personal limits throughout each activity, specifically mentioning my efforts. Pretty happy about that :D

Several hours later on a cold October day in pouring rain, class over. I was so exhausted mentally, but I learned so much, broke a couple bad habits, and my response times were much quicker.

Instructors sit in your car with you for at least the first few times for each activity, giving helpful tips and feedback on your own driving, or pointing out something about someone else's run.

It was definitely worth it, especially for the price at less than $100. Even if you never plan to track your car, I highly recommend taking a similar class in your area, usually it's called a car control clinic or driver's education. MotorsportReg.com would be a good place to start looking. All of the techniques taught throughout are applicable in real-world driving.

Next up will be my impressions on my first HPDE run. Thanks for reading!