Feature: The Volkswagen Driving Experience winter driving auto articles car culture auto brands
2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Click image to enlarge

The vehicles wear studded tires (as is the practice for all Swedish cars in the winter) and if a driver should “lose it” in the corner, the worst that could happen is to drive into a knee-high wall of snow that flanks the track. Nonetheless, repeated incidents will (and did) redesign the Golf R’s fragile front fascia.

As well has having careers in motor racing, some of the Volkswagen instructors have unusual skills they bring to the job. Champion race driver Ronny Wechselberger (aka Ronny C-Rock), for instance, was also a stunt driver on The Bourne Ultimatum movie, and he holds the Guinness World Record for precision parallel parking.

The latter is something he does in his spare time which involves driving a Volkswagen Polo toward two parked cars with enough space between them to barely fit his vehicle. You and I would have the cars on your right, carefully parallel parking between them in the normal fashion. Ronny drives at some speed facing the cars, yanks the parking brake, cranks the steering, rotates the car 180 degrees and slides sideways between the two parked vehicles. Total space in front of, and behind his vehicle: 26 centimetres.

Feature: The Volkswagen Driving Experience winter driving auto articles car culture auto brands
2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Click image to enlarge

And that was the record, until someone shaved one centimeter off it – now Ronny will attempt to reclaim his record in April, 2012. Check out his drive here.

Although this is arguably “just a stunt,” Mr. Wechselberger suggests that the skills necessary to execute such a manoeuvre are similar to those he would use as a race driver visualizing the details of a track. Likewise, participants in Volkswagen’s Driving Experience are taught to learn the characteristics of the program’s circuits and exercises, and identify subtle surface variations in order to anticipate the car’s behaviour on them.

A constant message is to look where you want to go, and although this sounds axiomatic when driving a car, it’s surprising how easy it is to become distracted by surrounding objects. Looking where you want to go, we were told, will be the difference between driving around an obstacle and driving into an obstacle. It’s a fundamental skill.

And speaking of distractions, journalists were treated to a “hot lap” night drive with program instructors at the wheel. At speeds up to 160 km/h, you would think that driving in the pitch black (except for the headlights) would be more dangerous and challenging than runs during the day (it was certainly exciting!).

Feature: The Volkswagen Driving Experience winter driving auto articles car culture auto brands
2012 Volkswagen Golf R. Click image to enlarge

However, Mr. Wechselberger pointed out that the fastest lap times at Le Mans, for instance, are typically made at night. The reason? No distractions. No trees, no clouds, no stands and spectators, no extraneous information to pull your focus from driving. The lights illuminate what you need and nothing more, enabling the driver to focus 100 percent of his or her attention on the task at hand. So our “hot” laps on the lake at night were fun for sure, but not as risky as it might have appeared.

The Volkswagen Golf R is one of the cars of choice in the range of Volkswagen Driving Experience programs. Learn more about them at VW.com.




About Paul Williams

Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based freelance automotive writer and senior writer for Autos. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).