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  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 3

    Posted on March 30th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    I’ve completed the third, and final, day of this course… and now I want to go back to the beginning again! I felt that I’ve really improved my driving, but at the same time really neglected an important aspect of things (more on that later).

    Today we started the day back on the “East Course” with another van ride. This time we talked about taking several different lines through each of the corners… passing, defending, etc. We also started talking about places that are good (high percentage) and bad (low percentage) passing areas. This set the tone for the rest of the day, which was very focused on “the art of passing”.

    For the first on-track session was a lead/follow, but this time I found myself behind the wheel of the FR500S. Unlike the school car I’ve been driving for the past two days (Mustang GT), the FR500S is a purpose-built race car!

    The other cars had roll cages and race seats, but the FR500S is in a whole different league… there is no AC, no AM/FM stereo, no interior, etc… heck, the steering wheel is removable! To start the car you have to turn a master electric cut-off switch, flip switches (ignition, AIM, etc.), and push a button… there is no key. After the first session I even had to ask someone how to turn the darn thing off!

    While getting into/out of the FR500S was a bit tricky, the mechanics setup the car with a race seat that fits my larger hips (Sparco EVO3). The car also had a 6-point harness, which despite having a belt in your crotch, was extremely comfortable. After spending the day in this seat/harness I would not hesitate installing this same setup in my car for track days.

    On-track the FR500S was MUCH quicker than the school Mustang GT. Being ~350lbs lighter it was a little faster down the straights, but it was in the corners that it really shined… I was easily able to carry 10-15mph more speed in most turns. It didn’t take me long to really start to like Turn 7 (Agony & Ecstasy). By trail braking into the center of the corner, I could carry lots of speed on entry without sacrificing corner exit.

    For the second session of the day we were sent-out on track solo. The FR500S had no passenger seat, so all of the instruction was done from outside of the car. Because of this, I’m really glad that I did not elect to use it yesterday… I never would have learned about my breaking issues. Also, with the better cornering abilities of the FR500S, much of the resulting understeer would have been “masked”.

    After lunch I learned that the FR500S that I’d been driving in the morning had developed a mechanical issue (some warning light came on or something). They gave me another one to drive, but not just any car… Roger Miller’s car (as in Miller Motorsports Park). Thankfully I was able to keep it on the track, as it would have been difficult to explain how I wrecked the track owner’s son’s car.

    When we headed back out on track it didn’t take long to realize that all of the reference cones had been removed! After having always looked for cones, it was a little strange not having the references… but as time progressed I felt it made things easier. Without cones to fixate on I found myself “scanning” more. I was less focused on hitting a “perfect” apex than driving a smooth line through the corners. During this session I also discovered I could carry WAY more speed through Clubhouse Corner (Turn 13) than I would have ever believed.

    Most of the past two days have been spent trying to navigate the track on my own. In session #4 the instructors joined us on-track and started challenging us to drive with another car in close proximity. It is much more difficult to focus on driving a smooth line when you have another car filling your mirrors, and too easy to overdrive a corner trying to keep-up with faster cars. During this session we also worked on the idea of setting-up a pass, even if it took several corners to manifest.

    When driving in close proximity I started to learn just how much proper gear selection makes. The second half of the day I was constantly catching cars in the corners, even if I didn’t want to, but due to “being stuck in 4th gear”, just couldn’t pass them on the straights.

    All of the instructors were giving me great complements on how smooth my driving was. This is good, as that was what I was focusing on, but I realized that I need to become more familiar with a manual transmission if I ever want to get faster on-track (in a non-automatic car). This is why I wish I was back at the first day of the school again… I’d really start to practice on getting smooth with shifting (including heel-toe downshifts).

    The last on-track session of the course was focused on close-quarters driving. Most sessions start with the cars spaced evenly around the track, but this time we all went out in a group! For many laps we were running 3-4 cars nose-to-tail around the track. It really is an exhilarating feel driving full-speed through a corner only inches away from another car you’re not even looking at (other than your periphery).

    The car that I was following was taking a dramatically different line than me through several of the corners, so there were many times we crisscrossed on the track. It was really fun to poke my nose under his in a corner, just to let him know I was there. For maybe 8 laps I would close-up in the corners only to be pulled away from on the straight. If it had been a racing situation I’m sure I would have been able to intimidate the other driver into making a mistake… In reality, I should know how to shift properly and just left him in my wake after a lap or two.

    Just before the end of the session I pulled through the pits to get some clean driving room (surprising my Father who was watching from trackside and thought I might have gone off-track someplace). I took these last few laps to really practice driving a perfect line, without any influence from having a car in front of me. After the final checkered-flag flew I headed into the garage to park the FR500S for the final time of the day.

    Looking back over the past three days I really felt satisfied about my progress as a driver. I also felt motivated to come back to a school after I get some more practice with a manual transmission. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure-out a way to get back out to Miller Motorsports Park in the future, as the past three days have been awesome!

    Note: All on-track photos are “stock” and are not of me driving. There was no photographer trackside, but I felt some photos would make things look more exciting.

