During this exercise, we also started learning about the effects of braking on the car's handling, and how it relates to understeer/oversteer situations. Going into a turn, braking begins to shift the car's weight to the front wheels. This shift helps with steering, giving the front wheels more grip to direct the car. But, too much braking (or mistimed braking) can create oversteer, where the rear tires lose grip and the back of the car begins to come around. We learned the key is to feel when the rear tires start to lose traction, then reduce braking and/or add throttle to shift weight back to the rear tires. The other part of the equation is understeer. Understeer is when you turn the steering wheel but the car doesn't respond accordingly (continues straight) because the front tires don't have enough grip. To correct this, either braking is applied and/or throttle reduced to shift weight to the front wheels, increasing grip and thereby increasing directional control.
Later in the day, we got a chance to learn more about understeer and oversteer on the school's skidpad using cars equipped with a hydraulic system that when engaged by the instructor lifts the front or rear of the car reducing traction. That helped exaggerate both conditions so we could better learn how to react properly and bring the car back under control. Basically, if the car is in an understeer situation, you must reduce steering input, lift off the gas and even apply the brakes until the front tires get enough traction to turn the car. In an oversteer situation, we would countersteer the car and modulate the gas to bring the car back under control. The skidpad exercise also helped reinforce the line of sight driving method, especially when the car went into a spin.
Line of sight also went into another exercise we did the first day, practicing avoidance. Three simulated lanes were set up, and on cue the instructor would randomly mark two of the lanes as being blocked, and we had to maneuver the car to the clear lane, or if none were clear bring the car to a controlled stop. Looking where you wanted the car to go instantly made you instinctively steer the car that way.
On the street, this ties in with accident avoidance. If a car in front of you stops suddenly, instead of focusing on the brake lights, look at where you want the car to go to avoid a collision, and steer accordingly. Keep the stopping car's brake lights in your peripheral vision, but focus on where you want the car to go.
Our other exercise for the first day was the slalom. For the newbies out there, a slalom course is a line of cones equal distances apart, where you maneuver the car through the cones (left-to-right, right-to-left) as fast as you can without hitting a cone. This helped teach better car control along with quick maneuvering in a tight space.
We learned the basic theory of slalom is to get up to speed, then hold that speed into the first cone. Then it's a turn-pause-turn-pause-turn-pause scenario. This controls the side-to-side weight transfer as the pause gives the suspension a chance to catch up and reset before the next turn. Also you need to look one cone ahead, if you are turning the wheel right when the cone disappears from view you are too late. You need to turn a little in advance as it will take time for the steering input to relate to turning, and as speed increases the advance on the turn needs to increase accordingly. Smoothness in a heavy car will be rewarded because it takes more time for the mass to shift from left to right.
Day two rolled around and we started again in the classroom, going over the things we'd learned the day before, and how they would tie in for the second day's exercises. After having a brief flirtation with heel/toe downshift and braking during day one, day two would see us incorporating it more into driving on the school's Maricopa Oval along with trail braking.
The concept is to match your engine rpm with your wheel speed as you downshift. The technique is to blip the throttle while braking before a turn, so when you release the clutch, you will be in the proper gear for the best acceleration. This technique also keeps the car smooth by alleviating the harsh jerking action of releasing the clutch without having the rpm at the proper speed This should be complete before entering the turn, as letting the clutch out in a corner could send you into an under- or oversteer situation.
Complementing the heel/toe technique is trail braking, which is basically the procedure of maintaining slight brake pressure while turning before the apex, which keeps the weight transferred to the front tires that need the traction in the turn, and also controls the rebound of the shocks. By the corner's apex, you should be off the brakes entirely, unwinding the steering wheel, and be back on the throttle.