Ron Fellows Corvette Owners Performance Driving School - Part III
I was really excited about Day Two of the driving school in anticipation of getting more track time in the cars. Regarding the cars, here is some interesting information about the Corvette fleet at Ron Fellows.
We were told that they had 135 Corvettes on the property to have enough inventory to run multiple classes and to have cars pulled “off the line” for maintenance or other issues. They just recently received a batch of new Corvettes to replace units that were going to be cycled out of the program, so the 135 number maybe a little higher than they usually have. The inventory of Corvettes contains a mix of models ranging from the Stingray, Z51, Grand Sport and Z06 with both automatic and manual transmissions. The school orders the Corvettes new, puts them through a 1500 mile break-in period in real-world driving, then puts them into service meticulously maintaining them until they are removed from service and sold or auctioned at about 9000 miles. The Corvettes were all pretty much stock configurations except for brake pad and fluid upgrades, tire upgrades, and a different engine oil viscosity to handle higher temperatures. All the cars also had the Performance Data Recorder installed in them so there is no need to take your own GoPro or other camera to record your sessions. Read on for more details on Day Two activities:
The morning started off with the instructors updating the list of students, that was written on the dry erase board at the front of the classroom, based on their assessment of everyone the previous day. This was done in order group drivers with similar driving skills and I guess what some called the creation of the “fast” and “slow” groups. Based on my assessment of the other drivers and recognizing those that seemed to drive pretty quickly, I’m happy to report that I was in the “fast” group if there indeed was one. 😊
Next, was a classroom session where we were given detailed information on the Performance Data Recorder (PDR) system and how to use it. We were shown how to mark a spot on a track so that the system can draw the course and even given information on how to use the PDR as a dash cam. As someone pointed out in class, using the PDR as a dash cam could be a good defense against a speeding ticket to provide evidence that one was driving within the limit, or maybe not… Another interesting facet of the PDR was a companion software application called Cosworth Toolbox. Since I don’t have a PDR in my new Grand Sport (shame on me…), I was very interested in this software being the technical geek that I am. I did download and install the software on my computer at home after getting back and was able to examine, review, and compare the videos and associated data with the track runs that I recorded. I have to admit this is a pretty cool system. Next, it was time to go back on the track for more lead-follow laps and personalized feedback.
After the morning’s first track session, it was back to the classroom for an explanation of the various traction management system settings, including the 5 sub menus under Track mode as well as how the electronic slip differential settings in the various modes help to manage and provide driver assistance and control. The logic in how the dash symbols are illuminated is a bit of reversed in that, for example, when the Traction Control System is turned off, the symbol is turned on (highlighted). Additionally, I realized that when I took my car out on the track at High Plains Raceway about a month before the driver school, that I did not have my Grand Sport in the Track mode that I wanted. For example, I wanted to have my car in Sport 1 setting of Track mode, so I rotated the console dial to highlight the Track setting, then pressed the center console button twice to get into the sub menus, then rotated the dial to display the Sport 1 setting. This is where I previously went wrong because with my computer geek way of thinking, I thought that I must somehow select the Sport 1 mode by clicking the center console one more time like a mouse click. However, the correct technique was to leave Sport 1 displayed for a few seconds, then the car locks into that mode. By clicking the Track sub menu mode, like Sport 1, once with the center console button, that actually put the car into a very base Track mode thus losing the benefit I would have had with car in Sport 1 Track mode.
After the classroom time, it was back out to the track again, but this time to ride along with one of the instructors. The explanation given for not giving the students a “ride-along” on the first day was that most students would not have caught the nuances and the driving techniques without knowing what to watch or look for. That made total sense to me because after my ride with one of the instructors, I realized a few things that I was doing “wrong”. As for the ride itself, it was amazing to sit in the Corvette by driven by capable hands to experience the potential capability of this awesome car. There were some turns in my ride-along that truly felt like the car was on rails. This also helped me to better under the actual traction limits that the car is capable of achieving which helped me to have the confidence to drive the car even faster in my next track sessions. I think most of the students had the same incredulous reaction after their ride-along session when told that the lap(s) were “only” driven at about 80% effort. Click on the picture below to go to a link of the YouTube video of the instructor ride-along lap.