  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 2

    Posted on March 29th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    Two days down and one to go! After spending another day on track I’m feeling more comfortable and confident, but I am still reminded (quite often) just how much more I have to learn!

    Today started out with a van session on the new track… Yes, the new track! Unlike yesterday where we were on the “East Course”, today we headed over to the “West Course”

    Being on a new track for the second day was really different than any of the other schools I’ve done. Yesterday I was getting fairly good at the “East Course”, but not being able to pick-up from where I left-off was challenging. I was able to learn a fair amount from the van ride, but it took me a while to get this new course down.

    The first on-track session was a lead/follow at a fairly slow pace. Not only were we learning a new track, but the temperature was ~40°F (aka. cold) and there were couple wet spot on the driving line. I’m getting better at picking-up the driving line after a couple laps following someone.

    In the morning we had another chance to get into the skid car for some additional practice. This time the car was setup with very little grip. When driving into a corner the car didn’t want to turn (understeer), but when you started through the corner the rear-end would step-out (oversteer). I was doing quite well at balancing things, but got a bit overconfident. When I started to drive the other direction into an off-camber corner, around I went… at least there were only two cones stuck under the car!

    Today we had only a single lead/follow session, and for the second session I ended-up going solo the entire time. It didn’t take me long to get a good feel for Turns 1 through 4, but I was having a really difficult time with Turn 6. I kept turning-in too early, making the corner into a “V” rather than a smooth arch. After letting one of the faster cars past, I observed their driving line and noticed just how long they stayed against the outside curbing before turning in (midway between “Right Hook” and “Knock Out”). Once I saw that line, I was able to make the adjustment and I started taking the corner much better.

    Unlike the “East Course”, the “West Course” is very flowing. The first few turns link together and really encourage you to carry speed through corners. Once you start your turn-in for Turn 3, you very quickly get back into the throttle and carry it all the way into Turn 5. The speeds felt much faster than yesterday, but I never once thought to look down at the speedometer.

    While it was fun to blast into Turn 5, I often times found myself not slowing down enough, and the more time I spent on track, the worse it became…

    After lunch we again headed out on track, but this time I had my first passenger! Having an instructor riding along really helped me learn, but for this session they were with me at the start of the session. I found that while I was driving slow I was able to maintain a good line, but when I started to pick-up the pace (as the tires warmed-up, etc.) I would start making more and more mistakes. While I learned from the instructor, it would have been nicer to have them ride along later in the session (when I was making the mistakes).

    My real problem area was getting the car turned-in for Turns 5 and 10, both really slow corners, because I was trying to go too fast. Late in the fourth track session of the day I had an instructor in the car with me and he noticed I was not applying enough brakes at the start of the braking zone… and as a result wasn’t getting the car slowed-down enough before turn-in (which is why I was always pushing through the corners). For the remainder of the session we worked on getting the car slowed-down, and I really gained a better understanding of just how slow those two corners are.

    In the last session of the day I took the knowledge I gained throughout the day and tried to put it all together. I did a much better job slowing down into the corners, resulting in driving a much better (and smoother) line. It was very rewarding to see things come together so well, compared to the first sessions on-track it was night and day!

    The final session was also very fun because I spent it chasing-down another car. While for most of the time we weren’t nose-to-tail, I was able to judge our distance to figure-out where I was driving faster/slower.

    During this session I was doing such a great job in Turns 7 through 9 that I was able to get quite close to the other car going into Turn 10, but driving the course in 4th gear… he was running away from me onto the front straight. I was then able to catch back-up into the breaking zone for Turn 5, but would again loose ground coming out of the slow corner (‘sigh… 3rd gear would have been nice).

    At the end of the day, I was very impressed with the progress I made. Towards the end I was consistently running good laps. I’m having a hard time remembering if there were any corners in the last session that I really butchered.

    Tomorrow is the final day of the school, but we will be returning to the “East Course” to apply everything we learned today. I’m really looking forward to getting back onto this track, especially since I get to drive the Mustang FR500S!

  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 1

    Posted on March 28th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    Day 1 of our 3-Day course at Miller Motorsports Park is in the books and boy was it a hoot!

    The day started out like many of the previous schools I’ve done, with morning introductions and some classroom time. All of the other schools were in street clothing, but this time we had full driving suits! It took a bit of time to get everyone into the right sizes, but we quickly headed out to the garages to get into our cars.

    The Mustang GT is the main vehicle used for the course, and other than a few minor modifications (roll cage, race seat, 4-point harnesses) they are mostly stock. The seats in the cars (Sparco Evo2) is a little narrow for my hips, but wasn’t too bad. After a few laps (and cinched down harnesses) I felt well supported.

    After getting into our cars we headed out onto the “East Course” for a lead-follow session. I found it really nice to get out on track so quickly, even if it was at a slow pace. Just being able to take a couple laps really helped get an idea of the course, and it paid-off later in the day.

    The first drill of the morning was a session of heel-toe downshifting. Like my previous courses, these weren’t my best moments. Fortunately I’m starting to get a little better with the manual transmission. After some practice I was even able to string together a few good heel-toe downshifts! For the rest of the day (and the week) I will be spending my time in 4th gear focusing on my driving line. Maybe one day I’ll get the hang of this heel-toe thing, but it’s not going to be now.

