Driving School - Russell Racing High Performance Course
|If you want to drive your own car at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, CA with an instructor at your side, the Jim Russell Racing High Performance Course is the class for you. The course costs $750 per driver and is held all year. Russell Racing can schedule special classes for groups of 20 drivers or more. My local S2000 club organized a S2000 only class.
The High Performance Course is not a racing school but instead is a hybrid of a racing school and a driving school. It is designed to help you become a better driver on the street as well as giving you the experiece of handling performance of your car. The morning sessions focus on accident avoidance and car control whereas the afternoon sessions give you the experience of driving your car around the track.
The course is structured in the following manner:
- Registration and tech insection
- Emergency lane changes
- Braking exercise
- Skid Car
- Lunch at a winery
- Driving on the track
The tech inspection is the first thing you go through in the morning. They will check your tire pressure and add more air than necessary. I had issues with their tire pressure setting since I usually run 36psi hot and they had pumped my tires up to 38psi cold! Aside from a tire pressure check, they did not check brake pads, fluid levels and other things that a person who goes to the track often will check.
After the tech inspection, you will head to the classroom session. Russell Racing will give you a booklet about high performance driving. It's covers the basics such as understeer/oversteer, the driving line, heel-toe-downshifts, hand positions, etc. However, the instructors will not cover the whole book, but will instead hit some of the key points of high performance driving.
The rest of the morning events consist of four mini classes: emergency lane changes, braking exercise (when I took this class the first time, they did not have the braking exercise), skid car, and an autocross. You will break up into smaller groups and do each exercise as a group.
The emergency lane change exercise will teach you how to quickly move your car out of danger. The instructors will set up two lanes delimited by cones. Somewhere near the midpoint of the length of the lanes, there will be an opening where you will need to navigate through to get to the other lane. In each run through the exercise, the instructors will set the speed which you need to maintain while making the lane change. Needless to say, when the speeds are low, you can easily make it through the opening, however, as you approach 50mph, you will have to concentrate to get your car turned at the correct point. You will do the exercise swerving left and swerving right.
I took this course twice (once on my own and once with the S2000 group), and on the second time, they added a threshold braking exercise. However, we did this exercise in the school cars with the ABS disabled. I am not sure whether they added this session to the course or if it was a special addition for our class. This exercise was interesting because they put a twist on the emergency lane change exercise. In the first few runs, you will just practice threshold braking without locking the brakes and without skidding to a stop. In the last few runs, they will make you threshold brake, release the brakes, get on the gas and go neutral through and turn through the opening. If you don't get off the brakes and go to neutral throttle, you will not be able to turn. In the very last run, you will do the same procedure, but with ABS enabled. The point of this exercise is to show you that if you don't have ABS, you need to release the brakes and go to neutral throttle in order to turn. ABS allows you to continue braking while you turn and for the average driver, ABS is a lifesaver! Note that if you are proficient at threshold braking, you should be able to brake and turn at the same time, but most people can't.
Russell Racing has a special skid car to simulate slide recovery at very low speeds. The wheels of the skid car are propped up on a set of rollers which makes the car slide easily. The instructor can adjust the level of the roller to increase or decrease the effects of your inputs. This exercise will help you practice correcting an impending slide, however, it in no way simulates the real forces you feel when driving at speed on a road course. You never exceed 10 mph in this exercise. If you want to practice slide recoveries in a more realistic situation, you should take the Skip Barber Car Control Clinic (more on this later).
The autocross is the final morning session. You will drive in the turn 11 and 12 area in their special autocross course or in the paddock autocross. The instructors will take you around the autocross course a few times, then they will watch you drive the course. You will get lots of feedback during this session.
Part of your tuition goes toward a lunch at a local winery. Unfortunately, you won't be able to taste any wine :-). You will get a voucher for a lunch and you can choose from their sandwiches, salads or something from the grill.
After lunch, you return back to the classroom. The instructors will review the track layout, discuss braking points and gears, and cover heel-toe-downshifts. Don't worry about remembering everything because the instructor will be sitting next to you when you go out on the track. My recommendation is that if you don't already know how to heel-toe-downshift, don't try it at the track. Just do your downshifting in a straight light and slip the clutch out slowly. It's more important to get the car slowed down and drive the correct line through a corner than it is to try to add heel-toe-downshifting. Anyway, you can practice heel-toe-downshifting at every red light on the street.
You will break up into two groups for the on-track portion of the course. The instructors will partner you with another car and you will do a lead follow. The instructor will always be in the lead car. In the first few sessions, they will take you on the track for a few laps to show you the line, the braking points and the gears. The most beneficial part of the instructor driving your car around the track is that you get to feel the forces on the car at speed. Your partner will follow, then the instructor will switch cars and drive your partners car while you follow. Don't worry about keeping up with the instructor, drive at your own pace. After the instructor drive arounds, you get to do a lead follow again. The instructor stays in the lead car as a passenger and you will lead your partner around the track, then you will switch positions and your partner will lead you. The instructor will help you at each corner of the track. Ask questions if you are not sure of what to do. If you are following, make sure you follow closely so that you can follow the line. After about 30 minutes, your group will park and the second half of the class will go on the track.
The Russell Racing High Performance Course is a great course if you want to become a better driver on the street and to learn the basics of high performance driving. One of the major benefits of this course is that you will drive your own car so you will learn how it will react in different situations. For more information, visit: