SAAB Aero Academy
Last summer, I bought a Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible Anniversary edition. It's a beautiful car.
When you buy a Saab Aero, you're invited to participate in Saab Aero Academyh—a two day driving school taught by the Panoz Racing School at the Road Atlanta racing complex in Georgia. I attended the academy this past July 21st and 22nd. I stayed at Chateau Elan, a winery resort conveniently near Road Atlanta, and owned by the same Panoz family who also own Road Atlanta, the racing school, and make Panoz sports/race cars.
There were 30 of us attending, and we were divided up into groups of 10 and sent out to rotate through various activities. The academy consisted of the following sessions:
Braking at the limit of your car's ability. We were told to stand on the gas until given a signal to stop, at which point brake as hard as you can and stop as fast as you can. We were going about 55mph by the time the signal came and we were all very impressed by how well the car stopped and in complete control.
We drove around a wet low friction circular area to practice controlling the car in understeer and oversteer conditions. Oversteer was induced by the instructor suddenly pulling on the hand brake. It was a lot of fun. Key lesson: Don't turn the wheel more if the car isn't turning. It's not going to work! Let go of the gas and let it turn-in by itself. Also look at where you want to go, not where the car is going. If you keep looking at where you want to go, hand-eye coordination will help you get there.
High Speed Lane Change
In this exercise, you start off under full throttle in the center of three car lanes and approach a set of three green signals over the three lanes. At the last possible moment, two of the lights turn red and you have to change lane (at about 50mph) to either the right lane or the left lane. This was a very exciting and instructive exercise. Key Lesson: You have to swerve without touching the brakes. If you brake, the car won't be able to turn. After years of developing reflexes of red-light = braking, it was very hard for me to consciously stay off the brake pedal. It was also important not to look at the lights but at the road and catch the light by peripheral vision. There wasn't enough time to shift focus from the lights to the road to look at where you wanted to go.
Later, you started off in the right lane and swerve two lanes to the left. They would also fake you out by sometimes turning all lights red, in which case you had to do an emergency stop. It was all very interesting. The instructors take you on a demo ride and show you how it's done, and you think, "No way, I'm not going to be able to do that," but then when it's your turn, you actually can do it.
An 180 degree turn was set up inside a skidpad area and you practiced entry and exit of a corner under slippery conditions. An instructor rides with you and try to mess you up by pulling hard on the hand brake.
This exercise used a Saab 9-5 wagon with a special bowl attached to the hood with a tennis ball in it. We drove this car around a figure of 8 course set up in the autocross course section of the complex without spilling the tennis ball off the bowl. The purpose of the exercise was to learn how the car's weight shifted and learn how to brake-steer-accelerate smoothly.
This was a fairly straightforward slalom exercise.
This was a short autocross course setup to include the skidpad. A combination of skills we learned in the course was tested, including looking where you want to go, dealing with understeer and oversteer, and using threshold braking. Usually this course is a combination of wet and dry surfaces, but because it was raining, it was a wet/wetter course.
The first session was with the instructor riding with you and coaching you. In the second session, we rode with our teammates and pulled hand brakes on each other.
The culmination of all of our lessons was a short autocross course. We had our baseline times measured on the first day, and on the second day, everyone improved their times.
We ended the 2-day course with a autocross relay competition between the 3 teams. Here we are shouting "walk" "seat-belt" to try to remind the teammates not to get penalized.
Overall, it was an exciting and eye-opening experience for me. Both the participating fellow Saabites and the instructors were very nice friendly people. I came back from the event feeling more confident about my car and my driving, and wanting to look into pursuing autocrossing more.