    After the downshifting we headed to the skid car for some laps around the paddock. Like last time, it was a total blast. Being able to experience a car with understeer or oversteer in a controlled environment was priceless. I seriously think that all drivers should get behind the wheel of a skid car… even if it’s only once, the experience will help them understand what to do when a car starts to skid.

    There were only 6 students in our course today, which resulted in 2 students per instructor! With almost private instruction, I found it fairly easy to learn the track. It also allowed for lots of open space on track to practice, without having to worry about the car in front of or behind you.

    Our first real session on track was two cars following an instructor. We started slow and really focused on driving the proper line. After a few laps the two trailing (student) cars switched places and we did a few more laps. We continued like this, switching back/forth, for ~20 minutes before heading back into the paddock. By the end of the session I was really starting to understand some of the nuances of the track.

    After lunch there were three more track sessions on the “East Course” configuration.

    One session was another lead-follow. The other student in my group was at a similar pace as me, and it made for a lot of fun. We started out slow, but it didn’t take long for the speeds to start to increase… by the end of the session we were probably running about 60% pace of what I was eventually do today (not bad for the second session).

    The third and fourth sessions for me were solo. The plan was to have an instructor ride along for a period of time, but it seemed that I was doing well enough that they focused on some of the other students a bit more. It was a little awkward not getting a ride along, but it was also nice to know that I was doing things well enough to not raise any black flags.

    I tend to be fairly good at self-critiquing how I’m driving and will often times pick-up on mistakes and try to fix them on the next lap. There were still quite a few places where I made errors, but none of them were too major… and I think I’m getting a good feel for how to prevent them.

    I know I have a difficult time judging closing-speeds when entering a corner, and a few times I fell into the trap of trying to drive too fast into a corner. This resulted in a poor line through the apex and a slow exit… one time I even went through the first corner so hot that I induced oversteer (one potential downside of trail braking) and ended-up “drifting” along the rumble strip at the edge of the track! While it was fun, it was a little embarrassing. I think I just need to take it a little slower to make sure I’m getting a good exit out of the corners.

    Overall I was very happy with the way today turned-out. I was able to pick-up the new track fairly quickly and felt my car control was improving. Tomorrow we head to the “West Course” to learn another new course… I can hardly wait!

    Oh yeah, my Dad had fun too!

  • Miller Motorsports Park

    Posted on March 27th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    This next week is going to be a real treat… not only am I going to be doing a 3-Day driving school at the Miller Motorsports Park (MMP), I’ll be doing it with my Father!

    The school doesn’t start until tomorrow, but we headed out to Utah yesterday afternoon. It was great to get in early and have some time to relax a little. We also took advantage of the extra time to scope-out the MMP facility.

    One of the really unique features of MMP is the Larry H Miller Auto Museum. Businessman and automotive enthusiast, Larry H Miller helped lead the development of Miller Motorsports Park. One of the buildings has been filled with some of the most impressive and historic street and race Fords anywhere.

    Many of the cars are 1 of 2, 1 of 6, 1 of 10, etc… the first race Cobra, the last race Cobra… the list goes on and on. This is the only place in the world that has a Ford GT40 MkI, MkII, MkIII, and MkIV under the same roof!

    The car that really stood for me was the 1964/1965 Cobra “Daytona Coupe” (CSX 2299) that propelled Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney to victory in the ’64 24hrs of LeMans.

    The car would then go on to win the ’65 24hrs of Daytona and 12hr of Sebring. Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney would continue on to drive Daytona Coupes to the FIA World Manufacturer’s Championship. If that’s not impressive enough, the current value is estimated at over $7.25 million!

    After walking through the museum we headed into Tooele, UT to get some lunch at Sostanza Grill. While staying in Tooele last year, Sostanza was a staple… there was no way we were not going to eat there this trip! It didn’t take more than 5 minutes for the owner and several of the other employees to come over to say hello… it was great to see everyone again. With all the good food, I know we will be returning several times this week!

    It will be an early night tonight, as we need to be up early tomorrow for the first day of our driving school. After a couple hours of auto-related programing on TV it’s time to get to sleep!

  • Bondurant vs Spring Mountain

    Posted on February 11th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    I have been asked several times, “which school should I go to… Bondurant or Spring Mountain?” While it is difficult to directly compare the two schools, mostly because I took different courses at each, I will give it a shot.

    First I must say that you can’t go wrong with either school.  Both schools offer incredible instruction on-track and in the classroom and will make you a better driver.  The skills taught at the schools  are very similar, and will provide the proper foundation for the future.


    The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is located in Chandler, Arizona (~18 miles South of Phoenix).  Courses are offered in various Corvettes (Grand Sport , Z06, or ZR1) as well as Camaros.  There are also courses that include driving a Formula Mazda.

    The track at Bondurant is 1.6 miles long and has 15-Turns.  During the 3-Day course the track is broken-down into parts (Maricopa Oval, Lake Loop and Carousel, Full) making it a little less daunting.  Also, with the shorter laps, I was able to work on a section of corners lap-after-lap… making learning the track a bit easier.  The corners are fairly tight/technical with lower overall speeds (the whole track can be taken in 3rd gear).

