Evildoers, you've been warned. We will happily punt you into the nearest ditch at the slightest provocation, and we can now do it without spilling a drop of our precious morning Americano, thanks to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. We're about to reveal one of the biggest secrets that performance driving school shoppers don't know: Protection driving classes offer the greatest bang for the buck of any driving program currently available. If you are convinced you have the potential to go pro or you have your heart set on driving an open-wheel car, take the five-day Grand Prix class. Otherwise, we strongly recommend the Executive Protection class. In it, you will still be exposed to 90 percent of the technique taught in the Grand Prix class, but you'll gain 100 percent of the instructor-encouraged sliding, spinning, tire-shredding fun the race car guys are encouraged to avoid.
Here's another big plus: Because the racing and performance driving classes are so popular, they are full of students. The Executive Protection classes are much less populated and therefore are only offered a few times a year. That is good because you get more one-on-one interaction with the instructors. Including your humble writer, there were a total of three Executive Protection students in the session we attended last June. We had lots of track time, lots of skid car practice, and a ton of personalized coaching from Bondurant instructor Danny Bullock.
Bondurant's Executive Protection class spans four days and includes loads of pretty intense action. In the spirit of the event, we will present this summary of our time there as a daily brief to our commander in chief.
Daily account of the activities of an individual that sources say is an automotive journalist. Subject is attending an Executive Protection driving course at The Bob Bondurant School of Performance Driving in Phoenix.
14, June 2010
1. Subject arrived at the Bondurant facility early, signed in, and received his credentials. Students from all newly starting classes assembled in a single room and were greeted by Assistant Chief Driving Instructor Craig Meintzer. Meintzer led the students on a tour of the facility and upon its completion, the students were divided into two groups and directed to board two fullsize Chevrolet vans, one driven by instructor Jesse Dunham, followed by one driven by instructor Danny Bullock.
2. Subject boarded the van driven by Bullock. Bullock followed Dunham's van on a tour of the grounds, beginning with the paved lot on the north side of the property, referred to as "the pad" by school personnel. We believe this is short for paddock. Bullock informed the passengers that most of the school's low-speed exercises are practiced in this area. Next, the vans navigated to the south side of the property, entering the 1.6-mile Bondurant Road Course through the pit entrance. Following a brief discussion of the track layout, the vans proceeded clockwise around the track at a high rate of speed for two laps, travelling within inches of each other and exhibiting high degrees of rear-wheel slip angle. Inside sources tell us this practice is meant primarily to demonstrate that sound car control technique works in any vehicle, and secondarily, to identify less-enthusiastic individuals who may be targeted for dismissal or who may self-dismiss upon exiting the van.
3. With the van ride completed, the students were split up into their assigned classes. Subject joined two other Executive Protection students (hereafter referred to as the team) and accompanied instructor Bullock in his vehicle to the pad. Bullock demonstrated the friction circle theory on how braking and cornering forces affect the tires' adhesion to the pavement. As seen in the accompanying photo, the vehicle is exhibiting understeer.
4. The team practiced reverse 180 maneuvers in a patrol car. Bullock demonstrated this technique to the team, stating the following steps: Roll into full-throttle from a stop, accelerating in reverse for approximately 3 seconds. Lift abruptly off the accelerator, shifting the vehicle's weight and momentum to the rear wheels. Rapidly turn the steering wheel 180 degrees from straight ahead; the vehicle will begin to rotate in a circular motion with the rear axle as the center. As the front of the vehicle rotates past 90 degrees from the original heading, return the steering wheel to the straight-ahead position while simultaneously placing the shift lever into a forward gear. Go to full-throttle and make any steering adjustments needed to settle the vehicle.
5. The photo shows one of Bondurant's skid cars. The outriggers are controlled by the instructor from the passenger seat of the vehicle. Operating the hydraulics causes a shift in weight off either the front or rear axle, resulting in understeer or oversteer conditions, respectively. The team was given instructions on how to mitigate those circumstances, lifting off the accelerator or momentarily applying the brakes to shift weight forward to correct an understeer situation or increasing the throttle angle and countersteering to cancel out an oversteer.
6. The team practiced emergency lane change, panic-stop braking, and turning drills in individually assigned Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars.
17 June, 2010
7. Bondurant instructor Les Betchner briefed the team on how to approach an unfamiliar corner on a road using an out-in-out approach. Special emphasis was placed on executing a smooth, efficient posture throughout the turn, maintaining surveillance on the path ahead.
