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Published 28 June 2012 04:13, Updated 10 July 2012 13:57
It’s time to face a hard fact: you’re not as good a driver as you think you are. No one is.
I know you’re not about to admit that to anyone but chances are you learnt enough of the basics to get your licence and no more. But I bet you still think you’re awesome.
The tailgaters and the Ronny Racers who zoom up the inside lane and cut sharply into the line of traffic in the outside lane to gain two lousy places certainly think they’re clever.
It’s even more evident if you blow your stack when other people don’t recognise and acknowledge your obvious skills.
Clearly your confidence is greater than your ability and your perceptions are tainted by the same inner voice that tells you that you can beat the system and win the lottery. Fat chance. Lotteries are for people who are bad at maths.
But even if you’re a calm, contained, law-abiding driver, chances are you still think you’re a Zen master when it comes to anticipating what will happen next on the road. But accidents by definition are unexpected events, so you should at least try to know what to do to protect yourself and your passengers if the fickle finger of fate points in your direction.
For example, most people belt around at 110km/h or beyond on the open road but how often have you practised an emergency stop and avoidance manoeuvre at that speed? Never? Right.
A solution is to do a defensive driving course – each state has at least one – but the real fun comes in brushing up your skills in fast luxury cars at programs run by the manufacturers.
Most of the prestige car makers offer training days to show people how to use their vehicles effectively.
The idea is to make you a better driver by allowing you to get into bad situations under controlled conditions so the instructors can show you how to deal with them.
Audi has just opened its driver training to the public after 15 years of being a dealer-only program. It has a five-tier course using a fleet of 40 cars worth $6.8 million that it runs on racetracks around the country.
Drivers start at the advanced level which costs $750 and includes a slalom course, understeer and oversteer identification, high-speed braking and obstacle avoidance, and an education component.
From there you can step up through Performance, Sportscar, Race and to Ice, which is conducted in New Zealand. The full-day Sportscar experience costs $2990 and you learn to pilot the horsepower hogs – the RS5 and the R8 supercar – very quickly around the racetrack. And for $5990, you can get into the R8 LMS GT3 that won back to back 12-hour races at Bathurst.
BMW was the first manufacturer worldwide to offer driver training way back in 1977 and its format formed the basis of other manufacturers’ offerings. Its M performance day costs $1895 and is overseen by chief instructor Geoff Brabham and an “Alpine xDrive” option in New Zealand is available.
BMW also has a worthwhile young driver experience in which inexperienced drivers learn how to drive with more confidence. It costs $495.
Mercedes-Benz has a half-day course for drivers 18-24 years old and a half-day event for motorist over 25. The cost is $95 for the youngsters and $350 for fully licensed drivers.
Porsche holds courses on racetracks in every state with prices ranging from $1397 to $6500. Top of the tree is ice driving with three options, Camp4, Camp4S and Ice-Force. The first is run on frozen lakes in Rovaniemi, Finland and costs $5995 for the course only. The second and third are held 300 kilometres further into the Arctic Circle at Ivalo and cost $6995 and $8295 respectively.
You don’t have to be a Maserati owner to do one of its courses but you do have to get yourself to Paletti Circuit at Varano de’ Melegari, 20 kilometres south of Parma in Italy. Track stints are done variously with an on-board instructor, with a pace car and via telemetry. As the course develops, the speed goes up. Courses start from €2150 ($2790).
With all of these experiences, the aim is the same – to make the roads safer.
Audi’s lead instructor, former Top Gear Australia host and racing driver Steve Pizzati, puts it best: “Statistically, [driving is] the most dangerous thing we do.”
Forget the lottery, spend the money on helping cut down the odds of having an accident. It will make us all winners.