    One of the really great things about the Corvettes at Bondurant are the racing seats and harnesses.  I’m a large guy, but never felt uncomfortable in the seats.  The harnesses were very effective at keeping me secure while pushing the car through the corners… based on this experience I will likely be adding racing seats/harnesses to my car for track days.

    The instructors at Bondurant were great, and really challenged me to push beyond my initial comfort level.  They were also very accommodating of various driver skill levels (like my ineptitude with a manual transmission).  The instructor-to-student ratio (one instructor for every 3 students) allowed for lots of one-on-one time.  Because we were the only people using the course at the time it seemed like the on-track sessions lasted forever, which was nice when you were working on learning a specific corner.

    The 3-Day Grand Prix Road Racing course at Bondurant was a bit more expensive, but included a couple extras (graduation plaque, T-shirt, sticker, etc.).  They also have a staff photographer who can provide photos of your course on a Bondurant branded USB thumb drive.  One thing not included was lunch, but it also allowed for some time off-site to clear your mind.


    • Racing seats and harnesses
    • 1 Instructor per 3 students
    • Hotel included with multi-day courses (Corvette Forum discount)



    The Ron Fellows Performance Driving School is located at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort, in Pahrump, Nevada (~50 miles outside of Las Vegas).  Courses are offered in various Corvettes (Grand Sport , Z06, or ZR1) or Radical race cars.

    Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch is a true oasis in the desert.  With a luxurious clubhouse, condos, pool/hot tub, fitness center, etc. it is almost everything you could want in a resort… with a race track thrown in!  Catered lunches are included with your course (and breakfast as well if you’re staying in a condo).  While Pahrump is a few minutes up the road, I only wish there was a restaurant on-site for dinners.

    The track at Spring Mountain has multiple configurations, but for the Level 2 course was 2.4 miles long with 12-Turns (the Level 1 course runs the 2.2 mile configuration).  The circuit is quite a bit larger with lots of long flowing corners (the whole track can be taken in 4th gear).  The back straight is long enough for the horsepower difference between the Corvettes to really become evident.

    The best learning aid available to the instructors is the 2-way radio system.  While the instructor is leading/following they are constantly in contact via the radio, providing real-time tips… it’s practically one-on-one instruction.  Especially with the longer laps, it makes learning the track much easier.

    The track time was broken-down into 15-20 minute sessions, which allowed us to recover/debrief often.  With the larger/faster track and no race seats/harnesses I felt myself getting fatigued… so having a little time to regroup between sessions really maximized the time being spent on-track.  The last session of each day was a “cool down” where we focused on driving the perfect line.  While it was a great way to practice driving the racing line, I’d have liked to had another “full speed” session (especially only being in a 2-day course).

    I’d have to say that the instructors at the Ron Fellows school really make the experience incredible.  I worked with several different instructors throughout the course, and found it helped, as each instructor had a slightly different view of things.  All of the instructors are extremely friendly and really go out of their way to make sure you’re learning, but most of all… always having fun.


    • In-car 2-way radio system
    • Lower price (with 10%-off Corvette Forum discount)
    • Level 2 and level 3 courses


    • Stock seats and belts
    • 40 Miles from “civilization”


    Now time for a shameless plug… If this post was beneficial in your decision making process, please let the schools know when you book your course.  While I wrote this, and all of my posts, for my personal satisfaction… the schools have incentives for referrals.  Just think… the more courses I attend, the more posts I can make!


  • Spring Mountain Level 2: Day 2

    Posted on February 10th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    After a good night’s sleep I found myself refreshed and ready for another day on track. Last night I spent quite some time going-over the track in my head, with the hopes that I’d be more familiar with the mechanics of each turn on the course.

    Like yesterday we started with a heel-toe downshifting exercise to warm-up. While I’ve been spending my time on track in an automatic transmission vehicle, I wasn’t going to pass-up the opportunity to get some more practice with a manual transmission. At first I had some difficulty with the mechanics, but it didn’t take too long to start to get a feel for it. I found that taking a moment to properly position my foot on the brake peddle (without applying the brakes) made it much easier to blip the throttle when it came time to heel-toe. While I was able to get several smooth downshifts, I still think that driving an automatic on track will be more beneficial at this stage.

    The first track session of the day was a lead-follow exercise, and I felt I did a fairly good job. When I wasn’t directly behind the instructor I was doing a better job hitting my marks… but when the little voice inside my head said, “catch-up to them”, I found myself making mistakes. Fortunately I was able to collect myself and run at my own pace, focusing on the driving line.

    The second session started as a lead-follow, but after a lap or two a student pulled into the lead and the instructor followed. With an open track in front of you, it is an entirely different experience… you can’t rely on just watching another car to determine what to do.

