Bob Bondurant Driving School - Get Experienced

We Hone Our Skills At The Bob Bondurant School Of High Performance Driving

Chris Werner Jan 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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Wednesday, Day 3: Today's program consists almost entirely of track time in the Corvettes, running the Bondurant Road Course in a couple of different configurations. (We do spend a little more time in the skid cars, then take a mock SCCA written test in the classroom and practice race starts/restarts out on the track.) All students are out on the track at the same time, but since not everyone's experience and comfort levels match up, passing is permitted. It is conducted in a controlled, "point-by" fashion in designated areas only. This photo shows the end of the front straight, the fastest part of the track, where speeds in excess of 100 mph are reached before having to brake hard for Turn 1. (Look closely, and you'll see the camera hanging off the side of Becky "Vette Girl" Anderson's car. See more at www.digitalcorvettes.com.)

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Thursday, Day 4: In our morning classroom session, Instructor Les Betchner posits that students learn more in four days at Bondurant than they would in five years of racing on their own. That's really saying something. Here, he talks with student Erin Lindberg about the rear-engine handling behavior of the lightweight Formula Bondurant. This is a whole different (and faster) ball game from a Corvette, and will serve as an exciting change of pace.

Corvettes--As Tough As They Come
This is, after all, a Corvette magazine, so we figured readers-particularly those who might be thinking of road racing their personal rides-would be keenly interested in how the school's cars hold up to the daily regimen of abuse thrown at them. I spoke with Jerry Arms of Bondurant to find out a bit about the robustness of the C6 Corvette, and what it takes to ready and maintain them not just for the battering of constant road-race training, but for the extreme desert environment of southern Arizona.

The first item of note shouldn't be much of a surprise: All of the cars are equipped with the Z51 performance package, replete with larger brakes, a better shock package, additional fluid coolers, and the like. Apparently, the Z51 has worked out to be a very good package for Bondurant, as I was amazed to hear just how stock these cars are. In fact, the most significant alteration has nothing to do with the mechanical abilities of the car; it's in the interior. Corbeau racing seats with four-point harnesses replace the stockers for additional lateral support and more effective belting. One of the only mechanical changes is to the brakes: While the factory cross-drilled rotors are retained, the pads are replaced with harder-compound units from Performance Friction. A higher-boiling-point Castrol brake fluid is also used, as, according to Arms, it works better with the pad package and extreme heat seen in this environment.

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Other differences between the Vette and the Formula Bondurant are the distinct lack of power steering, power brakes, and any electronics (ABS, TCS, Active Handling, and so on). The rear-engine setup's distinctive handling characteristics require less trail braking, because these cars are less prone to understeer. Once you turn in and are done braking, you need to get on the throttle to get the weight to the back and avoid a massive oversteer situation. The skid-car experience helps greatly here. Smoothness is key, and the Formula Bondurant rewards with a blast of a day spent behind the wheel-and a fitting end to the Grand Prix Road Racing course.

Now to the really interesting stuff: the engines. According to Arms, short oil-drain intervals of around 800 miles are needed because there's so much on-off throttling and heel-toe downshifting, contamination of the factory Mobil 1 with fuel is inevitable. Regarding the durability of the LS-series engines, especially at the extreme operating temperatures seen at Bondurant, you might think there would be a timetable for regular repairs (such as replacement of valvesprings or piston rings). Not so. "We go through clutches and things like that, as it's the nature of the environment and how each student drives. But we see virtually no engine failures, because of the rigorous upkeep. The LS has been a very good engine for us." I was assured they don't change anything in the engines, and no maintenance is needed aside from dropping the oil-they're stock as a rock, and stay that way. And metaphorical rocks they are. "We actually have a C5 with 40,000 track miles on it," Arms says. "We've never even taken the valve covers off its LS1!"

Overall, he says the Corvettes "really, really do a good job." Based on our experiences at the school, we wholeheartedly agree.

Conclusion
After our final day in the Formula Bondurant cars, everyone else in the class announced them as their favorite over the Corvettes. While they were certainly a blast and well worth staying another day for, I disagreed. Maybe it was because I had already driven open-wheel cars in college Formula SAE competitions. Or more likely, as a C6 owner myself, the opportunity to really wring one out in a safe environment and appreciate what it's capable of was very rewarding.

Either way, every day spent at Bondurant was invaluable, combining dynamite instruction and true-to-life safety exercises with tons of on-track time behind the wheel to acclimate you to the skills being taught. In no uncertain terms, Bondurant is well worth the investment. The price you pay not only will help you be a better driver, it could even save your life. Again, there are many courses to choose from, and though we found the Grand Prix Road Racing course to be hugely rewarding, you can't go wrong with any of them. (And in case you haven't heard, new ZR1 owners will be receiving a complimentary course at Bondurant with their vehicle purchase!) Our advice: Spend as much time at Bondurant as your schedule and budget allow. As our instructors put it, the more you put into a course at Bondurant, the more you'll get out of it.

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