Rupert also discussed heel and toe downshifting, which is used to match road speed, engine speed, and gear selection, and explained how it applies to smoother and safer downshifts. For those of you who have heard the term "heel and toe" and don't know what it means, first off, it ain't using the heel and toe of one foot to simultaneously apply brakes and "blip" the throttle to match engine revs as you downshift. In reality, it's using the ball of the right foot on the brake pedal and rolling the outside of the foot onto the throttle to crisply hit it enough to raise the rpm to match the speed of the gear you're downshifting to
If there's any one item that Bragg-Smith emphasizes over all others it's what he calls "visual scanning." An entire article could be written on this topic, but in essence it's understanding and learning how your eyes effect and control all aspects of driving. Many of the driving exercises are to practice visual scanning, and becoming aware of the control your eyes have on where you aim a car. Example: you're coming into a 180-degree turn with an apex at 110 degrees. As you enter the sweeper, you should already be picking out and focussing on the apex. At the same time, you need to constantly scan where you are relative to other cars, and as you draw closer to the apex, you should be sighting ahead towards the next apex. It's kinda hard to explain, and it took me a while to grasp the concept and get the hang of it. But, once I did, I began cutting better laps than I would've thought possible, and I realized that during all the years I've spent on track, I've always looked at an apex as I drove through it then started looking towards the next. And I relied more on memorizing a particular course to "master" it rather than on scanning far enough ahead to be setting up for the next turn while I was still in the previous one.
A great deal of time is spent in a variety of driving exercises. These include wet and dry braking, with and without ABS, while learning to control and direct the car under maximum braking. There were also sessions to learn skid control, lap after lap on an oval to practice picking out turn-in points and apexes (again, visual scanning), and what seemed at the time like endless runs up and down the straight, accelerating up to fourth and 60 mph, then braking and downshifting.
The fun part, of course, was getting out on the track in the C5s. Lapping was done with groups of five or so students and one instructor, doing "lead-follow" with the instructor at the lead. All the school cars are equipped with two-way radios, and each group is on a different frequency. After a certain number of laps, the instructor would radio for the car directly behind him to pull out of line, allow the other cars in the group to move forward, and fall in at the back of the pack.
I was frustrated and angry with myself most of the first day. Breaking old, bad habits and relearning how to do things you've done for decades is, I think, harder than starting off as an untrained rookie. I found myself repeatedly regressing to an old way of doing something, realizing it was wrong, then working at the proper way, only to do the same old thing five laps later. By the end of day one, I was really down on myself and wondered if I'd lost my touch, even wondered if what middle-age me was going through was a little like trying to teach an old dog new tricks.
Back in my room at the Hard Rock Hotel after dinner that night, I sat in a chair and practiced, over and over, things I'd had problems with earlier, visualizing that I was in one of the C5s, on the school track. And, apparently, it worked.
Day two started off with repetitions of some of the driving exercises, particularly the acceleration, braking and downshifting runs back and forth on the straight. Then it was time to divvy into groups and head out for track time. And suddenly, it all seemed to come together
I was "in the zone," clicking off lap after lap that felt good, hitting the corners where I should time after time, sighting ahead. I really feel that I was running cleaner, better laps that second afternoon than I ever have before, and it felt damn good!
Day two ended too soon. But right then I decided I have to come back. I want to do the "Level One A" school again, to refine and re-inforce what I learned. Then it'll be Rupert's "Level One B" and on to the "Level Two." The 150 to 200 miles I logged in C5s on the school track were a whole lot of fun in addition to being a great learning experience. I'm practicing, on a daily basis, many of the techniques Rupert and his instructors taught us. It's the summation of a lot of little things, but I know that I'm probably a better, safer, and faster driver now than I've ever been.
Besides, where else can you take new Corvettes out on a race track, log a ton of laps, and leave with a higher level of skill than when you arrived?