    I started-out leading surprisingly well, hitting my marks going into the Bus Stop (Turn 8 ) and apexing well through the Loop (Turns 10, 11, and 12). While I was being followed, the instructor also noticed that I was apexing really (really, really, really) early at Turn 2… and that it was keeping me from getting a good exit/drive onto the straight leading towards Turn 3. I also learned that I was getting too close to the “near apex” cone in the Chicane, resulting in a poor entry into Turn 4. Getting instruction over the radio really helped me figure out the proper line!

    After lunch we moved beyond lead-follow and began open lapping, which included the use of a transponder for recording lap times. I started out the first session with an instructor in my passenger’s seat and was really focusing on driving the proper line… hitting my marks in every corner on the first lap. With my confidence building I started to go quicker and quicker…

    Unfortunately my confidence got the better of me when I tried to drive into Turn 4 without using the brakes (no brakes = faster right?), only to find my car didn’t want to turn. Running wide I tried to dive towards the apex and added too much steering input… breaking the rear-end loose. Fortunately I still had stability control turned-on and was able to keep the car on track, but it was definitely humbling.

    Yesterday I got a feel for the importance of balancing the car while approaching the apex of a corner, and today I was really able to start to apply it on track. Using the throttle/brake the driver can adjust how much weight is on the front wheels; changing how easy the car wants to turn. Without changing the angle of the steering wheel you can make the car take a tighter line (less throttle or more brake) or a wider line (less brake or more throttle) towards the apex.

    A great example for this is entering Turn 10… you are fairly wide exiting Turn 9, but want to be all the way to the right for the entry to Turn 11. If I tried to turn the car only using the steering wheel it just wanted to push wide (like what happened at Turn 4). By briefly applying the brakes and shifting weight to the front wheels, the car hooks and turns-in like it’s on rails!

    The best thing about having an instructor ride along was the immediate feedback I received going through Turn 2. I was able to feel the proper line through the corner, and boy did it allow me to get on the throttle sooner… so much so that I was completely unprepared for how much more break pressure was required to slow down going into Turn 3. For then on kept working on keeping in the middle of the track well into the turn, such that the path into the apex and through the exit was as straight as possible.

    For the remainder of the day I was driving solo. During the second session after lunch I was really in the grove, and once I got up to speed I ran my quickest lap of the day (2:18.466) followed by two more laps less than 0.1 seconds-off! In the final “cool down” session (~70% of max, focusing on running the perfect line) I found myself running consistent lap times (~2:21)… when I wasn’t looking in my mirrors getting worried about holding someone up. I honestly think if I had run hard down the back straight that one (or more) of my laps would have been faster than my PB… it showed me just how important being smooth and on the proper line is to being fast.

    While I was 10-15 seconds a lap slower a lap than the other guys on track (the instructors can run sub-2:00 laps staying in 4th gear the whole way), I’m feeling good about how I progressed over the two days (especially considering it’s my first time on this track, and most of the others have been there two or three times).

    Unfortunately this time I’m only taking a 2-Day course, but I really feel that I’ve not only learned about a new track… I’ve also started to get a better feel for how vehicle dynamics and weight balance effects a car. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to come to Spring Mountain to refine my skills, but I’m sure that what I’ve learned over the past two days has made me a better driver.

  • Spring Mountain Level 2: Day 1

    Posted on February 9th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    Today I started my 2-Day Level 2 Course at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort.

    While there are a couple courses going-on at the same time, I really lucked-out… there are only two people (including myself) in the Level 2 course. This has resulted in quite a bit of one-on-one instruction. So far all of the instructors have been very good at working with me on my goals. Much like the previous course, I’ve been surprised just how much I’ve learned in only one day.

    Because Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort is located ~45 minutes from Las Vegas, I decided to stay in one of the on-site Condos.

    Being able to get a good night sleep and not have to deal with the drive in the morning was been great. Being able to look out your bedroom window to see Corvettes driving by on the track is definitely unique!

    The course started-out in the classroom for introductions and some review of the fundamentals. We then headed out in the Corvettes for a heel-toe downshifting exercise. I’ve not been able to practice with a manual transmission vehicle since I took the last school in December, so I was a little nervous. Fortunately I was doing much better shifting through the gears… and didn’t even burn-up the clutch!

    At first I was quite flustered about the heel-toe process, but after some one-on-one instruction I started to understand it. Like last time the whole process was overwhelming, but breaking it down into individual steps… and practicing them one at a time… really make a big difference. Rather than trying to jump-in and do it all at once, I took a few passes where I only practiced blipping the throttle… then added-in the downshift. By the end of the drill I actually did a couple smooth heel-toe downshifts!

    During the heel-toe exercise one of the instructors mentioned that the school has a couple Corvettes with automatic transmissions. This was the best news I’ve head in a while! While I will eventually want to practice driving a manual transmission, not having my mind occupied with the mechanics of shifting allows me to focus on learning vehicle control.

    After another short classroom lesson we headed-out onto the track for an initial lead-follow session. At Spring Mountain the cars are equipped with two-way radios, so there is instant feedback on track… almost like the instructor was sitting in your passenger’s seat. Because there were only two of us in the course, and two instructors, the first couple sessions were very educational.

