Recently my Dad and I attended a Skip Barber 3-Day Racing School at Road Atlanta in Georgia. The trip was a blast and driving on the track in a Mustang GT was exciting. Before we left to go on the trip, I practiced in my Dad’s simulator to get a good feel for the racing line around the track. I had previously done a lead follow at Road Atlanta in street cars, but this was my first time driving a race car, and my first time to drive around a track on my own. The cars were setup as race cars. They had a racing air intake, a racing transmission, racing brakes and suspension, and they had a roll cage with a five point harness. The car I used was number 18.
At the racing school they taught us everything we would need to know to understand car dynamics and to drive around a track safely and quickly. Each day was broken up into two halves, before and after lunch. Each half then consisted of in-classroom learning followed by a change to put what we learned to test-driving the car. During the morning session of the first day we learned about car mass, tire load, and various types of oversteer and understeer, and the various causes of each. We also learned how to use our eyes to look where we want to go and look further down the track to plan the next move while the current one is being executed. The classroom lecture was quite entertaining and the instructor intermingled the lesson with various stories. After the classroom lecture, we were split up into two groups, red and blue. Each group had 5 people in it. They red group first went to the autocross track and practiced using our eyes to drive the car smoothly around the track. Cones where setup for the turn-in, apex, and turn-out for each of the turns. The instructors rode along with us and gave us advice as we navigated the autocross course. After that, we went to the skid pad and learned what oversteer and understeer feel like. We also practiced CPR (Correct, Pause, Recover) to prevent the car from spinning out of control when oversteer happens. I was actually fairly good at recovering the car, and sliding the car around was a blast. One of the instructors had me try to drift the car under power once I had succeeded in recovering the slides without throttle. Balancing the throttle to continue the slide made recovery much harder.
During the afternoon session day 1, we learned how to downshift with the toe-heel technique. We also discussed the racing line more and covered how to take various turns. Then we left the classroom and practiced downshifting with an exercise they had set up in the pit area. We also rode around the track in a van to learn the racing line. We had to buckle up in the van since they took it around the track at a good pace. After being show the track in the van, the two groups took turns driving in lead follow sessions with a pace car and riding in the pace car. After the first session the instructors stopped riding in the race cars and all the driving was done solo. The lead follows were fun and riding in the pace cars gave you a chance to hear commentary from the instructor and see the race line further. The last turn I took in the pace car, the instructor was really pushing the rental car. He was squealing the tires and taking all the curbs. He knocked over some cones marking the turn apex.
The second day, in the morning, the lecture covered more information on grip, turns, and flags. On the track, we did more lead follow and also took a turn driving the race line in the rental car with the instructor and other students riding along. After this, we started driving around the track solo with a stop box setup. We would drive around the track and then stop on the back straight to get feedback over the radio on how we did on the turns and if there is anything to focus on improving the next lap. Initially there was a low speed limit and rpm limit, but as we continued driving the speed limit and rpm limit were slowly relaxed.
In the afternoon of the second day, we discussed braking and the friction circle. After which, we went to the track and did braking exercises at turn 10. With braking you put strong initial force on the brake and then slowly release the force. ABS should engage or be just before engaging as your are braking. Then during the turn you have a slight amount of brake still applied which is known as trailing brake. If done correctly, your keep the tires at maximum traction throughout the entire turn. After the exercise, we continued to do stop box lapping sessions. When it was the other groups turn to drive, we would travel to one of the flag stations along the track and watch the other group drive. It was fun to see different views of the track and to critique the other group to learn how we could better drive when it was our turn again.
The last day, in the morning, the lecture covered passing technique and driving in the rain. On the track, we drove a passing exercise at turn 10, where we drove off of the normal line to complete a pass. We then proceeded to do more stop box lapping sessions with the speed increased.
In the afternoon, we learned how to conduct race starts. On the track, we practiced a real race start. We did three starts, two double file starts and one single file start, then transitioned into an open lapping session. The race starts where intimidating since you where surrounded by other cars, but the exercise itself wasn’t that bad. You raced from when the green flag was thrown on the front straight away and stopped racing at the first turn. The open lap sessions are when the stop box is taken down, and you drive around the track until the checkered flag is shown. Passing is done by point by. If you see a car behind you, your point them by on one of the straightaways. All that means is your point which side of the car you want them to pass your on and then you slow up a little, so they can complete the pass. After we finished driving our last open lapping session, we were taken on a hot lap by one of the instructors. And let me tell you that the instructors went much faster than I was able to. I enjoyed going a comfortable pace around the track. After the hot lapping sessions, we went back to the classroom and had a graduation ceremony. I now have a diploma from the racing school, and I am eligible to apply for a SCCA racing license. More importantly, I can now participate in driving on the track for the One Lap of America driving competition I am doing with my Dad later in the spring.