Autoblog Gets Schooled: Part One

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I suck. I was braking hard into turn four, when the instructor ahead of me clipped the apex cone with the deft touch of an athlete, sending it into the air and onto the track. I drove through the cloud of dust in his wake and heard the small particles of dirt hitting the bumper and getting thrown up into the wheel wells. He was pulling quickly out of the corner and onto the straight when I realized that I had no business being anywhere near the brake. I jumped off the stoppers, sending all the weight onto the rear tires and started easing into the throttle. The car began to push wide and as I was looking down the track, he continued to barrel into the distance. Twenty yards, then thirty, then fifty and so on. How is this possible? I'm behind the wheel of a Germanic icon and he's driving a turbo'd econobox. I couldn't have been more emasculated if all three of Hef's blondes stormed in, ripped off my pants, pointed and laughed.

And so ended my day at Skip Barber's High Performance Driving School at Laguna Seca raceway.

DISCLAIMER: Autoblog has never and will never accept gifts from any company. We paid the full tuition price of $1,595 to attend the Skip Barber HP Driving School, just like you would.

There are myriad things every gearhead should learn to do before he croaks: drive a 911, lap a world famous circuit, powerslide a Viper and sit shotgun in a car being flogged around a track like a piece of precision machinery. No place else lets you do all these things at one time, and that's the main reason we chose the One Day H.P. Driving School hosted by Skip Barber at Laguna Seca.

The course itself is designed to take novices to the limit in a safe environment, under the expert tutelage of a few instructors, some of whom have racing resumes that would make a weekend SCCA member quiver in their Pilotis.

Skip Barber hosts several courses around the country, but the prospect of spending a day at Laguna Seca was enough incentive for us to take a mid-week day off work and travel west. Well, that, and the cars. Throughout the day, we were able to get behind the wheel of a BMW 330i, a Porsche Boxster, both 996 and 997 variants of the 911, a Viper and an M3. At some of the other tracks where Skip Barber's minions operate ( Sebring, Lime Rock, etc.), you'll also have the opportunity to strap into both an Audi S4 and it's amped-up big brother, the RS4.

The day starts off at 8 a.m. (far too early for a late night blogger) when we're ushered into a classroom, checked in and required to sign away our lives and the balance of our credit cards. The students range in age and (somewhat) in sex, with our class comprised of seven people total: a twenty-something male, a few gentlemen in their thirties and one woman. All the participants were there for different reasons: education, fun, a reward from a well-to-do boss, etc.

We got settled into our seats and were introduced to two of our instructors, both in their mid twenties and both of whom refer to themselves as "products of Skip Barber," meaning they've been getting educated by the school since they were in utero.

After introductions of both the teachers and the taught, we're given a general overview of what the day holds for us. We'll begin with some classroom instruction that goes over basic topics like weight distribution, counter steer, slide control, throttle and brake inputs, and what measures of safety are designed into the course and expected of the student.

Our third instructor arrives a bit late (South Bay traffic in the hizzie) and it's none other than Jonathan Bomarito, who just scored his first Champ Car Atlantic victory the weekend before and is the man that tried to get an NSX-equipped Clarkson around Laguna Seca in GT4 time.

After the classroom session, we'll be ushered down to the parking lot and put behind the wheel of a 330, then instructed to make our way around a wet skid pad while still maintaining some modicum of directional control. From there, it's on to a lane change exercise in a squadron of brand-spanking-new Boxsters (sans-S, mind you), then lunch.

After that, we're back onto the skidpad for some opposite lock exercises, then allowed to pick and choose what vehicles we take around a six-turn autocross course setup in the adjacent parking lot. The final for the day is hot laps around the Laguna Seca track in the vehicle of our choosing, except for the Viper ( insurance reasons, we're told).

At this point, we're all salivating at the prospects; champing at the bit to get out there and test the limits of physics.

The education begins next Friday with the second part of our series.

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