So I'm writing this post from the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina. This has been a short trip indeed - flew out last night, stayed that night in the airport hotel, and then spent all today at the BMW Performance Center here in South Carolina for the One-Day Car Control School, with the flight back home taking off in about an hour and a half now.
Of course, it's the One-Day Car Control School that really is the focus here. It is, in fact, quite rare to take a car and truly push it to its limits, but that's what we got to do today. (Sort of. More on that later.) There were five other people in the class, with two instructors walking us through a series of exercises designed to both give us practice in controlling the car and demonstrate just how far you can push it in an emergency.
The answer is "quite far", by the way. The braking exercise saw to that. I had never really thought about it before, but usually no one brakes as hard as they possibly can. Certainly I never had actually pounded on the brakes hard enough to force the anti-lock braking system to engage. Well, before today that is. Considering I was going around fifty miles an hour, I think that car stopped pretty damn fast.
Of course, there was also the skidpad exercise to show us just what the car is designed to do. They disabled the stability control system in the car and basically had us intentionally force the car into oversteering, where the back end comes around. Let it go without doing anything, and the back end will come all the way around and you will spin out. Which I did. More than once.
I did sort of get the hang of correcting for the slide eventually, though. It's still a really hard thing to do. Of course, with the stability control on, I couldn't make it spin out even when I floored the accelerator. Handy tip: make sure the stability control system is on and functioning. It matters.
And then there was the emergency lane change. It is, actually, possible to fit a car going 45 through a hole about one and a half car lengths long... without even braking. In fact, braking might actually cause you to oversteer and screw it up! It was a hard thing to do, but it was doable in the end.
That wasn't all we did. There was a small road course we did time trials on, and a slalom, and then racing around the skidpad, but those were less about emergency situations and more about precise control. Most of which can be summed up as such: the car will go to where you're looking. If you look at the obstacle, you'll hit it. If you look at where you want to be, you'll get there. Of course there's a little more to it than that alone, but controlling one's gaze is paramount in controlling the car.
Oh, and about pushing the car to its limits... at the end of the day, we had enough time for the instructors to take us out on a "hot lap". Which is to say, as fast as they could manage to get the car around the course. That would be very fast, in case you were curious. And here I thought I was pushing the car to its limits... I wasn't even coming close!
In short, I had an interesting day indeed.