I recently attended the VW Golf R High Performance Advanced Driving course, and it was an experience that I would recommend to every driver.
If you’ve never been to one of these courses, there is a good chance that you will learn something new and improve your abilities.
If you’re one of the more experienced motorists out there, this is a great way to throw cars around a track without having to spend too much of your own money.
Below, I break down the elements of the course and what I learnt.
The skidpan section of the course arguably provides the most tips to help you deal with real-world situations and enhance your skills.
The experience started with a briefing session where we were taught the basics of weight transfer, how to recover a car in a skid, the dangers of low wheel tread, and the ins and outs vehicle safety systems.
First up we learnt how weight transfers around a vehicle when accelerating, braking, and turning.
When accelerating, weight shifts to the rear wheels, leaving less grip for the front wheels.
When braking, weight shifts to the front of the car – providing more grip on the front wheels but a lighter rear-end. This is one of the reasons why the rear of a car starts sliding under hard braking.
The next area involved learning how to manage a car when finding yourself in a situation like this.
An example used was of an understeer scenario in a front-wheel-drive car. This is when the wheels are turned but the car keeps sliding forward.
The VW instructor explained that understeer means the contact patch of the front wheels can’t provide the grip that is needed to turn. A symptom of understeer is little road feedback on the steering wheel.
To fix this safely, a driver should let off the accelerator so that the car’s weight can transfer to the front, and then turn the steering wheel back until resistance is felt before braking or continuing the drive.
In this scenario, braking first is not always the best option as the wheels can lock up and lose more control.
Next up, we learnt how two of the most well-known safety systems work.
These are the electronic stability programme (ESP) – ESC in some cases – and anti-lock braking systems (ABS).
The ABS system grips and releases a brake disc multiple times in split seconds, allowing the wheels to turn and steer the car, while still bringing it to a standstill without skidding.
Threshold braking was another skill we were taught, which enables you to brake the car in an emergency without activating ABS.
ESP then jumps in when no brakes are hit by a driver.
When a car starts skidding, ESP sends power to the wheels that need it most, while simultaneously applying braking force on a different side to let the alternating forces bring the car back into a straight line.
Later on, we tested this out by driving at 55km/h directly towards an obstacle and then jerking the steering wheel as fast and far as possible to one side and then back to the other before straightening out and pressing brakes.
There were continuous tyre squealing and exhaust pops as the hot hatches performed this action, with every car showcasing how impressive ESP is.
Before heading out, a few minutes were also spent on tyre tread and how it affects the ability of your tyre to disperse water on the road.
After hours of sliding around on wet tar, we once again went back for another theory session before heading to the track.
This session is much shorter but a bit more technical, as the maneuvers usually involve high speeds.
The instructor explained the “circle of grip”, which is the theory describing the maximum amount of longitudinal and latitudinal forces that can be exerted on a turned wheel before it loses grip.
While we did not go into numbers or equations, we were shown how the power delivery of front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive cars affect the circle of grip.
The last theory section then involved learning the fastest line around a track.
According to the expert, the shortest line around a track might not be the fastest, as this route usually takes longer before the wheels are straightened out again, meaning you can’t get on the power as soon.
A “variable radius” turn is recommended for nearly every corner of every race track, and involves “going past” the apex of the corner before turning back.
After this, we were let loose on the tarmac one by one with an in-car instructor.
Being on the track going well over 150km/h and not worrying about a policeman is a feeling of euphoria, and your focus is only interrupted every few seconds by the words brake, coast, load, and flat.
The instructor provides these orders as they see fit, with the list of demands dictating when you should brake, let the car coast, start pushing the accelerator pedal, and floor it.
It was a ton of fun, and the VW Golf R was a pleasure to drive.