August 15, 2013
BMW Advanced Driver Training. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Steven Bochenek
“Between 4,200 and 4,500 people die in traffic each year in Canada. It’s the most dangerous thing you can do day to day.” Racing driver Robin Buck was the lead instructor at BMW’s Advanced Driver Training course on July 3. He and two other experts, Kelly Williams and Tina Larson, only had about eight hours to impress upon a class of twenty just how little we know. They succeeded.
The day was carefully broken down maximize everyone’s investment ($595 plus taxes, though Autos.ca was comp’d). The first hour was all theory or what Buck called “the pill.” There was some more instruction during lunch and, towards the end of the day. Otherwise, we were learning in practical situations all day, driving BMW 335i’s with their rear-wheel drive or XDrive versions. (XDrive is BMW’s term for all-wheel drive.)
Here’s the fun we had after the lecture. There were special courses set up to experience emergency braking, understeering, oversteering, collision avoidance and ultimately slalom, where we put together all we’d learned during the day.
In the morning we split into two groups: one played with the physics of understeer conditions and the other, the four-wheel skid. With these two practicums, “it’s not what you do to the car, it’s what the car’s doing to you.” For the beginning of the sessions, the instructors turned off the safety intervention systems (don’t try this at home, kids!) so we experienced the physics of momentum versus thrust. Then they put the systems back and we repeated the exercises. Big differences.
Our group did understeer or, “what happens when the front end loses traction.” The lesson here – the most important of the day – was to watch where you want to be, not necessarily where you’re going. Or you’d end up in a ditch. Enough about that exercise.
Then we practiced emergency braking, my favourite lesson. First we braked at 50km/h on a wet surface and slid. Then we repeated the experience at 60. Though we’d only moderately increased our speed the skid took us significantly farther. Rule of thumb (or big toe, one supposes): doubling your speed multiplies your stopping distance by four!
In the afternoon, we practiced oversteer on wet conditions. The experiment entailed a large donut turn at 25km to start, then we increased our speed to 32km/h. It’s just that couple of clicks faster to make us lose grip and control. They spun us out several times in turns.
The second afternoon clinic was emergency avoidance. They set up pylons in a tight circuit and had us rocket towards them, braking hard and going around them. If you look at the pylon, which they’d named Matilda, she’s dead. Remember the day’s biggest lesson, above, to avoid collisions and manslaughter charges.
Finally, we did a partnered rally race on their slalom course to round out the day. My partner and I came in second overall, narrowly missing the prize of six months of free satellite radio. But reading about these activities will never measure up to physically experiencing them. It’s like trying to get into shape by reading about triathlons.