Saturday, April 9, 2011

Skip Barber Formula School @ Laguna Seca

Driving on the race track takes skill, focus and determination. One of the best ways to reduce your lap times and insure you are employing smart/safe technique is to attend a driving school. Almost every track around the country offer some sort of school that is sure to make you a better driver. I recently attended one of the best schools at one of the best tracks in the country. The Skip Barber school offers several different programs from 1 day sessions to 3 day race schools in a variety of cars - from Mazda 3 to Formula Skip Barber. Lotus Evoras are also in the mix. They run schools at several tracks around the country. I chose the 3 day Race school with the Formula cars. This was the first such school I have attended - I really should have gone to this many, many year ago!

The 3 Day school alternates between class room instruction and track time. We started with class room instruction and then quickly progressed into the car. Our first driving exercise was in Turn 2. The instructors set up cones then had us enter into the corner with the aim of spinning the car - or controlling the car at the limit of grip. We then headed back to the classroom before returning to the track for some lead and follow to learn the line at Laguna. On the last day we also practised race starts and formation. All track time was conducted with safety as the formost objective. Passing was only allowed on certain straights with point bys.

The Formula Skip Barber cars feature a 2.0ltr engine with 5spd sequential gearbox. This was my first time using a sequential box and it was plenty of fun. Clutchless upshifts required a simple lift of the throttle and you were snatching the next gear. That was a hoot. The downshifts still need the clutch and a blip of the throttle for rev matching. This would be another exercise we would practise during the second day. Slipping into a Formula car takes some patience as it is a tight and confined space. Your legs and feet are in front of you at an angle that is far different than what most of us are used to. The brakes lack ABS or a servo assist so you modulate brake with pressure NOT travel.

My instructors were excellent, especially head instructor, Lonnie Pechnik. He's been teaching for ten years with Skip Barber and it shows with his informed approach to students with broad skill differences. He mixed humor with technical discussions to keep us engaged in a manner that was nicely balanced. Rene Villineuve and Ricky Schmidt were also our instructors during this school. Both of these guys were also excellent and provided us classroom instruction and track side critiques. Each instructor observed us at various corners throughout the weekend and would provide us with feedback after each session. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the mechanics. These guys were a helpful and cool crew. The cars ran without hick ups and they also made speedy wheel/tire changes when they were flat spotted - I won't mention how I know this.

My class was small so we received a ton of feedback/attention and plenty of track time. I was tired and sore by the end of Day 3! Prepare yourself for 1.2g+ with these sweet lil Formula cars. I highly recommend Skip Barber and will be pushing attendance to everyone I know involved in this sport/hobby. I want to thank Andrew Shoen, an instructor at Skip Barber, for encouraging me to attend. Thx Andrew! Needless to say, I've already signed up for the Advanced Race I just need to find the time!

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