Classroom instruction is an integral part of any course at Bondurant. Far from boring, it's very engaging and immensely helpful to learn the physics of what you're about to do for real. It does not cut into driving time at all, and in fact represents a much-needed break from physical activity. Here, instructor Pete Miller covers vision and concentration, crucial elements of what Bondurant refers to as the Four Main Principles of High Performance Driving: Concentration, Vision, Vehicle Dynamics, and Line Technique.
A good bit of Day 1 is spent learning heel-and-toe downshifting, which the favorable layout of the Corvette's pedals makes pretty easy to do (if a bit challenging to master). Then, we are exposed to the Accident Avoidance Simulator (aka emergency lane-change maneuver), an exercise consisting of three lanes and a corresponding array of lights that change color to indicate which ones are and are not "safe" to enter. The tricky parts? No braking is allowed, and the lights don't change until the last possible moment. The technique is "lift, turn, and squeeze." Lifting transfers weight to the front tires, allowing you to turn, while squeezing on the throttle transfers weight to the rear tires to keep you from going into an oversteer situation. Full-ABS stops are then practiced on the same part of the skills pad (shown).
After lunch on Monday, we have another half-hour in class being instructed on the basics of understeer and oversteer, along with techniques for hitting the apexes of different kinds of corners. Trail braking is also expounded upon further. A critical technique, it involves progressively easing off the brakes after turn-in to smoothly transfer weight to the back tires, preventing the fronts from abruptly losing grip. Our instructor, Corey Hosford (shown), then shows us how it's done in a CTS. After this, we spend the rest of the afternoon session in the Vettes at the Maricopa Oval, practicing left-hand turns. I find myself getting on the brakes too hard initially, then not being able to carry enough speed through the first part of the corner. Trail braking is the key to enabling serious corner speed: When Hosford jumped in my Corvette, I was amazed how smoothly he was able to do it. I could barely even feel him get on the brakes!
Tuesday brings some more classroom time, along with lots more time behind the wheel. At mid-morning, it's time to get into the skid cars, so called because of their extra set of outboard wheels that can be raised and lowered hydraulically in order to induce understeer or oversteer. This is a great way to learn car control in a safe, low-speed (25-mph) environment. You'll notice that it's also a great way to cook a set of tires! After we're done with the skid cars, we go through a braking exercise (which, among other things, demonstrates the life-saving benefits of ABS) before "braking" for lunch (pun fully intended).
Tuesday afternoon: Back to the classroom, where the instructors tell us about the Lake Loop and Carousel configuration, also about safety considerations on the track. Track, you say? That's right, after only a day-and-a-half, we're about to hit the real deal. It's 12:30 p.m., and we're in our racing suits, riding in the instructor cars so they can give us some pointers on the course, including braking and apex-reference points, line techniques, and upshifts/downshifts. Looking around that whole track riding in Hosford's CTS was slightly intimidating, but I had full faith in him that we were ready for it.
The "lead and follow" begins. The instructors drive their Cadillacs ahead of us, closely following the fastest line on the track. They increase their speed little by little and watch the group behind to make sure everyone is comfortable. At the end of the lead and follow, the instructors flash their four-ways, and it's time to pull into the pits. There's a quick Q&A in the trackside classroom, followed by an open track session that lasts the remainder of the afternoon session. The instructors hop in and out of the cars to make sure everyone is comfortable and to give pointers. Once the session ends, it's time to head back to the Radisson for some much-needed rest.