By Rob Mullner – Chief Enthusiast, US Auto Parts
Photos by the author
Whether you are a motorhead, wanna be racer or just another Camry commuter, the Bondurant Driving School in Chandler, Arizona is a must-do sometime in your life. Being a better driver doesn’t always mean going faster, although with a better understanding of vehicle dynamics and a new perspective on car control it’s very likely that you will become a safer and more confident driver.
Courtesy of Powerstop and the Speed of Summer Facebook Sweepstakes on AutoPartsWarehouse; Grand Prize Winner Jessica Oakes, US Auto Parts Product Manager, Eric Nielsen and I were fortunate enough to experience the Dodge Viper SRT High Performance Driving program- and it was spectacular. As the official brake partner of the Bondurant School, Powerstop has developed a great working relationship with Bondurant. All of the Chargers and Challengers, including the Hellcat, are equipped with Powerstop brake pads.
The one day curriculum is very comprehensive and covers a broad range of activities including Accident Avoidance, Autocross, Braking, Skid Control, Slalom and laps on their 1.65 Mile road course. Bondurant’s instructional approach emphasizes seat time over classroom time and after a brief meet and greet with our Instructor Nick we moved on to our vehicles for the day. Eric and I were assigned Vipers and Jessica was given a Dodge Charger SRT 392 as she isn’t fluent in the ways of the clutch. While the Viper is a racecar for the street, its 645 horsepower V10is surprisingly manageable with an easily engaged clutch, direct steering and good forward vision over its swooping fenders. The Challenger SRT is packing “only” 485 horsepower from its V8 and bags of torque anywhere in the rev range.
After meeting our cars and getting acclimated with the controls we lined up and practiced car control by running a slalom course. Instead of the usual “weaving” technique that most use to negotiate a slalom;our Instructor Nick showed us a method with quick side to side steering inputs and an immediate return to center to set-up for the next cone. While it took a few runs to adjust to this more abrupt style, the results were dramatic, allowing for higher speeds through the cones.
Next up we ran braking drills on the Bondurant accident avoidance course to practice activating ABS and steering the car to safety. The instructors control a set of three stop lights at the other end of the course and the drill begins with three open lanes and the car accelerating to 45MPH; then the instructors flip a switch to simulate a hazard ahead forcing the driver to activate ABS and steer to safety. We don’t get to experience ABS on the road often and this drill was a great reminder of how the system enables the driver to exert maximize brake pressure andkeep control of the direction of the car.
Another skill we don’t get to practice frequently on the open road is skid control; and Bondurant thinks it’s such a critical ability that it has built custom skid cars with adjustable outriggers that can be raised to unload the front or rear suspension to simulate under steer or oversteer conditions. Since Jessica is from the Midwest she has lots of experience driving in snow and ice and was comfortable with steering the car out of the skid as Nick adjusted the car’s suspension. In addition to steering input and throttle modulation, Nick reminded us to use the cones surrounding the skid pad as landmarks to help keep our field of vision higher and further ahead than the nose of the car.
With important car control factors fresh in our heads we moved over to the Bondurant road course and focused on the Maricopa Oval. With its straight chutes and increasing and decreasing radius turns we worked on accelerating, trail braking and apexing to string together a perfect lap. Once again, smooth is fast and blasting down the straights and setting up for the perfect turn was great fun.
After a quick lunch break we were ready to face the Autocross where we could apply the concepts we had learned. Nick took us around to show us the line and help establish visual references to help us get around the course rapidly. I found the Autocross to be my favorite section, competing against the clock was enlightening and after each two lap circuit we would get our times to compare progress.
Finally we were ready for the main event, running full laps of the Bondurant road course. After a lead and follow Nick set a comfortable pace for the class and we ran the circuit practicing forward vision, trail braking and apexing to our hearts delight. Jessica talked Instructor Nick into a ride around the course in his Viper. She was impressed and had this to say, “This was so much fun! It’s amazing to see what the Viper and Challenger can do on the track, the Bondurant class makes me want to be a better driver and I plan on using the skills I’ve learned in my own car”
Our last stop was the classroom for a review of the days’ instruction with the Bondurant crew and the presentation of diplomas. Many thanks to Powerstop, their brakes inspired confidence in every exercise and we enjoyed our day at Bondurant very much.
To learn more about Powerstop Brakes please visit their exclusive Brandstore at: https://www.jcwhitney.com/powerstop/b1150j1s9.jcwx
To learn more about the Bondurant Driving School please visit: https://bondurant.com/