Now that the turkey coma has subsided and the Boxing Day madness has passed by, I can tell you all about our first ever Winter Driving Academy!
Just a few days before Christmas, we gathered at Mosport with a flock of young drivers (and one not so young driver) who were enjoying their holiday break from school. They were about to add a twist that they will never forget to the break.
With the legendary Grand Prix track buried in new snow, the day began with breakfast and a classroom session where chief instructors Gerry Lowe and John Mahler taught students the basics of car control and a bit of the physics behind the techniques they would learn.
One can only learn so much about driving in a classroom, so after the lessons, the group moved over to the west end of the property, where a water truck was busy turning that fresh snow into an icy surface on the skidpad. The fun was about to begin!
Gerry and John were joined by Canadian racers Kyle Marcelli and Juliana Chiovitti as they put the drivers through a series of exercises designed to allow them to feel how a car reacts in extreme conditions and then progressively learn how to control the situation.
On the circular skidpad, drivers had to maintain a constant radius circle at a steady speed, which was difficult given the transitions from soft snow to polished ice. As students became more confident, the speeds increased. With some of the more confident students, the instructors threw in a few surprises, like a tug on the handbrake to teach more advanced control and proper line of sight.
At the other end of the “classroom”, students worked on a braking exercise and then turned around and worked their way through a slalom. The braking exercise was interesting as a few students learned the limitations of ABS on a slick surface. We also learned that a fat guy with a camera can move pretty quickly when he needs to!
The slalom quickly became polished ice, which challenged everyone, but nobody felt it more than the 2 drivers with all season tires. In fact, the only cars to leave the plowed road surface were those that weren’t shod with proper winter tires.
Interestingly, this provided a true look at the difference tires make to winter driving. While several of the snow tire equipped cars lost traction and spun during the exercises, none of them actually went off. One of the all season equipped cars was a brand new car, on loan from a dealer. That car went off once, but was able to drive out of the deeper snow without assistance. The other car had all season tires that were a couple of years old, but still looked ok visually. As the surface became slicker over the afternoon, this car began to sail off the training surface with alarming regularity. Each time, some good old fashioned Ontario muscle was needed to dig the car out.
The parental unit that owned that car has been suitably shamed publicly!
At the halfway point of the day, students returned to Mosport’s media tower for a hot lunch and an opportunity to recap their morning with instructors and other students. As it was so close to Christmas, we decided to have a bit of fun at lunch. A quick raffle was held and we gave away a couple of Armor All insulated coffee mugs and one lucky student walked away with a dvd copy of the recently released Top Gear Season 13 and a super cool Stig keychain.
For the afternoon session, the braking exercise became a brake and avoid session, while the slalom and skidpad became more difficult. Not only was the surface really slick, but the speeds increased dramatically as the students gained confidence.
It is interesting to note the make up of the student drivers. We had 17 participants and 10 of those were young ladies! While the guys often drove with more aggression, the girls were more likely to be in control. The ladies also seemed to improve more dramatically over the day as instructors worked to increase their confidence.
The vehicles ranged from front wheel drive subcompacts to all wheel drive family sedans and CUV’s. Perhaps the most interesting to watch was the big Ford pickup, running in rear wheel drive only and the Dad who was pushing his own limits in an awd Porsche. Another Dad who was there in support even had a go in his Maserati during the lunch break!
Learning to drive in a Canadian Winter is one of the most important skills a driver can acquire. The techniques learned apply to driving in all types of conditions, just at different speeds. These students are far more prepared for driving than they were the day before the course and these lessons will remain with them throughout their driving career.
Who knows, one day these new skills may just save a life one day!
Details of our next driving event will be announced shortly.