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  • 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.