    For the Level 2 course we were on the 2.4 mile (Bus Stop & Loop) configuration. The course is quite a bit larger than the one I drove previously, and while you can just leave the car in 4th gear the whole time, there is quite a bit more shifting involved. While I started-out only shifting into 4th on the back straight, it didn’t take long for me to need 4th gear in several sections. Also, having an automatic transmission, I wasn’t afraid to up/down shift to get more performance out of the car (not that a Corvette Grand Sport is a slouch).

    We spent the entire day driving on the track, mostly in 10-15 lap sessions. Breaking the day into several shorter segments allowed for plenty of time to debrief and ask questions. So far my focus has been on learning the track… which has been humbling. Even just trying to recall what corner I was in has been a challenge… let alone remembering all the breaking/turn-in/exit points while speeding around the circuit. This is where having a the radio has been really helpful… if I’m doing something wrong in a corner there is nearly instant feedback; that way I’m able to make adjustments for the next lap.

    All of the sessions today were lead-follows, and I feel that I’m getting a good hang of things when there is someone showing me where to go. Unfortunately there were a couple times when I wasn’t the first car in line behind the instructor… and I found myself having a difficult time consistently hitting my marks…

    My biggest issue so far has been judging when I should start applying the brakes. Unlike the previous track I was on, there are no break markers/cones at Spring Mountain… and I have a tendency to miss-judge my closing speeds. When this happens I enter the corner too quickly, sending me wide at the apex… killing my corner exit. While I’m getting better, there are still times when I’ll completely blow a corner.

    Overall I’ve been very happy with my progress so far. While it would be nice to be gaining more experience in a manual transmission vehicle, I think I’m getting much more out of the course because of the automatic. I’m starting to get a better feel for the racing line, and will continue to work on consistently hitting my marks… I can hardly wait for tomorrow!

  • Continued Education

    Posted on January 28th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    My experience at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving was truly life changing… and I can’t stop looking for ways I can get back on the track!

    My goal has always been to get the G8 out on track, but I spend so much time on the road that just seems impossible. To do things right I’d have to swap brake pads, order my track wheels/tires, install a race seat/harness, etc… then there’s the maintenance (flush brake fluid, oil change, tech inspection). After the track day I’d have more maintenance, etc… it just takes more time than I have.

    In addition to the learning, one of the great things about a driving school is that you don’t have to worry about getting the car ready… you just show-up and drive!

    Bondurant was an incredible school and I learned a ton about vehicle control, extending your vision, and being smooth. I’m sure I would learn a bunch more if I returned, but I think trying another school (more specifically at a different track) would be more beneficial.

    I looked into the California schools (Skip Barber at Laguna Seca and Jim Russell at Infineon Raceway), but they seem to be mostly focused on Formula cars… not something I’m interested in.

    One of the schools that I hadn’t looked into originally was the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort outside of Las Vegas.

    Ron Fellows was a very successful factory Corvette driver (I’ve photographed him many times)… GM even produced a special edition Corvette to commemorate his career. Naturally, the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School uses Corvettes.

    One of the great things about the Ron Fellows school is that they have multiple levels of courses. This allows me to pick-up from where I left-off after Bondurant.

    My schedule is quite crazy due to work, but luck has it there is a Level 2 course (concurrent with a Level 3 course) coming-up in a few weeks. I decided that I need to make a trip towards the West Coast… and what better way than to stop at a driving school along the way!

    The Level 2 Course is a 2-Day program includes ~250 miles of driving on their 2.2 mile and 2.4 mile courses. The majority of the time is spent on track working on car control (throttle steer, brake induced over steer and under steer, etc.)… but there will also be drills on their wet skid pad! The Corvettes are also equipped with a 2-way communication system for increased on track instruction.

    While I’m really looking forward to attending this course, I know that a couple days on track isn’t going to be enough!

    Last year I spent six months living/working in the little town of Tooele, UT. The whole time I was dreaming about getting on track at the Miller Motorsports Park, which is located just north of the town.

    Miller Motorsports Park (MMP) is one of the premier racing facilities in the world. My favorite feature is the variety of course configurations that are available. There are completely different West (13-turn 2.2 mile) and East (12-turn 2.2 mile) courses, which can be combined to produce the Outer (14-turn 3.0 mile) and Full (23-turn 4.5 mile) courses. With all this variety, it will take many trips just to learn the nuances of the track!

    The 3-Day course a MMP includes days on both the East and West courses… allowing me to increase my experience on reading a track and determining the proper racing line. The course also has an incredible option… you can upgrade to drive the Ford Mustang FR500S, an all-out race car!

    The standard vehicle for the course is a modified ’05 Ford Mustang GT (left) that includes a roll cage, racing seat/harness, and performance brakes/pads. The FR500S (right) undergoes ~350lbs of weight reduction, has a built-in data acquisition system and a complete aero package, and uses a DOT approved race tire! Both cars have similar engines/power, but the race-prep can shave seconds off of lap times. Upgrading to the FR500S is a no-brainer for me, when is the nest time I’ll be able to drive a race car? I can hardly wait!

