Photography thanks to Sara Life, video by ©2017 Toni Avery
From the day I turned sixteen to now, I’ve attended a racing school or two a year. My first was Bondurant with my most recent before this latest was Bondurant as well. Skip Barber, Jim Russell, Jim Hall, Ford Racing School, Spring Mountain, and Allen Berg all offered something different not only in terms of cars but also tracks, locations and varying coaching styles.
With all the schools I’ve attended I always seem to find myself going back to Bondurant. With my first, and my most recent experiences there, the cars have changed significantly, but the coaching style and caliber hasn’t.
I had the opportunity to meet Bob Bondurant and his son last year (2016) at Monterey Car Week. We spoke about my website and how much I enjoyed their school every time I attended. Since my last visit, the automaker used by Bondurant changed from GM to Dodge (and Fiat). We then agreed for me to come out and take a one-day course in a Viper in exchange for a story. I was thrilled. I’d been wanting more seat time in a Viper and thought this would be the perfect opportunity for just that.
Being that I had just started at the Porsche Experience Center as a driving coach and that Arizona tends to be a little hot in the fall, we planned on early spring for my trip out. April arrived quickly and I was on my way to wheel some Vipers.
Class started early, as is the case with any school. I found out just prior to arriving that I would have the Chief Instructor, Mike McGovern all to myself for one-on-one instruction. We started by talking about my prior experience and what I was hoping to get out of my time there. Next was a brief introduction at the Maracopa Oval. There, two corners in an oval are setup with different apexes and brake points, to get used to heal-toe and powering out of a corner.
After, we went to the skid pad for some car control exercises. We started with the basics, understeer and oversteer correction. We drove a Dodge Charger with two smaller wheels attached to the front and rear that, when manipulated, would induce over or understeer. When we got to oversteer I was having too much fun. Mike kept wanting me to straighten out, understandably, but I wanted to see how much angle I could hold for as long as I could. I completed the first oversteer task quickly so he added in figure eights, which I got quickly as well, so he then had me sliding around the inside and outside radius of the skid pad. Until we went to open lapping later, this was my favorite activity. At Porsche, mostly all of our car control areas are wetted, so it was fun to work on some dry surface sliding.
Next was an exercise in ABS and non-ABS braking. There were three different exercises that were all completed three times each. The first involved firm initial braking to a lighter braking clean stop. This one was the easiest with the car responding very well to this technique. Next was hard braking into a corner with a light brake clean stop. This one was slightly more challenging simply because of the turn, but the car still responded quite well. Last was an ABS braking exercise while still ending in a light braking stop. The Viper has so much braking response that pushing it to that point doesn’t seem to upset the car as much as you might think. This exercise was a good introduction to more of what to expect and how to respond to any situation once we got to the track.
With a little time before lunch, we headed out to the West track for some lead follow. With each lap, Mike got a little faster and I followed to see where we were supposed to be braking, turning and accelerating.
After lunch, we headed back out to the West track to start some open lapping. First, Mike took me out and showed me what I should be doing. We also started using telemetry to get a more accurate read on my progress. After we recorded several of Mike’s lap times, it was my turn to see how close I could get.
Starting out I was just getting comfortable not only with the car but with the track. It’s been several years since I’ve been there and I spent my first couple laps out getting re-acquainted. Before I knew it, I was shaving seconds off my lap times. I had Mike get back in the car with me to make sure I was hitting all my marks. Then, it was all me. For the next 30 minutes or so, I concentrated on getting back to throttle sooner, staying on the gas longer and braking more efficiently.
The Viper is a really fun car for its weight. I assumed it would be overly nose heavy and would be a bit of a handful, but it actually responded better than expected. It pointed exactly where I asked it to, it had gobs of torque even in higher gears, and even when pushed hard into a slide on corner exit, it recovered nicely. Something as simple as the height adjustable pedals make the Viper a versatile track car for just about anyone.
