Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. Click image to enlarge

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Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy

Bowmanville, Ontario – Unusual among auto writers, I don’t care for motorsports. Beyond its use as a means to test performance vehicles, I’m not all that keen on driving laps around a race-track. So why am I wearing a balaclava and helmet, tackling the curves on Ontario’s famed Mosport track? Because I’m primarily learning to be a better driver on the street.

My training is courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, a series of schooling days held at various venues in several Canadian cities. I’m taking the Mastering Performance Course, covering a full day in a wide variety of Mercedes vehicles, from AMG models right up to a small SUV. It’s a combination of classroom time, repetitive lessons and then a full afternoon of lapping to learn the tricks of the trade.

Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Instructors Jerry (left) and Danny Kok (top photo) teach drivers how to handle every type of vehicle Benz builds. Click image to enlarge

It’s also a smorgasbord of Mercedes vehicles, all neatly lined up outside the classroom, and covering everything from SLK convertibles and AMG sedans to a GLK-Class sport utility. Some drivers immediately scoped out the sportier models, but it wasn’t necessary; the instructors moved us through them at the end of each circuit, so that every driver got to spend time in every car. It was a chance for Mercedes to show off its product line, of course, but it was also eye-opening for drivers to realize that it isn’t just the car, but how you drive it, that makes the difference.

The day begins with a classroom lesson from chief instructor Danny Kok, a race car driver who has been teaching for 25 years in North America and Europe with Driving Unlimited, including specialized training for police officers and security personnel. His system is to train in “building blocks,” starting with teaching the basics, incorporating them into the track experience, and then slowly building speed with experience. It’s a method that I found worked very well.

It starts with the seating position. “We take two to three days to build and adjust a seat while racing, so you understand the importance,” Kok says – and most of us adjust our own cars differently once the day is over and we’ve learned the correct position. Moving the seat as low as possible in any vehicle provides more crash protection in side impacts, and forces you to look far ahead instead of down. The knee should have a slight bend when brake and accelerator pedals are pushed down all the way, and the left foot should stay on the so-called “dead pedal,” or footrest, both to provide support while driving and, in case of a crash, to keep the body far back in the seat, which is the safest position. Hands are at the nine-and-three position, guiding the wheel rather than holding it white-knuckled.

Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. Click image to enlarge

There’s classroom training on how to take corners, including trail braking, which Kok says isn’t offered in many courses until drivers get to an advanced level. He believes in teaching it from the start. Most instructors have taught me to brake hard just before the turn, and then fully release the pedal as I start the bend. Kok teaches to release the brake slowly through the first part of the turn, which avoids an abrupt transfer of weight and energy. He breaks the class into two groups, and my crew heads out to learn how to get around a corner properly. (Why do other instructors teach as they do? Kok says it’s because many schools own the equipment, and the brake-and-release isn’t as hard on the cars and tires as drivers learn.)

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