Tuesday, June 23, 2015

EVO Driving School: FIAT Student's Report!

On Saturday June 20th I attended a one day autocross driving school taught by the Evolution Performance Driving School folks, and give it a big thumbs up for anyone looking to improve their driving skills! EVO SCHOOL LINK

During a full day of driving and learning how to get the car to go faster around the cones, I got about 20 runs on course, as well as 4 ride-a-longs with the expert instructors, and a couple more laps just riding slowly as the instructors explained in greater detail how they go so fast!

By the scenic Chesapeake Bay on the Joint Base Little Creek (mostly Navy but also Marines and Army), it was a long hot day that also required a lot of water and Gatorade! Let's just say my t-shirt and top-o-the-socks tan lines are looking good!


There were 30 students for the day, and we each received the same instruction and same amount of seat-time behind the wheel. Compared to your average day of autocross where you might get 4-6 runs, just the amount of time driving time at this school was a big plus for me!

I'd say most of the students had at least some experience in auto-crossing, although a few were just getting into the sport. Regardless, with a day spent with instructors who have won national championships, I'm sure we all learned something. Was it worth it? Well, judging by the number of students that had taken the same course before but came back for more practice, the answer is "YES"!

One fun thing about autocross is that while you can compete with a very expensive car that you bring in on a trailer and don't even drive on the street, you can also autocross with your daily driver. Just check out this classic Datsun!


The day started bright and early, with students arriving at 7:30AM so that they could get their cars prepped and moved into position where we could all get on the course when it was our turn.

With the 30 drivers divided into 6 run groups, all of us also got to work on course (typically picking up cones the other drivers knocked over) part of the time and just watching the other groups part of the time. Besides learning from the instructors, this is a great way to observe other drivers on course and see how they approach the different sections.



Our first step was driving the course 3 times alone and without instruction so that we could then do the same thing at the end of the day to see how we had improved.  The early part of the day was fun; just talking with the other drivers a bit, seeing what other cars were there, and starting to drink water for what we knew would be a long hot day outdoors. Maybe that's no big deal if you're a pro athlete, but for some of us of, well, more advanced age, that water stuff comes in handy both drinking and pouring on your head when it's hot! Hey look, an Acura NSX!



Here's my FIAT in grid, and probably the only vehicle in this photo I could beat was the Navy hovercraft LCAC in the background!
But seriously folks, the pad where we were driving is a great place to hold an event like this, complete with scenic water views!

Other than one Italian car and the NSX and older Datsun, most of the cars were Subarus, with the standard joke of "which Subaru is yours...The BLUE one!" since they ALL seem to be blue.
This blog is brought to you by the letter "C"!

Cars, cones, autoCross, Corvette, COOL!

The Corvette is checking out the course, our cars are on grid, so we're just about ready to start driving. The weather was clear, other than a few clouds and about 5 drops of rain in the afternoon. And hot, so I'm still drinking water. And Gatorade. And Lemonade. And a Diet Pepsi. And more water.





Just in case you were wondering, the FIAT Abarth is just a little bit taller than the Acura NSX.

I did my first three runs, and my fastest was a 32.079. When we get to the final 3 runs of the day we'll see if I can beat that time with some great instruction on top of 17 more times of driving the same course. The EVO folks also have a 2nd day of this course, which builds on the techniques of day 1, so I hope to take that one next time and get even faster!




Here's that Datsun out on course, you might be able to click on the photo and see that there is an instructor riding along in the passenger seat here at the end of a run. Oh yeah, if you don't know what a Datsun is, ask someone older!

I have heard that there are two kinds of teachers...and these guys were the GOOD kind! They had a lot of insight, experience, and solid techniques to teach that we should be able to apply to just about every type of driving maneuver. Naturally safety was a big issue of the day, and this was stressed throughout the day too.



The course that we used was great for instruction, because it had several distinct elements that allowed us to focus on different skills at different times, while also then putting the different elements all together as we decided how to attack the entire course before, during, and after each run. Maybe the fast drivers can go out and "wing it", but I need to have a plan on how I'm going to drive the course first, and then go out there and execute that plan. Just like every day driving, one thing you do will affect the next thing you do, so it's important to make decisions on how fast to drive at point A to help you go faster at point B.


The course started with a straight ahead slalom, and I know I picked up some time on this section by learning to backside the first cone to set up how I was getting around all the other cones. Even before getting to the first cone, the instructors talked to us about where to set up the car on the start line, since even sitting 6 feet to one side or the other will affect what angle your car will be approaching the first cone or corner, so every little detail can help or hurt your driving time. Focusing your vision on the LAST cone in the slalom also helps you look farther ahead and smooth out your line.

After the slalom, the next section of the course was a circle of cones that we had to negotiate by turning about 270 degrees around to the right, so this was a huge braking area which then required drivers to think about, oh, a few things like: -how soon to brake, -how hard to brake, -when to turn the wheel, -when to get back on the gas, -how much gas, how close to get to the cones, -when to unwind the steering wheel, -where to be looking, etc.

It looks easy when you see the good drivers do it, but dang that can be a lot of things to be thinking about when you're driving as hard as you can!


Before we drove, we also walked the course, and this is how you learn what the course will be for an event. It always helps me to walk the course as much as time allows, first to not get lost, but also to plan how to drive it.  In the photo on the right you can see an instructor leading half of our group around the 270 degree circle. By the end of the day I was tempted to just run straight ahead and jump in the bay...did I mention it was really hot all day? The EVO school even includes lunch with the school, so for a ton of driving and a lunch with cookies, it really can't be beat!


Don't forget that when working on course, safety is the most important thing, and with the Tidewater Sports Car Club folks you also get to make a fashion statement with a safety vest.

The safety vest is said to keep away werewolves and automobiles, and it must work, because I've never been hit on a course by a car or seen a werewolf.

After the circle, we had a big braking event to make a near 180 degree turn, then a big sweeper turn, and finally a Chicago Box, which is just a 3 cone slalom on steroids with a bunch of other cones around it to make it look cool.

When an instructor drove my car, I learned a lot from that, plus he smoked my time without even trying, and posted a 31.421. Experience is the best teacher, so that was cool!


As the day went on we got more practice, and finally I was able to get the hang of some better driving skills, and ended up lowering my time on the last run of the day to a 31.750.  From where I started in the morning that wasn't like going to light speed and cutting 100 seconds off, but for me that 0.829 improvement was certainly more than I could do by myself, so I was happy with that performance.

Along the way I managed to flatten a few cones, make plenty of mistakes, but the bottom line is that I learned a lot that should help me in the future, and absolutely had a lot of fun!

Keep driving!

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