After that horrendous tragic accident between a Ferrari and a taxi, one of the issues raised was to have drivers of high performance cars go through driving courses to prepare them before driving those cars.
While that is a viable option to be considered by carmakers, there are such courses existing for drivers to participate at their own will. I've attended driving courses by several carmakers before, the most recent being the BMW Driving Experience conducted at J Circuit in Johor, Malaysia.
Formerly known as the BMW Advanced Driver Training, this one-day advanced level course is conducted five times a year by Performance Motors Limited (PML), authorised distributor for BMW cars and motorcycles in Singapore.
The objective is to provide driving pleasure, education and entertainment in a controlled and safe environment, while allowing drivers to understand the limits of technology and driving skills.
At the invitation of Pirelli Singapore, I was part of the group of 30 participants.
Arriving at the circuit after getting through the slight mayhem of the immigration points at the Causeway, the day began with morning refreshments at the hospitality room.
Then it was time for a theory lesson on driving dynamics in the lecture room before we were released onto the track to start applying the knowledge we have learnt in simulated practical situations and also correct any bad driving habits that we might have. Steering position and sitting posture are amongst the most common.
We started with a simple double-handed slalom where all cars (we were assigned three to a car) went left and right at 20km/h. This was only a warm-up exercise hence the low speed. It was also to ensure that all drivers were keeping the three-to-nine steering position, which admittedly, is a habit that not many adopt.
The next technique we did was emergency braking on intentionally soaped-up ground where we took the car up to speeds of 70km/h and had to slam hard on the brakes to bring it to a screeching stop.
Once familiar with the relation of speed and braking distance, we were challenged to judge the braking distance by having to stop right at a cone placed in the middle of the lane by the instructor. Sitting posture is important here, as we had to sit close enough so we could forcefully apply the brake pedal to the floor swiftly.The objective of the course is to provide driving pleasure, education and entertainment in a controlled and safe …
Next we did Brake, Swerve & Stabilise where we took the car up to speeds of 70km/h and as the name of the exercise suggests, brake hard and swerve at the same time to avoid an obstacle, before stabilising the car.
After all that braking, it was time for some emergency lane change without braking. We first practised by choosing to switch suddenly to the left or right at our own choice, without braking. After a few tries, we were told over the walkie-talkie left or right only when approaching the obstacle, so as to test our reaction times and reflexes.
The last exercise was understeer (where the front tyres lose grip) and oversteer (where the rear tyres lose grip). Under wet conditions, we experienced the both situations without the dynamic stability control first, and then felt for ourselves how these technologies aid us in emergencies.
This programme has no racing between the participants, just a simple timed slalom which we took turns on and some hot laps by the instructors. No, you will not be taking the car round the track for any laps!
Other than teaching us the correct driving habits, the series of the defensive driving techniques we went through are relevant to our daily driving, helping us to assess and overcome situations on the road.
Khairil Anwar, the lead instructor for the BMW Driving Experience, shared with me how one of the challenges he faces is in breaking drivers' bad habits. For example, the most common habits that drivers have are the steering position not being at three-to-nine, bad sitting posture and an incorrect line of sight.
"The purpose of this course is to condition yourself in defensive driving. Line of sight is very important — you have to look at where you want to go. If you look at the obstacle you will likely end up at it," said Khairil who is the training department head of aftersales at Performance Motors when he is not coaching the BMW Driving Experience.The instructors during the driving course. (Photo courtesy of www.Cheryl-Tay.com)
Course fee is S$1,350 per driver and includes a welcome pack, buffet lunch, morning and afternoon refreshments, transport in and out of Malaysia and the full-day course using their cars so you don't need to use your car and worry about insurance, risks or wear and tear. Customers of Performance Motors will get preferential rates.
Given the certificate of completion for this advanced level, I am now eligible for the intensive level that is held once a year.
Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.