I could easily have spent another hour just ripping around the track to see how much additional time I could shave off. But for someone who hasn’t been out there in several years and it being my first time driving a Viper hard, I got within five seconds of the Chief Instructors best time (going down from the low 20’s to an 11.8).
I had an incredible time with the Viper and appreciate Mike’s time instructing me. A big thank you to Jason Bondurant for giving me the opportunity!
It isn’t often that someone has the opportunity to ask a well-respected and admired driver detailed questions about his career. Bob Bondurant was kind enough to answer some interesting questions and the answers were even better than expected.
Q: What form of racing did you like the most?
A: No question, Formula One. As it was in 1966 and still is today, the most exciting, most competitive and most revered racing in the world. My entire goal in joining the Carroll Shelby American Team in the Cobras was to race against the world’s best and they were all in Europe. My sights were always set to win The World Manufacturer’s Championship, fill any open weekend with Formula 3 races and make a good impression as a race car driver on a Formula One Team Owner. I succeeded in winning the World Manufacturer’s Championship for Shelby American and Ford by winning 7 out of 10 races. I did race and win Formula 3 races, my final race in F3 was 2 weeks after winning the World, I won the F3 race at the Italian Grand Prix and I did get the attention of a Formula One Race Team Owner…Enzo Ferrari.. The World’s Best!
Q: Which driver did you most admire?
A: My hero was Juan Manuel Fangio, he won the Formula One Championship 5 times. I was racing Formula 3 in Monaco on a weekend that I was not competing in the World Manufacturer’s Championship and met Fangio. He had his eyes on me during the race, I was so excited to see him on the edge of the track until a guy spun out in front of me, throwing me into a spin right in front of my hero— it was embarrassing but he and I hung out later at the hotel. I will always remember that he told me that I was a very good race car driver, and invited me to the Temparada F3 Race Series in Argentina, that was one of the top highlights in my life!
The driver I most admired that I raced with and against was Dan Gurney. Dan and I raced against each other in the early 60’s, then we were team mates on the Shelby American Team in 1964 winning Le Mans together beating Ferrari for the first time, then I raced for Dan on his Formula One Team, Gurney’s Eagles. He was always intensely competitive on the field, focused, and a great guy that was also my deeply loved friend off the track.
Q: Which co-driver did you enjoy working with most?
A: Joe Schlesser, the Frenchman. We had a great time together racing to win the World. Joe was paired with me on the Shelby American Team. Shelby often used European drivers as co-drivers as a way to involve the country we were racing in to support their driver along with his American, it was very smart PR to get the fans excited! Joe and I had the difficulty of racing under the English team manager Alan Mann in 1965, we were able to diffuse each others frustrations, pacify Mann to stay behind his English drivers 500 yards while being instructed not to win the races, but we always beat them anyway. Joe knew that Manns racing restrictions were very unfair and were wrong. Schlesser believed in me and knew that I had a real shot at winning the World Championship. He was a great supporter and co-driver as he encouraged me to race my own race, he drove fast in his stints and stood beside me winning 1965 12 hour Sebring as well as in Reims, France on the 4th of July winning that day and securing all the points we needed to win the World. Hard to top that feeling! My original co-driver was supposed to be my American co-driver Alan Grant who helped me win the Monza race earlier that year. I got the Coupe on the pole, Alan was my co-driver and I crossed the finish line for the win. Joe Schlesser knew how close I was to winning the World points in Reims, and he wanted on that podium with me so he lured Alan Grant away from me and tossed him the keys to his Ferrari and took over as my co-driver that day. Alan DNF the Ferrari while Joe shared the podium with me for the World. Bondurant is also a French name and translates into GOOD ENDURANCE, so, two Frenchmen won the World Manufacturer’s Championship! Joe was tragically killed 3 years later in the F1 French Grand Prix. I miss that guy.
Q: What road car do you wish you had purchased and enjoyed when new?
A: The Ferrari Testarossa I still see that car and regret not buying it for my personal use. I drove a brand new one in the late 80’s at my school when it was still at Sears Point in California. That car can drive by me to this day and call out to me.
