Here's what Rob had to say about my former Car Control course.
That course was called 'The Wetter the Better'.
Yesterday, I died and went to heaven. Heaven, let me tell you, is wet.
There are no pearly gates, no harps, angels or cherubs. No St. Peter, no Mary, no Lord Lucan and not the tiniest morsel of Shergar. There are no policemen, no radar traps, no pedestrians, and no GATSOs. No children playing, no oncoming traffic, no lack of space and absolutely no grip whatsoever.
There is no God in heaven. There is only Don. But Don has answered my prayers nonetheless. For yesterday Don Palmer, originator of the 'Wetter the Better' advanced handling course, taught me how to hold my Impreza Turbo absolutely sideways for over 300 metres, under full control, all the while grinning like a plastic surgeon at an Oscar ceremony. The best bit is, Dali Palmer can teach you too.
The day begins inauspiciously, at a famous-name roadside café, with staff that look barely more intelligent than the food. Perhaps they should rename it 'The Little Brain'. It’s here that we first meet Don Palmer, and his colleague Colin Scott for an informal breakfast and the obligatory signing of disclaimers. The wet handling facility is just up the road and apparently it’s full of top secret stuff which we aren’t allowed to talk about or photograph, on pain of being eaten afterwards. For a second I wonder if the gristle in my full-English was once part of someone else’s nose.
With forms and bellies filled, we head off in convoy. There’s a definite frisson in the air, and it's got nothing to do with the beans.
The wet handling facility, it turns out, is FANTASTIC. It consists of three parts. A twisty circuit, a long arc, and the roundabout of your dreams. It’s all covered in low friction materials of one sort or another with grip levels ranging from lousy to laughable. Then they spray water on it. Because they can.
There are seven of us here, and we can’t wait to get started. One bloke is hopping from foot to foot like a gecko at gas mark 9, but thankfully Don Palmer wastes no time. After a short briefing he sets out his stall.
"OK everyone, let's play." So we do.
I’m first onto the circuit and it’s awesome. Don Palmer rides shotgun and teaches me more about car control in the next twenty minutes than I’ve learned in the previous ten years. I understeer. I oversteer. I balance the power and the steering. I listen to the car and to Don and between them they tell me everything I need to know. Don talks quietly, laughs a lot, and steers me to arrive at the right conclusions by asking questions, rather than simply telling me what to do. He never, ever shouts. Admittedly he has a beard but no-one’s perfect. Pretty soon I was circulating as fast as it was safely possible to go, right on the edge. Not the ragged edge mind you. The glorious edge beyond which there is only UNTIDY and SLOW.
Pretty soon I felt like Richard Burns, only without the ginger pubes in the plug-hole.
But wait, there’s more. While I’ve been lapping it up, the others have been on the magic roundabout. It consists of three concentric circles; very slippy on the inside, pretty darn slippy in the middle, and really incredibly grippy on the outside to catch you if you cock it up. If only I had a million quid and a bigger back yard...
As I draw up, a guy in a 911 is trying to hang his tail out, if you catch my meaning. At first he spins repeatedly, but after about five minutes he starts to improve and manages to get half way round before the off, about 150 metres! He leaves the circles and swaps seats with his coach. We are all transfixed as the 911 circulates, tail out, with barely any perceptible movement of wheel or throttle. It looks and sounds majestic... even the gecko is standing quite still. Someone laughs out loud. It takes a moment to realise that it’s me, and that it’s my turn next.
Now this the bit you won’t believe. I’m telling you this now so that you can skip it and go on to the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Do you know? I swear it’s not as hard as it looks. There, I’ve said it. The hardest part is stopping your face from going into cramp because of the permanent grin.
All it took was the space to learn in safety and some Palmer Karma. "Forget your emotion, feel the motion" says Obi-Don. In other words, stop panicking because frankly there’s nothing to hit and listen to what the car is telling you. And whaddya know? It works! After about 5 minutes I manage a complete circle! 300 metres sideways! OK, it wasn’t the tidiest of jobs but even the guy with the 911 is clapping! There's no rivalry here, just a few like minded souls achieving the same long-held ambition. We’re the A-Team, Kelly’s Heroes, and the Magnificent Seven rolled into one, boldly going where none of us has gone before.
After some coaching on the roundabout we're allowed to use the arc and the roundabout again unsupervised. And believe me we made the most of it. The arc is a huge curved section taken from what would be an enormous circle, if it were complete. It has the same low friction surfaces as the roundabout but let's you practise at higher speed. It too, is soaking wet. A kind of Noah’s arc...
This is where "The Wetter the Better" course comes into it’s own. You spend so much time actually DOING instead of just listening.
We were free to swap between arc and roundabout as much as we liked and there was very little standing around. No-one felt cheated when it came to driving time, and everyone got their money's worth out of the two coaches. One or two of us even swapped cars for a laugh, which enabled me to confirm my long-held suspicion that one particular car should come with a poodle as standard equipment.
So what’s the outcome of all this? Well, when I go to track days now, I pray for rain.
On the road I sense the limit far better than before and simply avoid it. I’ve spent a fortune uprating my Impreza, but when I sell it, someone else will get the benefit. This time, I decided to spend some money uprating the driver, and I have, for less than the cost of a cheap set of tyres.
Yesterday, I died and went to heaven. Heaven, let me tell you one last time, is wet.
'The Wetter the Better' , and more fun than a sackful of supermodels...
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