By Anthony Crawford & Alborz Fallah
It’s amazing how very few people have ever spent a day at a race track but still call themselves motoring enthusiasts or skilled drivers.
Let’s be honest, we all think we are good drivers and I’m not saying you need to be out at a race track every weekend to be a good driver. For the most part, driving from your house to the shops requires very little driving ability, but then again, simply playing golf or tennis also requires very little skill. You may be able to connect racquet or club with the ball, but that doesn’t mean you’re any good.
It’s only when you want to learn how to drive properly and with a broader skills set, or how to play a sport at the top amateur level, that advanced training becomes mandatory.
For most of us in Australia, our driving training includes a series of lessons with a driving instructor teaching us how to reverse parallel park, indicate correctly, and essentially follow the road rules. There is very little if any form of driver training that involves learning how to control your vehicle, cornering and braking technique, not to mention collision avoidance training.
When Anthony told me there is a possibility we’ll both be racing in high-level international events in the next 12-24 months, we thought it was about time we get our documentation in order and start doing some additional track time.
We’d heard good things about Paul Stokell, a man who has done almost everything in the world of motor racing. He has won the Australian Drivers Championship five times and has competed in Europe.
He’s also the current leader in the factory backed MINI Challenge Series, with guys like Grant Denyer and Scott Bargwanna in the line up. So you can imagine the look on our face when we found out that he conducts driver training all over Australia, both on race tracks and skidpans.
First problem, we needed a car. Most car manufacturers don’t really like their cars being put on the race track, as insurance is a nightmare, so it had to be a private car. You know the scenes in the movies when the group says something like “if only we knew someone that could ….” Then they all stare at one of the characters? Well it pretty much went the same way “Who’s car can we track?” Anthony said as he starred at me with that smile on his face.
Yes, I suppose given my car has seen enough track days it was the obvious candidate, but usually when it gets on track, only I drive it, how can I trust my car with Anthony behind the wheel? Sure we’ve both driven pretty much all of the world’s fastest cars at speeds well over 300km/h and manufacturers like Bugatti have trusted us with cars worth more than two million dollars, but… this was my car, it felt like I was handing over my girlfriend! Either way, it was decided, we will race with my worked WRX.
Pirelli, who sponsored our Full Throttle supercar DVD around Europe this year, came to the party with a set of semi slicks for the event, but they were destined to arrive a day late and my original Bridgestone semi-slicks were too badly worn, so we decided to race on a set of average quality road tyres.
There are a dozen driver training organizations that teach everything from basic car control all the way through to one-on-one race training. Stokell Motorsport comes in at the training level with the idea of focusing on track days and more personalised training. The company has recently moved into defensive driver training as well.
In Brisbane, Paul runs track days at Queensland Raceway, Lakeside and Morgan Park. Our day was going to fall on Morgan Park out in a small town 1.5 hours out of Brisbane called Warwick.
That meant a departure time of 6.15 am from Brisbane for the driver’s briefing and registration at 8.00am sharp, and ready for the scheduled 9.15 am on-track time.
I’d never driven Alborz’s WRX, which has been heavily modified for track days like this, or so I thought.
I was actually surprised when he handed me the keys and said, “you better drive to the track” my thoughts exactly.
Despite the extensive ‘mod’ program on this WRX, it’s a ridiculously easy car to drive, fast or slow.
Breakfast was simply a can of Red Bull, before we spotted a small café near the track.
There was a black EVO IX parked outside, another track day junkie in for a last minute pit stop for some sustenance before things started getting serious. He didn’t know it yet, but disaster wasn’t far away for the EVO.
But as Alborz mentioned, this was more than just a track day for us, our CAMS licenses were not current, and we both have offers to drive at the 24 Hours Nurburgring, so the order of the day was to get as many laps as possible before the observed test laps.
Morgan Park is the perfect track to work on your race skills, as there are plenty of technical corners and very few concrete walls to connect with, if it all goes pear shaped.
Stokell Motorsport is a thoroughly professional outfit, but unlike some organizations that are a little too school-like, Paul and his team of experienced race instructors, still know how to make it a fun day.
Arriving at the track, we were greeted by all kinds of exotica including two Porsche 911s, Lotus, VW R32 & R36, AMG CL63, Nissan Skyline, Porsche Cayman, another WRX and of course, the ill-fated EVO IX.
It’s all very friendly around the pits too, with a bunch of like minded people of both genders, of different age groups and from all walks of life, and all with a great big grin on their faces, knowing they can safely push their cars to their limits without the fear of loosing their licence.
And if you’re still not awake, then don’t panic, there’s plenty of ‘real’ Espresso coffee on tap all day.
You need to pay attention at the Driver’s briefing, as Paul takes you through the track and explains cornering techniques and the track rules such as ‘no passing in the corners, only on the main straight, etc.
If you follow these simple rules, and you’ll most likely be able to drive home at the end of the day without a scratch on your car.
Depending on how many drivers turn up on the day, you are split into two or three groups with each track session lasting around 20-minutes or so.
I had my doubts about how long our off-the-shelf road tyres would last, before a total lack of grip would mean drifting through turns.
The same applied to the stock brakes fitted to the Subaru although; there was some minor (very minor) consolation when Alborz mentioned that the pads were at least race-spec. That meant cooling down laps would be essential if we didn’t want to destroy the rotors and walk back to Brisbane.
Not only was it my first time on track with what has quickly become the official CarAdvice race car, but Morgan Park was also new territory, so Alborz took the wheel first with me riding shotgun for the first session.
After a blistering couple of laps, all I could think about was how much rubber would be left on the tyres for my session. Not much, I suspected.
Then disaster struck our newfound mate in the EVO IX, when he ploughed off the track at turn one, ripping off the front skirt entirely. Session over.
Then it was our turn. It was only lap ten of our second session of the day and Alborz was already complaining that he had no brakes, while at the same time; we’re drifting (that’s no grip) through the last right hand turn onto the straight.
It would be a full 20-minutes before there would be enough brake pedal and the tyres had cooled sufficiently to withstand another session.
Fortunately for us, there was a technical advisor trackside that was constantly monitoring our tyre pressures, so that we could at least remain competitive against the Lotus Exige and Nissan Skyline, who were very quick.
Lunch arrived just in time, which was a very decent BBQ serving steaks, sausages and hamburgers, along with ice-cold water and soft drinks.
Time for the CAMS observation test and Paul Stokell himself was going to check us both out.
My only concern was that our tyres had almost no grip left in them and the brakes were in a similar condition.
Not to worry, after several laps the test was over and we would both be able to go racing again, but only after we sat through the CAMS lecture and identified the various flag signals.
You also need to pass various medical examinations too before submitting all other documents to CAMS prior to receiving your competition licence.
Further track sessions continued until 4.30pm along with plenty of advice from the team of instructors who are always available for in-car instruction whenever you need it.
We are more than happy to give Stokell Motorsport a plug, as it is a well-run operation, more interested in developing driver’s skills behind the wheel than anything else.
for those folks who don’t happen to have track day car lying around the garage but would love to get on the tarmac and experience the thrill of going flat out in one of the world’s best handling sports cars, the heavy hitting Lotus Exige, you can do that too with their Lotus Exige Race Experience sessions, where you get to race the car after expert coaching. Stokell Motorsport will provide all your racegear including race suit and helmet on the day.
Stokell Motorsport Pure Speed Event prices
Lotus Exige Race Experience prices