    One of the best things about the 3-Day course at MMP is that it has elements that appeal to someone who has done previous courses (like me), but is still designed for someone who has never done a driving school before. When I took my course at Bondurant, after each of the drills I found myself thinking how much my Father would have enjoyed it… and the MMP course would be perfect for both of us! Now I just need to convince him to get behind the wheel!

  • Bondurant: Day 3

    Posted on December 21st, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    Today was the final day of the 3-Day Grand Prix Road Racing course at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Looking back over the past few days, I’m shocked at just how much I’ve learned.

    This morning we didn’t waste any time before getting back out on track, and jumped right back in where we stopped yesterday… driving the Lake Loop and Carousel track configuration.

    Last night I spent a fair bit of time thinking about what I was doing well, and what I was doing poorly. As I summed-up in my post from last night; Smooth is fast. I took extra time to slow down and focus on driving smoothly into and out of the corners… wow, what a difference!

    By smoothly braking into the corner, rather than stomping at the brakes at the last possible second, I was better able to turn into the apex and get back into the throttle. Rather than jumping off the brakes at the turn-in points, I increased the amount of trail-braking I was doing… and that really helped with the weight transfer (keeping it on the front wheels) making the car much easier to turn. I was also able to focus on the racing line and use as much of the track as possible (rumble strips are your friends). I quickly found the proper line entering Turn 9, and that allowed me to better enter Turn 10… putting the car another foot to the right made things so much smoother (and faster)!

    I also focused on looking where I wanted to put the car next, which is a little strange when you’re going around a corner, but it really helped me with the late-apex corners (like the Carousel).

    All of these factors made me so much faster that I started bouncing-off the rev-limiter in 3rd gear going down the front straight (~105mph)… as a result I needed to start shifting into 4th, then back down into 3rd before Turn 1. I was fairly good at the up-shift, but my inexperience with a manual transmission (and the lack of heel-toe downshifting) really showed… I found myself shifting too soon or not letting off the clutch smooth enough, often times locking-up the rear tires.

    Compared to yesterday, I wasn’t “fighting” with the car as much to put it where I wanted to on track. With things going so smooth, the laps started ticking-off and any sense of time completely disappeared. At one point I started to feel myself getting tired/distracted, so rather than continue to make little mistakes, decided to pull into the pits for a breather. When I did, my instructor told me they were going to be throwing the checkered flag in a minute and it was time to head to the classroom… two hours had past!

    In the classroom we discussed many of the details required for racing… things like flags, rolling starts, following the pace car, single-file restarts, etc. After talking about it, we again jumped in our Corvettes and headed to the track to practice.

    I decided to stay at the rear of the pack for the starts, just so if I missed a shift no one would be running into the back of me by mistake. An added element of the rolling start was that it was the first time we were allowed to go side-by-side and actually race one-another! While it was only for the length of the front straight, it was quite exhilarating being so close to other cars all racing for a place on track.

    Once the starts were out of the way, we continued to lap the track working on our skills. It was at this point that I had the most incredible driving experience of my life… two Corvettes running nose to tail, lap after lap… it was incredible!

    It didn’t matter that there was a car right in front of me, I kept looking far ahead for my breaking points, apexes, and exit points. Being so close, ~1 car length, I found myself thinking less about the mechanics of what I was doing… and just driving. Even my downshifting improved! After ~10 laps he waved me past, and it was my turn to be the rabbit. It continued for another couple laps before we parted ways, but after the session I had to thank him for such an intense “race”.

    After lunch there was a brief classroom session to introduce us to the full (1.6 mile, 15 Turn) Bondurant Race Course.

    In this configuration, rather than turning left into Turn 2A… you crest a little rise and drive into the Maricopa Oval. While we have driven this section before, we now included “The Bean”… continuing to turn left out of Turn 4, rather than just going straight. This lead us towards a crest at Turn 6 and then rocketing into Turns 7, 8, and 9.

    These new sections were challenging, but again… when you got it right it just felt so easy. One of the areas this was most apparent was the run down the back straight. If done correctly, once you crest the hill at Turn 6 you don’t need to lift off the throttle until you enter the braking zone at Turn 9. With the changes in elevation, you really get to feel how the weight of the car is transferred… and what it does to the handling of the vehicle.

    As the afternoon went on I started to learn the areas of the course where I could really put the peddle to the metal… without negatively effecting the handling of the car. I felt myself getting quicker and quicker… having to break harder into the corners, but without the “recklessness” I had when I started the course. Where I once was abruptly tossing the car into the corner, I was now smoothly guiding the car through it. I was consistently challenging myself, fixing one issue then moving to another… asking, “is this the best you can do?”

    Far too quickly the checkered flag flew on the final session of the day, and with that my course came to an end…

    After getting out of the Corvette for the last time, those of us who were not returning for the 4th day of the Grand Prix Racing Course (which is focused on Formula series cars) received our report cards and graduation certificates.

    Overall this has been an incredible experience. Hopefully I can apply the knowledge that I’ve learned towards some Auto-X and Track Days in the G8. Having completed the course I have a new understanding of how to drive, but I know there is so much more I can learn. Now I just need to figure out how I can come back to take another course!

