Photos by ©2017 Ron Avery & ©ClutchPhotos
Ever since my first racing school at Bondurant the day I turned sixteen, eventually getting my racing license is something I’ve aspired to do. Being that I didn’t have significant racing world connections or the budget to go racing, I figured my dream of racing would have to be satisfied yearly or bi-yearly by the racing schools and track days I’d do. Now, fifteen schools later, several track days under my belt, five years of reviewing cars and my job as a Driving Instructor at Porsche, all I needed was my license to complete my automotive aspirations. And thanks to my job, I have all the racing connections I was missing prior, making my racing ambition possible. With a little convincing from a few of my coworkers, I decided to take the necessary steps to get my racing license.
I did my research and decided to go with Bondurant again. With the prior four schools, I found Bondurant was most consistent in how they taught every aspect. The course I chose was the four-day Grand Prix Road Racing school with the possibility of being signed off for a national SCCA racing license. I decided to go in the summer, crazy I know, to take advantage of the lower cost of not only the course itself but also the hotel. With the course booked, I headed out to Arizona with my dad who wanted to be my pit crew and to share the experience with me.
Day one consisted of some of the typical things you’d expect; classroom time, getting to know the cars and some basic exercises. I was excited to find out that I’d be the last class to be using the Viper TA’s. These were the same Viper’s I got to drive in the one-day school I took back in April. My class turned out to be one of the smallest Bondurant had ever had. There were only four of us including myself with two of the others being Bondurant employees (an instructor and a mechanic).
Heel toe practice was first on the list. We got acquainted with our Viper’s shifting up and down from second to third gear on the big pad. It took several passes to start getting those perfect heel toe downshifts in the Viper, but we’d have more practice opportunities later.
Next, we headed out to the Maricopa Oval where I’d spent some time before in my one-day course. This consists of two different types of corners with two different types of apexs. We left downshifting out of this exercise and just focused on corner entry, apex and exit. The Viper has so much torque that coming out of almost any corner in third isn’t an issue.
We then headed back to the big pad for some obstacle avoidance exercises and braking exercises in the same area. These helped to gain focus, vision and to train us to be ready for just about anything and how to avoid it. And finishing up the day, we got in some more heel toe to make sure our technique was up to snuff for the coming days on the big track.
Day two started back out at the Oval now incorporating heel toe downshifting into the two varying corners. One difference was the rain that started falling as soon as we got out there. Now, these Vipers tend to slide coming out of a corner with even the slightest bit too much gas so I knew they would be a handful in the rain. If we had left the cars in third some of the issues would be resolved but we needed to piece together heel toe and the corners to get ready for the road course. Trying to find a dry line kind of messed with proper corner line but helped in lessening slides on corner exit.
After the rain stopped, we headed back over to the big pad and practiced some additional braking exercises this time combining ABS braking with turning and progressive braking with turning. And next up was the highlight of my time (other than the last day) at Bondurant.
The skid car is run on dry pavement with two ovals. The instructor determines just how much slip at the rear I’ll experience and from there, correct with steering and throttle on exit. For the first several run trough’s I corrected the slide from both directions before he had me make a complete circle around one of the ovals focusing on inside and outside radius. The feel of the oversteer is similar to what you’d experience on the Low Friction Handling Circuit at Porsche, just a little easier to slide. Being as ahead as possible with the steering saves the car from over rotating and throttle on the exit helps to keep the angle of the car on its way to the exit point.
Last part of the day was spent on a portion of the big track with lead follow and then some open lapping. With any lead follow session, it’s important to watch the instructors line while not focusing on the bumper. This allows for you to slowly increase your speed while getting a feel for each corner and what the car is able to do. I always try to take advantage of the instructor’s expertise and have him take me around to see how much I could really be getting out of the car. This helped to bring my confidence up and attempt to get more speed out of the Viper.
Day three started on the track again with more lead follow but this time incorporating some mock pace car scenarios that I’d encounter in an actual race. With two different scenarios that we all cleanly ran, we went back to more skid car. This time, the other driver I was paired with went first in case I decided to shred another tire. I moved onto linking the ovals, which was probably the most fun exercise we did on the skid pad. This required my hands to move even faster in order to catch the angle after the weight of the vehicle transferred over from one side to the other.
Finishing off the day was more lead follow then open lapping on the entire course. As my last day in the Viper, I worked on getting comfortable adding some significant speed to the entire circuit and getting used to every corner because this is what we’d be running in the Formula Mazda’s the next day.
Day four, the final day, was all in the Formula Mazda. We started out again on the Maricopa Oval practicing those same to corners. The feel of the Formula cars compared to the Viper couldn’t have been more different. The Viper had a ton of torque and is practically all engine while the Formula Mazda is a rear engine rotary with no ABS or traction control.
After spending time at the oval, we headed out onto the big track, while not using then entire thing yet. It was amazing just how much better the Formula Mazda did everything compared to the Viper. It turned in better, braked better, really responded to a lift of the throttle and every little input you gave it. The transmission took a few minutes to get used to. An H pattern box, the throws are so short and you can feel like you’re in a gear but just end up in neutral. I also found it difficult to execute a proper heel toe so I had to modify that, which ended up working well. Another difference was we had to stay a little more off the curbing than we did in the Vipers. I soon discovered that in certain corners the Formula Mazda liked a slight lift to add some weight to the nose to help turn in. And unlike the Viper, the Formula car didn’t like trail braking, so going back to straight line braking was an easy transition since this is what we teach at Porsche.
As the day went on and the entire course opened up, I was dropping seconds off my time. Between the second to last and the final session, I dropped about seven seconds and was feeling really comfortable with the car. It’s a completely different feeling than a closed cockpit car in that you are exposed to the elements, you can see the front wheels working, the sound is so much louder and everything is so much more predictable.
After driving ended it was time for the graduation ceremony that Bob Bondurant himself attended. The entire time I was taking the four-day course, my reoccurring thought was “don’t do anything stupid and just get your license,” and I made sure that was the result. And I did that because enclosed in my certificate of graduation package was my sign-off for my national SCCA license. All that’s left to do is go racing!
Thank you to the Bondurant family for your continued support!