Two weeks ago, my typical Sunday involved sleeping in until 11am and watching movies all day in my Minion onesie – pretty intense stuff. Now, it's 8am and I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a turbocharged Hyundai Veloster on my way to Sandown Raceway to take part in a Driver Dynamics advanced driver training course.
Ever since becoming ‘The Correspondent’, my weekends are now not so boring…
My name is Mandy Turner and motoring runs through my blood. Ever since I got my licence, I’ve had an unhealthy obsession with cars. I've lost count how many I’ve owned. Whenever I get my pay check, it almost certainly goes towards buying car parts.
On a Friday night, for example, you won't see me out shopping for new clothes and having a manicure, you'll find me in the shed wearing overalls with grease under my nails.
I can't go past the classics, but winning The Correspondent means I have the opportunity to drive and review all sorts of new cars, and you simply can't pass that up.
Feeling a bit fluey, I hope a hot chocolate improves things, but not so much. What does help though, is when Dave explains that the six-speed manual Sunflower yellow Veloster we’re riding in will be mine for the day.
Twenty minutes later, we arrive at Sandown Raceway ready to tackle Driver Dynamics’ Level 2 Advanced Car Control driver training course. There's no time to get to know the Veloster because, in a flash, all 10 cars are out in the members car park, lining up and raring to go.
The first exercise involves us driving towards two cones, and then braking as hard as we can. Starting at 60km/h, we slowly increase speeds up to 110km/h.
Never having had the chance to do anything like this before, I’m a little easy on the brakes – even knowing the car has anti-lock brakes (ABS). Lead Driver Dynamics instructor Kevin Flynn notices and, after my second go, jumps in the drivers seat to show me how it's done. “Stand on it,” he says.
Slightly embarrassed, next time around I do as he says and, for the first time in my life, feel the ‘thumping’ of ABS ‘cycling’. Now I’m getting the gist of this!
The second exercise, according to Kev, has our faces filled with worry as it involves multi-tasking: braking and turning. But he wants us to do it intentionally wrong, turning the wheel quickly while braking and winding on as much lock as possible.
Almost resulting in getting the rear end to swing out, the point is to show how ABS can be influenced by driver input (i.e. asking for more steering can reduce straight-line braking efficiency).
My first go, I don't get things as ‘wrong’ as Kev wants. "Mandy, you're crap at being crap," he says while laughing.
Second shot and I tug harder at the wheel. The rear slides out and the front end doesn’t turn in enough until the car has mostly slowed. "That was textbook perfect," Kev says. Since when do you get praise for being so perfectly bad?
All the good ‘bad’ driving is then reversed – our goal being to brake hard while accurately turning the wheel only as much as we need to make the corner and stick as close to the cones as possible. Kev uses peanut butter varieties to describe the necessary technique. “There’s two types of peanut butter: crunchy and? Smooth".
You can't have a driver training course without a slalom, right? Bring on the day’s third exercise.
Designed to highlight the importance of keeping both hands on the wheel – at a quarter to three – weaving in and out of the cones is not only fun, it’s also where the Veloster excels, easily eating up the quick direction changes for breakfast (smooth peanut butter on toast perhaps).
Being far too trusting of us nipping through the cones, Dave decides to take photos from the very end of the slalom course. I reckon he had to change his pants a few times, though. Crazy person…
Slalom done, Kev takes us across the road to a vacant grass paddock with a gravel road and he and Dave rearrange some cones.
There are a few participants who are already not liking the idea of getting their car dirty, but it's the only way to learn what your car is capable of doing on a loose surface compared with bitumen.
At 60km/h, we do a simple straight-line braking test. Being manual, and quite a bit more powerful than my Volkswagen Beetle, it is a challenge to get the Hyundai off the line without the wheels spinning up on the gravel.
Slamming on the brakes, it seems like the car takes forever to stop. But happily, after we’ve all done the exercise, Kev reveals that the Veloster took less distance to stop than some of the other cars.
All this concentrating makes you hungry, so we have a 45-minute lunch break down the street.
Dave and I get stuck in traffic heading back, but I don't seem to mind. I’m just impressed at how adaptable the car is. One minute I’m powering through the gears and feeling the turbo kick in, and the next, I’m in the passenger seat fiddling with the radio dial and moving my bum around in the seat because it feels so darn comfortable.
Strangely too, with a little time to think, I realise the clutch feels very similar to that of my 1965 Beetle – the car I reviewed to enter The Correspondent competition.
Back from lunch we venture into the classroom where we go through some important theory covering tyre grip and the traction circle. Understanding how much you can ask of your tyres – under acceleration and braking but also in turning left or right or in combinations of all four – is hugely important in preventing skids and regaining control from them.
Graphs absorbed, we again head out into the Sandown car park, this time for our fourth exercise: brake, swerve, recover.
Again starting at 60km/h, the aim here is to brake heavily, swerve around three centrally laid out cones, neatly gather the car up and cleanly exit the coned off area. Made far easier with modern technology such as ABS and stability control, one participate in an early 1990’s second-generation Hyundai Excel (with no such systems) has to work extra hard to avoid locking wheels.
Dave the waterer does a good job at (re)dampening the bitumen before Kev jumps in with each of us in our cars to explain and demonstrate the difference between power-on understeer and oversteer.
The one-on-one time is priceless, as Kev shows us how each of our various cars – front-, rear- and all-wheel drives – react in the same conditions.
A quick rearrangement of some cones – thanks Dave – and Kev readies us for the day’s final exercise. Aimed at challenging and improving our reflexes, the last test is an expansion of the previous brake, swerve, recover test.
Kev stands at the end of a coned out square with a flag in each hand held behind his back. In the middle of the square are three cones and at the bottom of the square is a narrow exit marked out with two cones.
Driving towards Kev at 60km/h, he – at what feels like the very last minute before hitting the three central cones – sticks out one flag designating the direction you need to turn while avoiding the three cones. The point of the exercise is to combine all we’ve learned throughout the day and calmly but accurately react to an ‘unexpected’ emergency driving situation.
After negotiating easily the day’s toughest exercise, we venture back into the classroom where we all presented with our Driver Dynamics certificate of completion.
As if winning The Correspondent hasn’t already been a massive thrill, to learn so much about driving and car control while getting to punt around a new Hyundai Veloster is just unbelievable.
After my day with Kevin and the team from Driver Dynamics, I would highly recommend everyone goes and does some level of driver training. Whether you’re on your Ls, Ps or have been driving for years, go and do it – it will make you, and others, a lot safer on the road. Now, what’s on for next Sunday…
Click on the Photos tab for more images by David Zalstein.