Hill: The heel/toe downshifting and braking was, quite frankly, a pain in the arse to get a handle on. It required a lot of coordination. After my first few laps of not getting it right, I headed for the pits, where instructor Austin climbed in and rode along to help while I was driving. This was where the awesome staff at Bondurant really showed its worth. Austin pointed out I was thinking everything out too much, and just needed to relax and let it happen naturally. A few deep breaths later, I was able to put together a decent repetition of heel/toe shifts, and feel what the benefit was.
Head: I was already familiar with heel/toe braking and downshifting, but had not practiced it for at least 10 years, so it took a few laps to get back into the swing of it. I will say the hardest part of this for me was getting used to the feel of the Camaro's shifter. It was very buttery and smooth when shifting, and I think a short throw that required a little more muscle to shift would have been helpful. The other issue I had was the pedal spacing, which is pretty wide, and I was wishing I had brought a set of boots instead of my slip on Vans.
For lunch, we got a real treat, as Bob Bondurant himself joined us for the afternoon meal, and shared stories about his career, what motivated him to start the school, and his more memorable experiences as an instructor.
From there we headed for the autocross course, so we could practice everything we'd learned before heading out to the big track for some laps.
Hill: With the timers on, both Calin and I started our runs, our lap times dropping every run we made around the course. In the spirit of friendly competition, I'll admit Calin bested me by breaking into the sub one-minute time range.
Head: This was what I was really waiting for, as I will have more access to autocross courses than road tracks. With each lap I got more aggressive with all the things I had learned, and eventually was able to break the one minute lap time. The course was pretty tight, and there was only one shift point, but using heel/toe and trail breaking at that one section is where all my time improvements came from.
From there it was graduation time, and everyone, except Calin was lead out to the big road course for some hot laps, and a chance to put everything we'd learned to full use.
Hill: It was in the middle of my second lap that I had the brilliant epiphany when everything I'd learned over the last two days came together in a cohesive formula. I was using the techniques and methods without really thinking about it, and when the last lap was called, I felt a pretty big thrill that I was able to put everything together and enjoy pushing the '12 Camaro SS nearer its limits.
Head: I decided to take photos of Patrick running the road course so I didn't get to run this part of the school, but I didn't just sit around after I got my pictures. I asked the instructors if I could go back on the autocross course and get more laps there. They graciously said, "go ahead" and I spent the next half hour or so in autocross heaven, running back-to-back laps till the Camaro started to get a bit hot, which happened to be right when Patrick was coming off the big course.
The cherry on top for the experience was after we'd finished up, and Bob pulled up in one of the school's ZO6 Corvettes to take us around for some hot laps. For a man in his '80s, he was throwing that C6 around the road course like a wildcat. And all the while he was just as calm and cool as if he were having a drink with you at a bar. Truly impressive!
The Final Word
The benefits of the course were numerous, and when we started driving on the street again, we were able to use a lot of the Bondurant schooling to improve driving on public roads, and we are both itching to find the local autocross club and get some hot laps with them. Now we both have an understanding of vehicle dynamics and the basic tools needed to test cars without making arses of ourselves.