8. Bullock demonstrated the approved technique for downshifting the transmission while braking. The team practiced this on a section of the pad in individually assigned Cadillac CTS-V sedans. Be advised that this is the method to be implemented going forward.
9. Team members regrouped at the Maricopa Oval section of the Bondurant Road Course (See Fig. 1). The team practiced the above technique at consecutively higher speeds.
10. Following a debrief of the day's activities, the team assembled on the pad for autocross drills. The objective was to advance as quickly as possible through a course laid out by the instructors. The fastest time was considered the best; points were deducted for deviating outside the course boundaries or striking a marker.
11. The final exercise was the forward 180-degree turn. Bullock demonstrated the technique:
- Accelerate to full-throttle in a forward direction to attain sufficient velocity and generate momentum to initiate the spin.
- Once target speed is achieved, suddenly and fully depress the parking brake pedal to lock the rear wheels. Be advised: Some vehicles may have differing parking brake control.
- Once the rear wheels have begun to slide, turn the steering wheel sharply past 180 degrees. The rear axle will begin to rotate around the front axle in the direction the steering wheel was turned.
- As the vehicle nears a 180-degree change in direction, release the parking brake and roll into the throttle countersteer as needed to stay on the newly desired trajectory.
12. Following a debrief of the day's activities, the team assembled on the pad for autocross drills. The objective was to advance as quickly as possible through a course laid out by the instructors. The fastest time was considered the best; points were deducted for deviating outside the course boundaries or striking a marker.
13. Upon completion of the autocross, the team engaged with a lengthy track session in assigned Cadillac CTS-V sedans. Following that, Bullock introduced the principles of the PIT (Pursuit Intervention Technique). Making contact with a suspect's vehicle in a precisely timed and targeted manner, the pursuing vehicle can unload the suspect vehicle's rear axle. The resultant shift in weight opens the suspect vehicle's rear axle to forces from the pursuing vehicle. The pursuing vehicle accelerates while continuing to turn into the path of the suspect vehicle, causing it to spin.
17 June, 2010
Bullock assembled the team on the Bondurant road course. Each member was assigned a Crown Victoria patrol car and each lapped the track in the opposite direction from the previous day's exercises, the purpose of which was to provide the team the opportunity to negotiate an unfamiliar course at high speed. Periodically, Bullock and Dunham pursued members of the team in a threatening manner in an attempt to distract and unsettle them.
14. The team members regrouped on the pad, and Bullock drilled them on reverse and forward 180-degree turning exercises, instructing them to perform the turns in a variety of combinations.
15. Bullock demonstrated how to clear a vehicle obstructing one's path while causing minimal damage to the vehicle being driven. Striking the obstructing vehicle at either the front or rear axle in a path aligned with the frame of the driven vehicle will easily push the obstruction out of the desired path. Because the frame (or subframe area of a unitized-body design) is the strongest part of a vehicle, the driven vehicle is not likely to suffer damage that would neutralize it.
16. The team practiced this exercise using vehicles the school purchased from a salvage yard.
17. Training concluded with one more PIT maneuver drill. Instructor Will Parker drove the suspect vehicle. Parker (possible alias: Malibu's Most Wanted) menaced the team with verbal taunting and by wearing his ball cap backward and low on his forehead.
18. Having established probable cause, the team quickly neutralized Parker in the suspect vehicle.
The course officially concluded with a brief recognition ceremony. Subject departed for PHX airport.
With just a three-to-one instructor-to-student ratio, we got plenty of personalized and intensive training. No, we didn't get to drive Bondurant's Chevrolet Corvettes and Formula Mazdas on the road course like the Grand Prix students get to do, but we got to slide, spin, and track-flog some big American sedans, and in our estimation, that was way more fun. Of all the classes the Bondurant School has to offer, this was our hands-down favorite.
Finally, while this is presented as a whimsical accounting of the lessons taught in the Executive Protection class, we must acknowledge that, though our daily commute in the traffic-choked and driver-distracted streets of Los Angeles County may seem life-threatening at times, there are people in parts of the world who need and use these skills on a day-to-day basis while working to keep us all safe. We wish to thank you for what you do.
Learn More: The Bob Bondurant School of Performance Driving; Chandler, AZ; 800/842-7223; Bondurant.com