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climrgrl
05-16-2005, 08:23 PM
This weekend my boyfriend and I took a Skip Barber 2-day driving school at Laguna Seca (near Monterey, CA). It was the best birthday present ever! More fun than Disneyland! The exercises were all about car control -- how to handle oversteer, understeer, threshold braking without ABS, and some lap time on a small autocross. I expected my boyfriend to pick up things very easily, since he's been pushing cars ever since getting in the driver's seat, and since he's participated in several track-day events. It turned out that he was very challenged too, and really had to push himself with each exercise. So I'd recommend it for drivers of all abilities & experience (except those who actually race on a regular basis). Ages in the class varied from 16 to 70-something. All except one exercise took place in cars with manual transmissions, but there was not intensive shifting in the class. Even the mini autocross took place in 2nd gear the whole time.

There were 18 people in the class and 5 instructors. We were separated into 3 groups of 6, each group at a different exercise then switching. We got a lot of first-hand experience with the instructors, and there was never a lot of downtime, waiting for others to finish. All vehicles were Dodges, since that's who sponsors the school.

The first thing we did was the skid trucks! They wet down a skid pad and send 3 of us + one instructor out in a Dodge V8 pickup with nothing in the back and bald rear tires. They demonstrated understeer briefly, then a bunch of skid-sliding back-end-out oversteer! Then it was our turn to accelerate toward the corner and steer, as the instructor pulled the e-brake and sent us into a slide. Everyone spun out a few times, but then you get the hang of it and can actually control the car and recover it. Dizzying, but fun!

Second was threshold braking in Dodge Neons with the ABS disabled. The idea was to brake in a as short a distance as possible without locking up the tires. Also a rather heart-pumping exercise, the braking cones come up very fast and the braking zone is very short! You're only doing about 40 when you start to brake, but it feels like light speed.

In the afternoon, we did more threshold braking, this time with a corner thrown in. You actually have to lighten up on the brakes in order to steer the car. It's hard to let off of the brakes when you really want to be slowing down.

We got back in the skid trucks and this time worked the brakes on our own. It is much more difficult to balance steering, throttle, and braking to get a coordinated, yet skidding turn. I never achieved a true power slide, though I spun out a few more times trying!

Then we learned how to heel-toe downshift in the Neons. I thought this would be the hardest for me, but I got the hang of it in a surprisingly short amount of time. I can now heel-toe downshift smoother than I can upshift, but I do have to consciously set myself up for it. I spent the rest of the lap time having fun cornering. :thumbup:

The next day we got to go on the mini autocross! The first round also took place in the Dodge Neons. We got some experience following a line, applying brakes and power at the right times, and screeching around corners! Definitely the fun part!

There was also a very short course set up to test your "smoothness." A salad bowl was mounted the hood of the car, and you had to keep a tennis ball inside of it while driving around the course. I did OK at this, but really wanted to be on the autocross instead!

A lane toss was the third exercise of the morning. There were 3 lanes set up with about a 10-foot break in the middle. You had to go 35 mph, then toss the Neon from either the far right or left lane, across the middle lane, to the opposite lane. You did this all in that 10-foot space, without knocking over any cones. It was very difficult to not brake during this exercise. If you brake, you loss steering authority and can't make it without knocking cones over.

The best part was the last exercise -- the mini autocross in a Dodge Viper. Holy Crappola, can that thing go! That was WAY, WAY fun. I don't think I stopped grinning the entire time I was in that thing. :D There was a little competition at the end, to see which of the 3 groups had the fastest lap times. All in all, each person probably got about 15 laps in the Viper. The instructors also took each of us on a couple of "fun" laps, where they were power-sliding through every corner.

Anyway, sorry for such a long post, but it was really fun and I learned a huge amount. Again, I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in driving, and absolutely anyone driving a performance-oriented car (aka any BMW). I'm sure there are schools like this all over the place, including the BMW-run one in South Carolina.

adc
05-17-2005, 01:10 PM
At least on the East Coast, various BMW CCA chapters offer 1 day Highway Safety Schools similar to what you describe. These are usually held on a Saturday - then Sunday they have Driving Schools on track, in which you get to apply some of your newly acquired skills from Saturday. :)

Before going to a Skip Barber school - which is great I am convinced - some of the forum readers might want to check what the local BMWCCA chapters offer. These are bound to be much cheaper (around $325) than Barber - and the best part is you get to do it in your own car.

climrgrl, I did not mean to rain on your parade or highjack your thread - just to provide some additional info in the same vein, that others may find useful.

adc
03 330 ZHP

climrgrl
05-17-2005, 02:22 PM
climrgrl, I did not mean to rain on your parade or highjack your thread - just to provide some additional info in the same vein, that others may find useful.

adc
03 330 ZHP

Oh no, no rain or hijacking at all! I'm also interested in what is available through the BMW CCAs, just hadn't gotten around to checking it out yet. Thanks for the info, I'll be sure to look up my local chapter.

I'm actually glad that I was driving cars that were not mine at the school -- I would have been much more nervous and less likely to really push it in my own car. My X3 is brand new (so I'm still a bit overprotective) and still in its break-in period (so I don't want to rev it real high yet). There weren't any obstacles you could hit and rolling was not an issue, yet I would have been nervous about those things anyway if it was my car. It doesn't make logical sense, but since I had never done anything like those exercises in a car before, I definitely would have been more conservative in my own X3!

That said, I am now much more interested in repeating some of the exercises in my own vehicle and readier to take it on a small track. Though I need to practice being a consistently smooth shifter before I do that. :drive:

philippek
05-17-2005, 04:05 PM
Great write-up climrgrl, sounds like a lot of fun!

adc
05-17-2005, 09:19 PM
I'm actually glad that I was driving cars that were not mine at the school -- I would have been much more nervous and less likely to really push it in my own car.

That said, I am now much more interested in repeating some of the exercises in my own vehicle and readier to take it on a small track. Though I need to practice being a consistently smooth shifter before I do that. :drive:

Well the allure of doing it in your own car is that you get to know it's limits much better, so you'll be better prepared. But yes, there is always a risk of spinning, rolling or simply scratching your car - small, but there nonetheless.

I am also not sure what the CCA policy is regarding SAVs. I would surely love to take my wife's upcoming X3 to the track, for fun.

Great write-up.

adc
03 330 ZHP