A First-Timers Thoughts on Attending a Car Control Clinic

Christiane Helbig at her first Car Control Clinic

My husband had attended a Car Control Clinic last summer with his 1 Series BMW. He thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended that I go do it, too. He thought it would be great for me to learn about how the car handles, what its limits are and gain confidence in my driving. I was hesitant thinking this is something ‘the boys’ do and I was scared.

However, I decided to give it a try and face my fears. After all, it’s a safe environment. Still a bit jittery about the whole thing, I arrived at 7:45am at Pacific Raceways with my Volvo XC 60 amongst all the cool race cars ready for high-performance driving school. I figured it is best to learn about how the car handles that I usually drive especially since it’s fairly new and still a bit unfamiliar to me.

I did pre-read some of the information from the driver’s manual to get up to speed on the physics of driving which I found fascinating and helpful. The instructors gave a brief overview of that information as well with a bit more color commentary. Did you know that if you are hitting your brakes full throttle the car won’t steer? That’s an important fact if you are on the freeway about to run into the car in front of you slamming on your brakes. More later on how not to do that…

Our first exercise, was slalom around a few cones. As might be expected, I drove a bit hesitantly and slow on my first try. But after a couple of times I started to get the hang of it. Next was getting to know my Volvo’s ABS. Accelerate full throttle, slam on the brakes at the indicator cone and see what happens. I was quite scared to see what it feels like to go full speed and backed off a bit early. Then I decided to just go for it and pushed all the way through and hit the brakes hard. Great to know what that feels like. It was fantastic to have an instructor in the car who encouraged me and gave clear instructions on what to do when.

To test the theory that you can’t steer the car fully braking, ‘Johnny’ (a little cone) was added to the track directly in the middle of my brake path. The objective was to avoid little Johnny. The secret was I would need to let off the brake just a bit in order to steer around him. I did well in lifting the brake but went a bit overboard and took my whole foot off the brake. The instructor advised I just think about lifting my toe, that should do it. A couple more tries and I only hurt Johnny a little bit.

On to the skid pad – a circle with water on it in an attempt to get the car to skid and spin by under/oversteering. After having seen a demo by the instructors I was excited to see if I could spin like that. However, despite all my best attempts at full throttle and going in circles I could not get this very safe Volvo to budge. What a great thing to know!

Now it was time to put my newly acquired skills into practice on a mini race course. It was all about the art of how to take the curve the right way. There were indicator cones showing me how far to accelerate, where to start braking and where to turn. All I had to do is follow those instructions. I did a couple of rounds slowly to get the hang of it and started to pick up pace. Again, an instructor was in the car to help direct me. I was told after my last round that I got it and should get a faster car with no traction control for next time! Maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do especially after getting a taste for speed by taking a spin on the race track with an instructor driver (even had to wear a helmet) reaching 135mph.

–Christiane Helbig