Instructor, Corey Hosford, demonstrates seating position basics and how heel/toe downshifting is executed. Corey is a very laid back guy who we found has quite a talent for nurturing his students while simultaneously pushing them to their limits. After this, Jim and I each buckled in to our respective cars and headed off to practice lots of heel/toe downshifting on the skills pad. On these cars (and with my foot size), I found it pretty simple in principle: you basically place your right foot toward the right hand edge of the brake pedal and roll the bottom part your foot onto the gas, giving it a nice stab before releasing the clutch. Executing it well takes a bit of practice.
Before (and immediately after) lunch, we spend some time in the classroom getting instructed on the basics of understeer and oversteer, trail braking, how to hit apexes of different kinds of corners, and the like. Though a bit smaller than average (due to the oppressive summer heat), our tiny class size meant we were bestowed with even more of the personal attention Bondurant prides itself on. In fact, the only others in the four-day class were Erin Lindberg, a recent high school graduate looking to learn to drive her Infiniti G35 better, and Becky Anderson, a budding Corvette road racer with her own internet TV show on digitalcorvettes.com (as you might guess from the camera guy, her experience will be documented in upcoming episodes). Here, instructor Les Betchner grins for the camera.
Monday afternoon sees us engaged in the Accident Avoidance Simulator, which works thusly: you're at speed aligned with the center lane and staring at three green lights. As you come up to a 3-way split, one or more of the lights turn red, and you must go into a green lane without touching the brakes. The technique is lift, turn, and squeeze. Lifting off the throttle transfers weight to the front tires, allowing you to turn. Squeezing on the throttle then transfers weight back to the rear tires to keep from going into an oversteer situation as you steer back in the other direction. This was followed by all three lights going red for full ABS stops, both straight on and while executing a turn (ABS really is, after all, the Ability to Brake and Steer). Here a student in one of the other classes does it in a CTS-V.
We spent the rest of the afternoon session at the Maricopa Oval, where we practice left-hand turns through two different types of corners. As with all exercises, our instructor takes us through the paces first riding in his CTS before we get set loose in the Vettes. As with all corners at the facility, cones are used to demarcate braking, turn-in, apex, and exit points. Here, Corey notes placement for the exit cone coming out of the increasing radius turn of the Maricopa. This guy can drive like a champ even with one hand (something we are specifically told not to attempt), and can trail brake so smoothly and progressively I could barely even feel it.
After a much-needed night's rest, it's Tuesday morning and after hitting the Maricopa again (this time with downshifting included), we get our first crack at the skid car, which is a lot like the most instructive amusement park ride you'll ever experience. While traversing a small oval-shaped course at 25 mph, Corey hits a switch to hydraulically alter the weight balance of the car and induce oversteer. The trick to maintaining control of the car is to turn the wheel the opposite direction (don't get your hands crossed up), apply throttle to transfer weight to the back tires, and keep an eye on the cone at the start of the next turn (as opposed to the one demarcating the far side of the corner you're in). Otherwise, you end up somewhere you don't want to be, i.e., probably hitting that cone you are watching incorrectly. We'll tackle the skid car again Wednesday, but in an even-trickier figure 8 configuration.
Following an additional morning braking exercise and another excellent lunch courtesy of Bob, we have a classroom session on safety considerations on the racetrack. We jump in Corey's CTS for a drive-through of the main track's Lake Loop/Carousel configuration, and after this, we get suited up, strapped into our Vettes, and ready to go for our first solo laps on the main track. It's only midway through day two, mind you-they weren't kidding when they said you'd get maximum track time in this course. The Vettes are all stock inside save for Corbeau seats and a 4-point harness. (This is one of the worst pictures of yours truly ever taken, and I have only myself to blame.)