~ by Chris #16 Demaras ~

Arriving at the Crazy Farm on Sunday morning, I realized I would have been crazy to try and drive my truck on this course. Tight chicanes, a slalom section, and pylons so close together even a little Subaru would have to suck in its gut to fit through.

For the second time in a month, my son Daniel and I would learn about car control and mixed-surface driving from the instructors at Race Lab.

It was interesting to see that all the Race Lab cars are 2002 to 2007 Subarus, similar to Daniel’s WRX. It’s amazing that Can Jam Motorsports manages to keep this fleet of nearly 20-year-old cars running, especially considering the beating they take at the hands of, well…me.

The crew are all friendly people, and really seem to enjoy teaching new skills to motorists. Jen and Cos were great, but I was really pleased that the calm, confident Jason would be by instructor again, just like our backroad driver training a few weeks ago.

Jason hopped into the passengers’ seat and we went on a ‘recce‘ lap, which is rally-speak for reconnaissance lap, where you slowly drive the course to gain information about the condition and terrain. The ‘road’ was hard packed snow, with plenty of icy sections. I could not believe how close together the pylons were in the chicanes. No way I could fit!

My instructor certainly didn’t jabber on or distract me. Jason let me get comfortable for a couple laps, then gave choice morsels of advice, like turning in more slowly, driving more smoothly to minimize abrupt weight transfer that was unsettling the car. He jokingly asked if I noticed that the pylons weren’t so close together anymore.

The more laps I did, the more confident I became, and it was only a matter of time until I ended up in the snow bank. I always drive with my window open. It’s an old habit from when I used to smoke cigarettes, but it allows me to hear cars approaching on public roads. Exiting one of the corners, I gave it just too much gas before the car was pointed in the right direction. I slid sideways, putting two wheels in the powdery snow while Jason insisted “Keep your foot in it!”. So much snow flew in the window that I asked if the sunroof was open. I kept steering and giving it throttle while Jason reached over to turn the wipers on. I asked him not to tell my son about that moment.

When my session was over, I had time to kill while Daniel continued on track. I bumped into Mike H., who is a regular at Race Lab, and a former competitor of mine at Goodwood Kartways (that’s Mike on the 2nd step of the podium, below). Mike was driving his Mitsubishi Lancer equipped with some Sparco rally wheels and serious snow tires. Now…everyone knows that I’m a Subaru guy, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for a hot lap with Mike…even if it was in a Mitsubishi.

He threw that car into the corners at twice the speed I had gone. The car had so much more power than the naturally-aspirated Impreza, that the whole thing felt like a thrill ride. Sure, he put it into the snowbank a little, but always had it under control.

I actually got to spend an hour with Mike in the afternoon, this time as my instructor on the skidpad. We started with simple skid recovery. The exercise taught how to detect and react to an oversteer skid in an all-wheel drive car. It seems counter-intuitive to apply more throttle during a slide, but letting go of the gas pedal will cause the car to dive forward, transferring weight from the rear axle to the front axle, making an oversteer skid worse.

Where else but in a farmers field in an advanced driver’s course would you get a chance to practice such a maneuver?

During the (virtual) classroom portion of the event, Crazy Leo mentioned that many of the people who attend the course are either looking to get into motorsports, or are the parents of young drivers looking to enhance skills to keep the family safe.

Whatever your reason, regardless of the motivation, the advanced driving course at Race Lab really is worth every penny.

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