Q: If you could race in any race series, and any time period, what would it be?
A: NOW. FORMULA ONE. I watch every F1 race on a large screen 80” TV with the sound up very loud!! I still have a deep burn inside me to compete against today’s drivers, of course it includes wishing for my perfect eyesight & my youthful body to return! However, my absolutely certain ‘passion to win’ the FIA F1 Championship has always been with me. Mentally I would still be very competitive in the Formula One Series. I could not promise that at 84 that I would retain all the technology in the new cars in a day, but the basic driving skills of today’s driver is absolutely no different than when I raced F1 in 1965-66. The driver still has the same lines to master, the same passing skills, the same passion to win, period. The Bondurant Racing School has race car drivers that return every year to get dialed back in, its ‘practice makes perfect’ and my graduates are usually podium guys!
Q: During your career, what was your favorite track, and why?
A: NURBURGRING was my favorite track of all time. When I raced it in 1964-1966 it was still 14.2 miles long, with 160 turns. Today it has since been shortened. It was challenging, very fast, lots of elevations, lots of tight fast corners. In 1965 I was driving the #54 Cobra Daytona Coupe setting a lap record that lasted for 15 years! Shelby English Team manager Alan Mann, would not give me practice time before qualifying so in only 3 qualifying laps I was 9:23:0 then 9:21:0 then 9:18:05. I was still dropping tenths of seconds off but was told by Mann to bring the car in because it was too hard on the car before the race. I ran hard against the Ferrari GTO’s and still won the race.
That particular 1965 season for the World Manufacturer’s Championship was one of the most exciting, highly attended race series in Europe. The blue and white American cars were battling against Ferrari for the title they had never given up to any of the other Manufacturer’s competing. It was fantastic for me to bring the win to America, Carroll Shelby and Ford that year.
I am actually asking anyone in Europe who may have an image of my car #54 that was turned into a poster that showed the hillside full of fans holding a long white sign that read in German,’ BONDURANT BEAT FERRARI PLEASE!’
It is said that Enzo Ferrari referred to me as BONDURANTE’ SIR COBRA who was beating his mighty Ferraris and upon learning of the posters for sale, had the remaining ones destroyed before they were widely distributed. I would appreciate seeing that picture! Of course, my F1 and prototype allegiance is to Ferrari, they have always treated me magnificently as a Ferrari Factory Driver, with great respect, and always including me with the utmost celebrity status red carpet treatment in all Ferrari celebrations!
Q: Where do you see the future of driving schools headed?
A: We are celebrating the Bondurant Driving School’s 50th anniversary on February 14, 2018. I thought the school would last 3 or 4 years back in the early 70’s and look at us now! I have it upon instinctive authority that there will be driving schools until the last vintage car on earth is gone! There is such a powerful, impossible to manufacture, basic human confidence that you experience once you have mastered the vehicle instead of it mastering you. Until you have been through the Bondurant School, you cannot conceive of what I am saying, it would be like me trying to tell you what water tastes like, until you experience that drink, there are no words to explain it.
I am hopeful that Electric cars and Autonomous cars continue to make their way for every day practical solutions for commuter driving, maintaining independence for the elderly, the sick, the disabled, lifting the impact of the carbon footprint off the shoulders of the environment. In the same breath, I am 100% confident that our vehicle driver instruction school industry will remain very healthy for many years to come. Man was always promised “free will” to make his own creative decisions in his short experiment here on earth. There are so few things on earth that can ignite the human spark called confidence, learning to drive at the Bondurant School guarantees that you will leave feeling a deep confidence that you did not know existed within yourself. The Bondurant School is much more than just instructing and teaching you to drive with optimum car control, you leave with a new-found confidence in all things that you do from your graduation forward. I believe that the future of the driving schools will actually grow into a new-found culture of entertainment and mental health solutions beyond learning how to drive, but a way to get on a track to decompress your over stimulated mind from all the technology robbing you of the simple pleasures of releasing the daily stresses in life.