The Corvette is a fast car, right? A beautifully balanced road machine, it makes drivers look better by having excellent braking, steering, and performance capabilities that assist the driver. Whether you drive a classic big-block or a current model, Corvettes are the upper crust of high-performance road-going machinery.
But along with the fun comes the need for skill-the ability to feel the dynamics of the car and adjust your controls to maximize performance. While most Corvette owners understand how to drive better than many drivers on the road, few are formally trained. And, while it may not seem like a big deal, owning such an excellent car and not knowing how to use it would be like buying a high-tech computer and not knowing all the things it can do for you. While you may get by, you are certainly not getting your money's worth.
The following is a look at three of the top driving schools in the country, selected by their use of Corvettes as the test vehicle of choice. There are other schools that can improve your driving skills (including such standouts as Skip Barber, Buck Baker, Richard Petty, Frank Hawley, and others), but to list them all would be counterproductive to the point. The fact is, you need to go to school. There is a bright side to this formal education: The final exam takes only a few seconds.
With over 90,000 graduates since 1968, The Bondurant School has taught total car control to drivers of all levels. The Bondurant School is the largest purpose-built facility in North America, featuring a 1.6-mile road course and an 8-acre paddock.
"I designed the school to teach total car control," says Bob Bondurant, legendary racer and school founder, "to allow every driver to achieve the next level. Our world-renowned curriculum includes not only racing, but high-performance driving, defensive driving, personal protection, plus shifter karts and Pro Karts. Our purpose-built facility features over 200 race-prepared vehicles that are meticulously maintained by our highly skilled mechanics."
Z06 Experience One-Day & Two-Day
Since Bondurant announced the school's new affiliation with General Motors and the Chevrolet brand, the question has been the same: "When can we drive the new Corvette?" The Z06 is a complete performance package: a unique 405hp LS6 V-8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission and specifically tuned chassis with lightweight titanium exhaust components.
The Z06 Experience School events include skid control, line techniques (reading the road), and accident avoidance. The course quickly advances to emphasize performance braking and handling techniques, including trail braking and throttle steer. The Z06 curriculum in this special program is geared to help increase confidence, knowledge, and awareness of the vehicle's ability.
Bondurant Grand Prix Road Racing Four-Day School
"Many different types of students enroll in our four-day Grand Prix Road Racing Class: Beginning drivers to seasoned racers, they all agree the course proved to be one of the most valuable experiences of their lifetime," says Bob Bondurant. "The class is demanding, the challenges real, and the concentration it takes to complete this class will be both draining and thrilling to every student.
"Although beginners can enroll, you must be proficient with a manual transmission (stick shift). Over 80 percent of the course is spent on the Bondurant skills pad and the 1.6-mile track, while the remaining 20 percent is spent in the classroom. Since our student-to-instructor ratio is 3:1, you are guaranteed a personalized instruction experience second to none. All designed for maximum car control, exercises include heel-and-toe downshifting, skid control, braking techniques (ABS and non-ABS exercises), accident avoidance, and weight transfer.
"All of this information will be put in practice on the track where an instructor will lead you, showing cornering techniques, early and late apex points (the racing line), and the quick way around the track. They will ride with you and personally coach you through each turn. On your own, you will have the opportunity to go as fast as your new abilities will take you. There is no speed limit!
"Day three will put your racing knowledge to the test. Mock starts, real use of SCCA rules, racing etiquette, and racing flags are put into play. You will experience the adrenaline rush of being out on a track at speed while discovering a newfound respect for everyone who has ever competed in the motorsports arena. The last day will hone your skills further. Proficient with the track and car control, you now start all over by jumping into a single-seat, open-wheel Formula Bondurant car. The fourth day is all track time. Getting the Formula Bondurant cars quickly up to speed, you will experience the thrill of driving these responsive lightweight machines. Your experience will be noted in a logbook and, with your instructor's endorsement, you will be able to go right on to an SCCA Regional race license; the experience is that complete."
"The beauty of our school is that we are an exclusive Corvette-only driving school," says Rupert Bragg-Smith, owner of the Bragg-Smith Advanced Driving School. "And the Corvettes we use are completely stock with the exception of the addition of a two-way radio we install. The experience drivers receive at our facility is identical to the driving experience they will have when they return home to drive their own cars.
"I built the racing Spring Mountain Motorsports Park specifically for Corvettes, with an 80-foot elevation change and a 2.2-mile overall circuit. We have sponsorship from Goodyear on tires and TBR for the original-brand brake pads to make the cars perform to factory specifications. Our only adjustment is to tire pressure to modify the handling of the cars. We have close ties to our Corvette owners, and we host two or three Corvette exclusive days at the track where owners can come out and drive their cars. We follow it up with a party where we bring out a band and have fun with the owners. I have a passion for these cars and just how good they are."
One-Day & Two-Day Z06 Corvette Program
"Because we believe that 'practice makes perfect,' both our Level One (one-day) and Level Two (two-day) programs are limited to eight students, with a minimum amount of classroom briefing. There is no quick route to perfecting the fundamentals of driving; it is a matter of learning the necessary skills, then spending quality time in the car on the track. In most schools, students are critiqued in the classroom after the lapping session is over. Not at Bragg-Smith. We're proud to say that at our school, the car is the classroom. Every vehicle is equipped with a two-way radio: a method of instruction found nowhere else. What does this mean to you? Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a Corvette, receiving instant feedback on every corner and every straight of each and every lap on the road course. In fact, you'll do so many laps that you will put over 300 miles on our cars during a three-day Level One program."
"For those drivers who have an SCCA competition license, the Gilbert Racing School is the next level," says Henry Gilbert, president of Gilbert Racing. "Once a driver has completed his or her driving course successfully, we will assist them in getting their SCCA regional license. From there, we begin the learning curve on racing. We provide rental race cars for drivers until they decide to buy their own. Some drivers prefer to stay and rent from us because we take care of everything and they need to worry only about driving.
"Coaching is part of the program. Drivers will have a coach during the whole weekend who will be in contact with them for guidance during their track sessions. We build our own race cars and campaign them in professional and amateur competition successfully."
No endorsement of any school is implied through this article, and no liability for safety is accepted by Corvette Fever magazine or its staff members due to accidents incurred by those who attend a driving school or enter a racing facility.