After the ride-along session, next up was lunch, then back to the afternoon sessions. Our group went back to the classroom to get some instruction and enlightenment regarding turn management, late/early apex, and how braking and acceleration affect handling. We also were given the physics behind what causes understeer and oversteer and the situations which causes them. For example, I think that most of us who have driven a powerful, rear wheel drive car has experienced a time or two where there is a little too much throttle applied when making a turn and the resultant uncomfortable (or fun) situation where the rear of the car breaks loose and tries to pass the front wheels. This is oversteer. Unbeknownst to me, however was how light braking in a turn can actually make you faster through a turn. It sounds counter intuitive but when applying light brake pressure up to the apex of a turn, this provides some weight transfer and loading on the front of the car which allows the front tires to have more traction thus helping to prevent understeer (where you turn the wheels but the car wants to keeps going straight) thereby allowing you to go faster. Using the same logic, light acceleration can help shift weight rearward and loads the rear tires thus creating more traction. The key for both of these concepts is consistent, smooth, application of these techniques.
Next, it was back to the track again. Now the emphasis was putting together everything you’ve learned so far and utilizing this knowledge while turning it into skill on the track. This was also reflected in how the instructors provided feedback while out in the course. There was less radio talk as we each went around the track faster than before because we no longer had to be given as much instruction. We were also becoming more familiar with the track, which was the East course, which also helped to inspire more confidence in knowing where all the turns were and to pick better points to brake and accelerate. At this point, I was really starting to feel comfortable and imagined how much fun it must be to have a job where you could drive a Corvette like this every day.
After this track session, it was back to the classroom one more time for one final off-track lesson. Here we were given information on personalizing your Corvette with respect to the different handling modes, exhaust modes, steering effort, etc. I was more familiar with most of these features because I had my car a little of two months before the driving school, but I still paid attention intently just in case there was a nugget of information that I did not know.
Then, one last time back to the cars and track to experience and leverage everything that we learned over the course of the past two days. Again, there was even less verbal communication from the instructors as we did Lead-Follow one more time. My goal in this session was to hopefully do a couple of laps at least as fast as the ones taken with one of the instructors in the ride-along session earlier in the day. After getting back from the driver school and watching my videos that the PDR recorded to my SD memory card, I was pleased to find out the laps I took behind my instructor were all faster than my ride along laps. Click the picture below to go to the link of the YouTube video of my final laps and the final words of encouragement and support given to me at the end of the session.
After the final track session, our class then had a demonstration of the Performance Traction Management launch control with both an automatic and manual transmission Corvette. Unfortunately, the students were not allowed to do this for themselves so we had to settle for the experience of watching the instructors. If you would like to see and hear the demonstration of the PTM launch control for both the automatic and manual transmission C7s, click on the links below.
After the PTM Launch Control demo, we went back to the classroom where we were honored to have the man himself, Mr. Ron Fellows, drop in to say “Hi” to class and to get feedback on the school. Ron was very gracious with his time and stuck around to answer questions about the school, his driving career, and he even shared some fun stories about how he got started racing cars and eventually ended up with Corvette Racing. Afterwards, Ron tagged along and participated in our group photo which is at the end of this article below.
Whew, this was a very long blog post and a lot for you to read, but the Corvette Owner's School was a wonderfully run, exhilarating, and informative driving program. I am very glad that I was able to take advantage of this opportunity and thankful to Chevrolet for funding a significant portion of the tuition. It was hard to capture just how much fun I had and how much I learned over the two day school, but hopefully you have been able to live a little vicariously through these posts and share the excitement and enthusiasm we Corvette owners have for the vehicle that is deserving of the title, “American’s Sports Car”.