We start off doing a lead and follow of the instructors in their CTS Caddys, following their line around the course and gradually building up speed and comfort level. After this, we're on our own. Our instructor jumps in with each of us at least once during the open track session, letting us drive and then getting in the driver seat for demonstration. With so much information to process, it's hard to remember everything the instructors had told us about the best way to run the track, so the refresher and extra pointers provided now are great. For one thing, I had been messing up the braking in the first corner section, braking and turning simultaneously instead of braking and then turning while beginning trail braking at another reference point. I also had a problem scrubbing off too much speed before entering any given turn, and Corey was instrumental in getting me closer to where I needed to be.
Wednesday morning: During a classroom session, Les tells us he expects people learn more in four days here than in five years racing on their own. That's really saying something. After this, it's back to the track on the Lake Loop/Carousel configuration. After some more skid car time, we're back in the Corvettes running the final full-course track layout, which now incorporates the Maricopa Oval-there are some seriously cool elevation changes coming out of it. It's an action-packed morning, and we get to the point where the cars actually run out of gas-and then it's lunchtime.
At the start of the afternoon session, we're back in the classroom for a mock SCCA written test. After this, Corey discusses our next exercise: practicing race starts and restarts. Though we are not running an actual race, we are simulating the starts quite accurately. Race starts are performed double wide, restarts are single wide, both with a GTO pace car in front, lights on and all. Restarts are particularly tricky, as one must watch the flag tower from afar and mat the gas as soon as the green waves.
The rest of Wednesday is spent doing hot laps in the Corvettes, using everything we've learned so far and pushing ourselves as far as we feel comfortable doing. We run 'em hot and hard, and by mid afternoon, we're not only done with laps, but are good and sweated up ourselves. In 115-degree Fahrenheit temperatures like these, a cooldown period for the cars is necessary-they must be left running for a bit afterward with the hood open. Coolant temperatures can hit 255 F, which automatically shuts down the air conditioner, and oil temperatures climb past 300 F. The drivers, like Jim here, get pretty hot too, especially in fully suited garb. Day 3 is over, and sadly, so is our time in the Corvettes ... but we're still excited for some rear-engine, open-wheel action tomorrow.
A half hour after arriving on Thursday morning, we get fitted into the Formula cars, which have more of a laying down seating position and have to basically be crawled into. We get acclimated to these lightweight cars and the tricky H-pattern of their gearboxes on the Maricopa oval. Here we have no power steering, no power brakes, and the weight of the engine in the back instead of the front, so a somewhat different driving technique is necessary. Even a little too much steering input will have you spinning out. We then spend the rest of the morning doing Lake Loop and Carousel sections. We're finding they prove a great contrast to the front engine Corvettes, not only because of the different handling characteristics, but because there is no ABS, Active Handling, or anything else, for that matter-smooth inputs are greatly rewarded. Although only powered by 4-cylinder engines, these things actually cut faster times than the Corvettes, namely because they only weigh about 1,000 lbs.
After a nice relaxing lunch, we get the lowdown in the classroom about how to negotiate the full course with the Formula cars, including braking, and upshift/downshift points. We then do a lead/follow, and then we're off on own to rock and roll as fast and as hard as our abilities allow. The trackside whiteboard is useful during interim periods for the instructors to give us pointers on what we're doing right and wrong (it's not like they can ride along with us in these single-seat cars).
Words with the Master of Maximum Car Control
Here's the master himself, Bob Bondurant. He and his staff have trained over a quarter of a million drivers since 1968. For a full interview with this racing legend, please go to superchevy.com.