Honda Manual Driving School 2.0. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Steven Bochenek.
Recently Honda hosted its Manual Driving School 2.0. As the name suggests, it was an opportunity for members of the media to “learn the art of driving a manual transmission”. (Driving stick as an art really puts painting and literature in their place.) For those of us who already knew how, there were race experts on hand with tips for improved driving.
The instructors were Kelly Williams, erstwhile CASCAR heroine, and Daniel Morad, the 2012 Rotax World Karting Champion and former Indy Lights driver. The host of the event was St. Catharines, Ontario racer and instructor/promoter, Chris Bye. His knowledge of driving is nothing short of encyclopedic.
The ‘school’ was set up in the Ontario Place parking lot in downtown Toronto. Being private and away from the public, it was easier for them to accomplish a good deal in a very short time: one and a half hours, which were supposed to be two. The day started late because of a vicious storm that put city traffic into suspended animation that morning. Sadly the delay cut into our learning time because there were other events planned for the day that couldn’t be postponed. (This was the tail end of the storm that flooded much of Calgary. The marquee tent Honda had set up the day before got blown over.) At least it did clear up and remained dry for the actual school. Furthermore the hosts were most accommodating and happy to give us extra time with any vehicle there over the lunch hour.
There were three courses set up. The first two were for cars, the third for scooters. (This was a smart addition to the event. Learning stick is very challenging and humbling for all who’ve been there. But nearly anyone can glide on a bike while twisting the handlebar. While riding a scooter is more complicated than that, it’s not much so: especially compared to the often overwhelming stage fright that accompanies manual transmission lessons.)
As part of registration, our names were entered into a draw to win something special at lunch. It was a secret that you must read on to learn!
We were divided up into three groups, with the stick newbies clumped and the three auto writers sequestered away from the housetrained guests. The newbies seemed to get plenty of quality instruction [perhaps we should have sent Justin Pritchard on this junket, in retrospect… –Ed.] while we three were left pretty much to ourselves, driving a 2013 Honda Civic Si HFP and 2013 Honda Accord HFP.
The HFP (Honda Factory Performance) package is an adult portion of whoop-ass served into a Honda Civic Si or Accord. Trying these cars alone made the trip worthwhile.
2013 Honda Accord Coupe HFP. Click image to enlarge
The day’s most important lesson was the same as all vehicular instruction: safety first. Do whatever the instructor tells you and do not start driving until you get the go-ahead. First, however, Chris Bye gave a quick explanation of how clutches work: “flywheel… pin… throttle … gears”. It was lightning fast because of time lost from the lightning earlier. Next he gave some important tips.
1) Drive with your hands at nine and three o’clock. Why? The most-important airbag exits from the steering column at about 300 km/h. With your hands at mid-wheel, the airbag will clear them.
2) Extend your leg long enough so you can get the clutch all the way down with the knee still micro-bent. You need to put the clutch all the way down to maximize its life. Besides, you never know when you’re going to have to thrust the brake all the way down too – and it’s pretty much the same distance.
3) Getting into first gear is the hardest part of driving stick. When you depress the clutch, keep your foot off the gas pedal. Take it away, Chis: “When the instructor tells you to go, slowly take your foot from the clutch. As soon as the car starts to roll, stop moving your foot. Let the clutch engage and then lift your foot off the rest of the way. Release the clutch slowly; the tough part is balancing the clutch and the throttle.”
4) Don’t ride the clutch. Again, get your foot completely down on the clutch or completely off it. Otherwise you’ll wear it out fast and “Your mechanic will love you,” says Chris. (Later, Honda’s motorcycle expert, there for the scooter circuit, reminded me that with motorcycles you actually can ride the clutch nearly all the time and do next to no damage.)
Now, it was time to get onto the three courses with our assigned teams in tightly timed sessions. It’s a pity the weather hadn’t been more cooperative, as this first one was utterly curtailed. It was the scooters. (I returned during the lunch hour and had the circuit and bikes all to my greedy self.)