Although he never won a WRC rally, Rauno Aaltonen’s credentials as a driver and instructor are impeccable. He is a former Finnish (his home country) Rally champion (1961, 1965), European Rally champion (1965) and won the 1000 Lakes Rally in 1961, the RAC RallyMonte Carlo Rally in 1967 and the Southern Cross Rally in 1977. Aaltonen finished second on six occasions in the Safari Rally, which is considered one of the most difficult courses in rallying.

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Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

At age 74, Rauno Aaltonen is still a skilled driver and very fast as he demonstrated piloting a Mini Countryman around a short, slippery course at the ICAR racing facility located at Mirabel Airport north of Montreal. The use of the pedals, particularly the accelerator to guide the car through the twists and turns, foreshadowed what we would learn at Mini Winter Driver Training.

The day began with in-class instruction that focused primarily on correct seating position and the importance of looking ahead and looking where you want to go. Out on the course, the students became familiar with the cars on a slalom course that also demonstrated how important it is to look ahead to where you want to go and not to focus on what you want to avoid (the cones). Surprisingly, people are drawn to the source of danger like a bug to a light. Look at the cone and you will probably steer right into it. A “moose avoidance” exercise also demonstrated the importance of peripheral vision in driving and the effectiveness of ABS under hard braking. ABS keeps the wheels turning under maximum braking allowing the driver to maintain steering control of the vehicle.

The importance of looking where you want to go was driven home on a slippery circle of ice where we experienced what would be, if driving on a public road, the sheer terror of “understeer”, the car ploughing off the surface despite our efforts to steer away. Here we learned not only how to bring the car back on course by easing up on the brake, but also how to convert understeer into “oversteer”, where the back-end slides out instead.

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Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

Why would one want to do this? With the tail out and keeping our vision focused on where we wanted to go, it was quite possible to keep the Mini on course using primarily the accelerator. Once the technique was mastered (not fully in my case!) one could go around and around the circle despite the increasing slipperiness as the vehicles polished the ice surface.

The “Reverse 180” exercise taught us how to perform a 180-degree turn while in reverse gear, shift to a forward gear and continue on without losing control or much speed. This anti-terrorist manoeuvre is not something anyone would want to use on a public road, but it taught us how to create a pendulum effect that can be used to quickly turn understeer and its lack of steering into a controllable oversteer situation.

Rauno showed us how he used the pendulum to keep control of his rally car and we practiced the technique on an hour glass shaped course that required implementing a pendulum to navigate.

Feature: Mini winter driver training winter driving mini insights advice health and safety auto articles
Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

At the end of the day we put all our new found skills together in a friendly autocross competition that employed the Reverse 180, the Moose Avoidance exercise, the hourglass course and slalom course. We were divided into teams of three, although timed individually through the exercises. Touching a cone or overshooting the stop box at the end cost three seconds. Being accurate – going where you wanted to go – was as important, if not more important, than speed.

It is the same in the real world. When conditions go from bad to crappy, it is not speed we are concerned about; it is not hitting anything that matters most on our journey. Being equipped with good winter tires and an arsenal of driving knowledge, techniques and skills derived from the art of rally driving will help ensure you make it to where you want to go.

Check out the Mini Canada web site next fall for a Mini Winter Driver Training Course near you.

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