  • Bondurant: Day 2

    Posted on December 20th, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    My second day at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving flew-by so fast, I could hardly believe it was over!

    The morning started-out with a quick classroom session, then proceeded onto the skid pad in the skid cars.

    I’ve been on a skid pad before, but never in a vehicle that could have the front/rear wheels lifted off the ground. Using the hydraulic jacks on the outriggers, the instructor was able to induce either oversteer or understeer mid-corner (without the need for additional throttle input).

    I’ve had a difficult time in the past (especially in snow/ice) trying to deal with understeer… most of the time I just crank the wheel and slide straight… today was no exception. It took me quite a while to learn that I needed to apply the brakes (transfering weight to the front wheels) and reduce the steering input. I eventually figured it out, but I think I’ll need to get some more practice with this before I feel really comfortable.

    Despite owning a rear wheel drive vehicle with gobs of torque… thankfully, I’ve not really had many chances to recover from excessive oversteer. It was really great to feel how the skid car starts to slip away, and to practice what is needed to smoothly recover. I was truly surprised just how important it is to look where you want to drive the car (and not at the telephone pole you’re sliding towards)… keeping your eyes focused on the exit point for the corner makes correcting much easier.

    After the skid car we hopped into our Corvettes and returned to the Maricopa Oval. Today one of the other students snagged the car I was driving yesterday (he can have my burnt-up clutch), but it wasn’t a big deal… I just selected another Corvette from the line.

    While the other students were adding heel-toe down shifting to their corner entry, I focused on my driving line. Having a night to think about all of the lessons from the previous day really helped, and I started out driving much better than I did yesterday.

    At this point I was really pushing the Corvette as hard as I could. After a while I stopped to re-adjust my seat, only to find smoke pouring off the front brakes (I actually went back out to do a few cool-down laps).

    Unfortunately, I was often driving the car too hard into the corner (getting on the brakes late)… and as a result would carry too much entry speed towards the apex. While I might have been going faster into the corner, the inability to properly turn the car before the apex kept me from rolling into the throttle… and hurt my speed out of the corner (and onto the straight). I also found that I “dive” for the apex, rather than smoothly turning towards it; forcing me to take a poor line… again delaying me from getting back into the throttle out of the corner.

    The last activity before lunch was a threshold braking exercise. It consisted of driving at 65mph towards a set of cones… and decelerating (without the use of ABS) before a line on the ground. After each run they would move the cone closer and closer to the line, until the point where it was difficult to get the car stopped in time (without going into ABS). We also did a run from 65mph going full into ABS, while turning… but even with my brain telling my foot to do it, I had a difficult time just slamming on the brakes (full ABS) and keeping the peddle to the floor.

    After lunch all of our time was spent on the track running the Lake Loop and Carousel.

    We strapped-on helmets and jumped into the Corvettes for a session of follow the leader. While the basic concepts of hitting your brake point, turn-in point, apex, exit point were all the same… trying to tie multiple corners together was quite a bit more challenging. It didn’t take long for the instructors to pull-off, leaving us to explore the track for ourselves.

    I found Turn 2A is much like the constant radius corner of the Maricopa Oval, so felt fairly confident in that section. Turns 7 and 8 is a nearly straight shot from one apex to the other, but requires you to use both sets of rumble strips (which is great fun). Turns 1 and 2 are fairly “basic”, but requires you to slow-down properly from the ~100mph run down the front straight. Turns 11 and 12 are a bit more complicated, and requires a fair bit of trail-braking (to keep weight transferred to the front wheels, aiding steering), but I felt I was negotiating this section well.

    I found myself having the greatest difficulty driving through Turn 9 and into Turn 10. The first part of the session I wasn’t braking enough into Turn 9, and as a result I was not able to get the car properly turned before heading into Turn 10. After a quick ride-along with my instructor (who can really make the Corvette move!) I got a much better feel for the amount of braking required. Turn 13 was similar, I wasn’t braking at the right point to transfer weight to the front wheels… and as a result was pushing (understeer) away from the apex, keeping me from getting into much throttle prior to the braking zone for Turn 14.

    I guess my take-home from today is that driving into the corner faster or breaking later, doesn’t necessarily translate into a faster lap. I was also pushing my equipment harder than needed (the whole smoking brakes thing). Simply braking longer (at a lower pressure) to a slower speed, allows for a better turn-in… and a line that allows you to return to the throttle quicker on exit. I also need to remind myself that “Smooth is fast”… and that aggressive/abrupt braking and turning (while it might feel fast) is only scrubbing speed and increasing the wear on my equipment.

    After about an hour on track (it honestly didn’t feel nearly that long) we pulled into the pits and headed into the classroom to wrap-up the day. At the beginning of the course everyone in the class was fairly quiet and kept to themselves. After today’s track session everyone was suddenly very talkative… comparing driving lines, discussing problem sections, sharing experiences… it was incredible!

    Tomorrow is my final day of the Grand Prix Road Racing course (others will be continuing to a 4th day in the Formula cars). After a short spin in the skid car (*rimshot*), the rest of the day will be spent on the track putting everything I’ve learned together.