A couple weeks ago I went to the Lotus Stage II driving school in Pahrump Nevada at the Spring Mountain Raceway. This school built upon the first Lotus school I did a year earlier. As I look back on both, I have to say they are excellent and I highly recommend them to anyone that wants to learn the hidden dynamics of how cars perform at high speed and how to harness that behavior like a racecar driver would.
This lotus school dealt with learning how to effectively use brake enduced over steer to rotate the car faster in turns without bleeding off too much speed.
Huh? What does all that mean?
If you learned to drive a car like everyone else, you learned how to "drive" the car, but you didn't learn the dynamics of the car. If you have been driving for while you have experienced the dynamics of the car – probably at inopportune times, probably when you did something wrong or the weather was bad.
If you have ever driven a rear wheel car in the snow and hit the gas kicking the rear end out, that's over steer. Over steer also happens at high speed in a corner when you suddenly lift off the gas pedal shifting weight from the rear drive wheels to the front wheels. Lift on the gas after going into a corner too fast and you'll get a 360 degree view of the racetrack! Brake hard after entering a corner fast, spin out even faster.
The other common dynamic you have likely experienced is under steer. Basically all street cars are built with a bias to under steer. This is because peoples nature reaction to under steer is to slow down which corrects the problem. Car manufactures want your brain to save you. You may have experienced under steer in your every day driving when you were messing around and tried to take a corner faster than you should of. You come into the corner fast and turn the wheel but the car kind of plows the front wheel forward even though you have them turned (like when you're on snow). This happens because you are on the gas and have most of the vehicle weight over the rear wheels making the front wheels light reducing friction and pushing the front end out.
While these examples of vehicle dynamics that can get you in trouble, some of these dynamics you can use to your advantage. I don't mean the awesome power slides you see on TopGear but rather the more subtle, but equally amazing way you can coerce the car into invisibly rotating in a high speed corner to carry amazing speed, through the corner. You can feel it when you're in the car, but you can't see it outside the car.
This brings me to the punch line. A lot people I talk to say they would be interested in attending a driving school but the just don't have a proper car for it. The fact is, you can bring any car (probably not a Van) to the BMW driving school twice a year in Pueblo and have a total blast and learn a lot. It's all about going fast, but not about racing. The fact is the less tuned the car is the more you can feel the dynamics and the more you learn.
I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't taken part in driving schools to try it. I plan to bring both my daughters at the appropriate time to learn how their cars behave when they find themselves out of the vanilla pudding envelope of everyday driving, be it because they intended to or not.
For fun, here is a video of a lap at Spring Mountain during the Stage II School. I took the video on my blackberry during an instructor lap!