Mazda MX-5 2005 se

culture

On the skids – driver training post-COVID-19

I decide to brush up on my driving by getting slightly sideways in my own turbocharged Mazda MX-5.

I don’t need to tell you all twice that lockdown can have plenty of ill effects on the mind, body and soul. We all did our part, hopefully, for the greater good of our society, and it had to be done. Please understand this is merely an observation, and far from a complaint.

With some restrictions easing, certainly in NSW, entertainment venues are now starting to open back up. Sure, the rules are now very different, and likely will be for the foreseeable future, but at least some form of normality is returning to some areas of Australia.

A discussion was raised among the CarAdvice team regarding the fact that driver training, racetracks, and some amateur forms of motorsport were also back up and running.

This spawned Susannah’s great piece on the various forms of vehicle training and education courses that you can now participate in across the country.

Given you can attend the track in your own car, adhere to social distancing measures, and basically act as a lone wolf for the day, it seemed fair enough that venues were beginning to once again offer their motorsport services to us, the public.

I enjoyed the read, and felt a little inspired.

I, too, had suffered from being stuck inside, as everyone else had. For me, a particular area that copped it some was my driving. I’m far from a racing car driver, nor aspire to be. But like any ability, whatever talent I had, quickly dwindled from a lack of use.

With this newfound inspiration, I thought I should attend a day in an attempt to take a wire brush to the newly formed rust spots that were quickly appearing on driving abilities.

I consulted Suse’s article and found that Driving Solutions had begun running skid and slide events at Sydney Motorsport Park. Given I currently own a rear-wheel drive, turbocharged MX-5, it seemed like an appropriate choice.

Throw-away rationale aside, the actual reason for choosing this event genuinely centred around how these types of sessions would now be managed in the current climate. Given social distancing practices, passengers are not allowed, therefore in-car instruction also falls down.

So, there needs to be a different style of tuition.

A secondary reason for attending a driver training day, instead of a track day, is that I feel like they’re more relevant to more people.

They do their part to craft better, safer drivers on the roads we all share. Not all of us, myself included, were born with a natural ability to drive the wheels off a car. Learning from those who’ve made a living from it, in a safe environment, is something more of us should do on the regular.

After booking myself in, I had to fill in a questionnaire to ensure I hadn’t been in contact with someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and that I hadn’t travelled overseas. Once that was complete, I began to set up my car for the day. The event was to be conducted on a wet skidpan. That’s all I knew.

With that limited knowledge, I prepped my car accordingly. I treated it to a new set of spark plugs, changed the wheels back to the originals, and went over the suspension just to ensure everything was tickety-boo.

The reason for changing the wheels over was because the aftermarket 16-inch Enkei wheels that were on the car are currently shod with Yokohama Advan AD08R tyres. These are an R-compound semi-slick, and naturally do not fare well in the wet.

The original Racing Hart 17-inch wheels have a new set of Pirelli P-Zeros attached to them, which are designed to have some form of grip in the wet. I figured it would be best to use the all-weather tyre that had been designed with water displacement in mind, instead of the high-performing blocky semi-slick, which would likely aquaplane.

If you own a newer car, or something that’s unmodified, you’ll likely skip all these steps. It’s wise to still check your tyre pressures, oil, and water levels, however, as your car will get a bit of a workout.

Upon entering Sydney Motorsport Park, the same story applied as per the initial entry form. Once ready to go, we began to form an orderly queue at the entry to the skidpan.

The rules were simple – one car at a time, four-minute sessions, rinse and repeat, in order. The reason for one car at a time was simple – if you wish to bring your exotic out, as someone did on our day, you can rest assured that a lack of traffic hopefully means a lack of accidents.

There was a large figure-eight set-up created via two circles of cones in different radii. We were allowed to create our own destiny with regard to a course layout.

Choose your own adventure.

The option to have tuition was there, and conducted by Driving Solutions in a new manner. If you needed some guidance, they’d stick a radio in your car, walk out to a particular set of cones, and carefully listen, and instruct, as you began to induce oversteer.

Chief driving instructor and all-round nice guy, James Stewart, was on hand for the day.

“It’s great to be back out on the track, and we’ve really been enjoying conducting training from outside the car for a change,” added James.

“These days have become a little bit of an institution. We have regulars who attend frequently, who love to bring their family members out for a drive, catch up, and some have even formed friendships. All of our events, and this one in particular, are about having fun, learning, and spending time with like-minded people, and all are welcome.”

He wasn’t telling fibs – after my initial session, I was instantly greeted by a chap who had literally just finished upgrading the supercharger on his Subaru BRZ.

I do mean literally just finished, as he drove it from the workshop that afternoon an hour after it was complete, straight to the track.

He has become a bit of a regular who attends most skid and slide events. He had his nephew out on the skidpan, too, driving his other car – a rather nice BMW 135i equipped with a six-speed manual, and finished in a fetching gunmetal duco with red leather trim. Probably my ideal combo, to be honest.

The variety of metal was fantastic. From a Lamborghini Huracan to a Nissan R33 Skyline, the gamut of product made time off the track entertaining. There was even a fresh Tesla Model 3 out there having a crack doing some ever-so-silent skids.

That particular car needed a different form of tuition given the silent nature of the driveline. The level of throttle input the driver was conducting remained a mystery to the instructors, who only had the sound of tyre spin to go by.

Slowly but surely, they figured it out, and had the car sideways in no time.

“We also learn, too, on these days, as that Tesla demonstrated. We found it locking up the rear axle on deceleration more than acceleration, which changed the way we approached things,” mentioned James.

I had an absolute blast, so be sure to check out the video to see how I went. I think I’d also genuinely forgot how much of a hoot it is to get out there and blow off some steam.

To sum things up, I found that the turbocharged nature of my MX-5 resulted in me being overly stab-happy with the throttle.

A learning I took from the day was that I need to be more progressive with the throttle, keeping it at a constant rate, finding the angle of slip, then maintaining it, as opposed to throwing it in and modulating the drift too much via the throttle.

The car also behaved flawlessly, with me, and our trusty camera operator Lucas, up it for its rent all evening.

If you own something rear-wheel drive or properly all-wheel drive, or have access to either, I’d strongly recommend getting out and having a crack yourself.

The team at Driving Solutions were incredibly welcoming, and the atmosphere was equally so.

CarAdvice would like to thank Driving Solutions for having us along for the evening. Visit www.drivingsolutions.com.au to discover what events they’re currently running, when, and where.

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