We all like to think we're good drivers. The painful reality is most of us are fair at best, and that's just in a street environment. Take your average Joe (or Jen in the case of our female readers) strap them into a Camaro SS, then send them forth on either an autocross course or an actual road course. Quickly you'll see that we all have overinflated opinions of our driving prowess.
As school owner/founder and 24 Hours of LeMans class winner Bob Bondurant himself put simply, "Many people can drive. Not many can drive well."
Neither tech editor Calin Head nor I ever had formalized driver training. While that can be helpful when we're relaying our opinions and feelings on a car's handling that our average readers will understand, there have been times both of us knew our limited driving skills were making us leave something behind during tests. We needed professional instruction, and as luck would have it, we were given the opportunity for some of the best.
The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving (we're just going to call it Bondurant for the rest of this story) has been in existence for 45 years. The school's namesake was involved in a horrific crash while racing a McLaren Formula One car at Watkins Glen in 1967. During his convalescence, Bob became convinced for the need of a professional driving school that could teach the skills, theories, and concepts he had recently taught to actor James Garner during his preparation for the role of Pete Aaron in the John Frankenheimer racing epic, Grand Prix. (You can learn more about Bob Bondurant's history at the school's website, www.bondurant.com).
Once recovered, Bob opened his school in 1968 in California, with three Datsuns, a Lola T70, and a Formula Vee to begin teaching prospective racers the skills necessary to compete, and win. Soon things grew to teaching actors preparing for roles, hobby racers, and pretty much anyone else who wanted to be a better driver. The list of former students is loaded with drivers from NASCAR, IRL, Grand Am, and others, along with some of Hollywood's most recognized names.
One of the great ironies of the past 10 years is that as more and more people either build superb g-machines with aftermarket parts, or buy late-model Camaros and Corvettes with race car-like handling, very few have the talent to extract a large percentage of their potential. Schools like Bondurant can help you realize every bit of performance you build into your hot rod, and make you a better, safer driver in your daily commute.
Located in Chandler, Arizona (outside Phoenix), the school's campus consists of a 1.6-mile road course that can be set up in multiple configurations and distances to satisfy the school's needs. There's also a skidpad, autocross area, and flat area for defensive braking and avoidance drills. All of the instructors have been professionally trained at the school, along with personal experiences in various forms of racing.
After some classroom instruction from Austin Robison, two-time Baja 100 class winner, SCORE off-road champion and our designated instructor, we headed for the test cars, picked out our steeds from one of the 50 some odd '12 Camaro SS on the property, and headed for the first lesson involving line-of-sight driving. Line of sight/Line Technique follows the pattern that where you're looking is where you'll instinctively steer the car to go.
On a race course, the instructors showed us that where you want to be looking is not where you are, but where you're going/want to be. So, going into a turn, you want to be looking to where you want the car at in the turn's apex, then on to where you want the car to exit the turn.
To give everyone the most from our experience, both Calin and I will describe our experiences separately from time to time.
Hill: Being used to street driving, getting a feel for looking down track was difficult at first, until my peripheral vision started picking up and helping me keep track of what was in front of me while looking ahead. The technique really started clicking as I made more laps around the track, and found I was entering and exiting turns at the optimal points more frequently.
Head: The line-of-sight thing for me was the hardest to overcome, and something I never really got much better at. Being from California and always driving an ultra low vehicle, my vision has been trained to be right in front so I could avoid pot holes, dips, and more importantly, avoid slamming into the back of the guy who cuts me off in traffic. Austin noticed this issue right away, and got in the car with me and kept saying "look ahead" and once I did, the car was smoother and I could actually go faster. So, the theory obviously works. It's just hard to break bad habits.