The day started with about an hour of classroom instruction. They covered some driving basics such as the importance of quality tires, the absolute importance of paying attention, and the friction circle. I got a lot out of this segment. It put a coherent theoretical framework around a number of things I already knew. Now I understand why my Integra oversteered when I put it in a ditch back in summer '95.
After that, they took us out to the autocross course to give us some instant wheel time and see what we could do. I came in second to last in this segment. I have become a very risk-averse driver, and in an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar track, my only thought was to go through the track with the car fully under control and tucked in. Other drivers pushed much harder and were rewarded.
After I had properly embarrassed myself, they split us into three groups and sent each of us to do one of three drills. My group started out in the line drill, in which we took our cars through a dummy right hand racing turn, with an instructor standing inside the corner and watching us. They lined out the corner with cones, using different colors and numbers of cones as markers. They started us braking hard at the first marker, and showed us how 100% brake at that mark would stop the car dead well short of the apex. The moral: Modern disc breaks have enormous stopping power, and we should feel free to use all of it if we need it, so long as we do so smoothly and before we turn in. If I remember right, by my last run, I was braking at the third marker and still nailing the apex, and loving life.
My group then went to the autocross again. My times began to improve as I learned the line and built confidence. The instructors even singled me out for mild praise- something along the lines of, "Jason was the slowest guy at the beginning of the day, but I'm here with my stopwatch, and his times are beating a lot of you, because he's smooth." Yay me. At the end of the stage they took us out of the TSX sedans and into Honda S2000 roadsters. I came away wishing I could still buy the S2000. It felt much more closely coupled to the pavement, and the improved power to weight ratio + rear wheel drive quickly showed us why the instructors told us to leave the traction control on. I felt it kick in a couple times, and while in the abstract it would have been more educational to see what happened without computer assistance, I can't fault the school for not wanting us to bounce their roadsters off the wall. Unlike the TSX sedans, the S2000s did not have five point racing belts, and I really felt the lack. Shoulder belts cannot hold you in place when you're trying to use 100% of the car's performance in 200% of the car's own length.
After lunch, they sent us to the skid car with Tommy Byrne. During the first driver's trip through this lesson, it started to rain. Perfect. They take a basic Honda Civic and attach outriggers and casters to the frame, so that the casters (which will roll just as happily in any direction) carry about 80% of the car's weight. That creates a Civic with only very mild notions of going where you point it. I learned to drive on a station wagon with some very bad handling habits, so I thought I knew skids, but Tommy taught me how to control a skid with the throttle, and that blew my mind. It required a real act of will for me to feel the car starting to spin out of control and give it more gas, but given fine levels of throttle control, it works, and when you really have it working for you, it feels incredible. I get the appeal of drifting now - though not in any car I paid good money for.
After all three modules, we had an autocross championship lap, and I choked hard. I hadn't driven the track since it started to rain, and I had no sense of rhythm out there. I felt no better about the wet track when the second student through the course completely lost it and didn't even try to complete his run - he was so far outside the lines, in such a wrong direction, that he meekly took a straight line to the finish and apologized. My own run had some nice moments, but I didn't use enough throttle and I left some seconds out there. The only cool moment was when I felt the back end starting to drift as I backed off the throttle a little too early coming through a turn, and automatically applied throttle to catch the car. The moment I did that, the small part of my mind not obsessing about the next apex acknowledged that I could not have controlled the car so neatly before lunch. Anyway, my relative place in the class went from 21st out of 22 to 14th. I really feel like I could have been in the top ten if we'd been allowed to, say, run four laps and take our best time.
At the end of the day, they gave us an hour on the full Mid-Ohio sports car course, a fairly challenging affair even in dry weather. In the rain, the teachers expressed (at length) some real fear that we could get in over our heads and crash the cars. The normal schedule had us following them around the line rather than actually racing anyway, but because of the rain, they drove very cautiously. Being plenty cautious already, I chafed at Tommy's slow driving on the straights, but I loved being on the big course. I felt like I actually had time and room to be smooth, instead of having to spend every tenth of a second trying to juggle the next turn, throttle, and brake. Because of the rain, they made us use traction control, but in the whole hour, I only felt it kick in once. Most of the the time, I either felt like I was right on the groove, or else a little hot going into the corner. In that situation the car would push but a small adjustment would always rotate the car into place, and that made me feel like I was finally actually using all the car's handling envelope.
Above all, I felt really glad I hadn't tried to use my own car. Racing without a five point harness would be exhausting and or painful. A good harness will hold you in place and let you concentrate on driving. I want one. 24 Hours of LeMons, after I'm done saving up for this London trip I keep talking about, you and I are going to go round and round.