This year was pretty remarkable for us here at CorvetteBlogger. Not only do we get to talk and write everyday about America’s favorite sports car – the Chevrolet Corvette – but occasionally we get to drive the new Corvettes on a race track as well!
After having the unique opportunity to drive a 2015 Corvette Stingray on GM’s Milford Road Course earlier in the year, I realized my skill level at driving the Corvette fast on the track was not something I was real comfortable with, so I took up an offer to attend a two-day Level 1 driving course at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada.
Those of you who have purchased a new Corvette Stingray or Z06 in the last year have a fantastic offer from Chevrolet in that they will give you a $1,600 discount to attend the Ron Fellows driving school at Spring Mountain. The two-day Corvette Owner’s School is now just $1,000 and what you will learn over those two days will change your driving both on the track as well as on the street.
The course I took at the Ron Fellows school at Spring Mountain was essentially the same course that Corvette Stingray owners will take. The two-day Level 1 course was designed for drivers of all experience levels with the main focus being on “dynamic car control”. The course provides both instruction and discussion in a classroom setting followed immediately by a 30 minute driving session out on the track.
I was joined in the classroom by seven guys from Snap-On tools and immediately wondered if I may have signed up for an advanced class. Most of these guys have attended a driving school before and many came with their own helmets, gloves and racing shoes. But the course is designed for drivers of all levels and that includes newbies like myself. So I picked out a helmet provided by Spring Mountain and was ready to kick the tires and light the fires.
Our first session began at 8am and we met our four driving instructors who would be with the class over the next two days. Leading our class was Tom Lovelady and he was joined by Ian Hislop, Blake Olsen and Rob Nakamura. We went around the room and introduced ourselves and gave a brief history of our driving experience.
Our first exercise was actually a discussion on the dynamics of heel-toe shifting which is something that race car drivers may do during every race but not something that we do as everyday drivers. The theory behind heel-toe downshifting is that as you downshift and brake the Stingray to go into a corner, using your right foot that is covering the brake pedal, you give the throttle a quick hit or “blip” which raises the RPMs of the engine for more torque and power when exiting the corner.
After discussion of this in classroom, it was time to try it out on the track. The instructors also used this first exercise to go over the proper set up of the Corvette Stingray with seat positioning, setting up mirror checks and working the two-way radios.
A couple of orange cones were placed on a segment of track and we would drive the Stingrays up to 60 mph before attempting the heel-toe downshift maneuver once we reached the target cones. After a few attempts by ourselves, we were joined in the car by one of the instructors who could then go over what we were doing and offer suggestions for improvement. After a few more back and forths and several more successful heel-toe blips in between, we returned back to the classroom for the next series of instruction.
For the next two exercises, we headed out to the back of the facility where a huge asphalt skid pad is set up. The first exercise was for braking/accident avoidance in which we would learn the feel of the Corvette Stingray’s ABS Brakes and how that feedback translates back to the driver. The course was set up so that we would go forward until 45 mph and when we hit the first series of cones, we would brake, with each successive time being more aggressive until we were standing on the brakes. To make things even more interesting, water was pumped onto the course.
The second exercise was designed to get drivers to utilize looking left and right out of the side windows and not just what is in front of the car. A serpentine course was laid out and we would roll the cars left and right around each of the cones. A window shade was put up in the windshield so that you have to look outside the door windows to know when to turn. This would be become helpful as we looked for the apexes on the corners of the race track.
Following a huge lunch provided by Spring Mountain in their clubhouse, we returned back to the classroom to go over the “Eight Steps to Cornering”. The “eight steps” are:
- Visual Scanning
- Clip the Apex
- Unwind (the steering wheel)
The “Eight Steps of Cornering” utilize the skills that were learned earlier in the heel-toe exercise as well as the braking and visual scanning exercises. Having gone through these in the classroom and discussing those points, we headed back out on a track for a lead-follow session where we would get the Corvette into 3rd gear and then leave it there during the laps around the track.
For the lead-follow exercise, we were divided into three different groups where two or three students who were each with their own Stingray were matched with an instructor driving a C6 ZR1. This is where the magic of the Ron Fellows School at Spring Mountain happens. The instructors driving the lead cars watch the individual students directly behind him in their mirrors as they “coach” the students through the course using two-way radios that are wired into the stereo speakers of the Stingray.
This method of lead-follow allows the student driver to visually follow the instructor’s ZR1 through the course as well as hear the instructions from the instructor over the radio. For the one or two cars behind the other students, we also hear the instructor talking us through the course and it so the combination of the visually watching and following the C6 ZR1 as he details audibly where to turn in and out and where to lay down the power is very effective.
The lead follow essentially closed out the first day of instruction and the class broke up around 4pm. Spring Mountain offers trackside luxury condos that you can stay in, complete with a full kitchen and DirecTV. The main clubhouse where we had lunch also features cocktails and beer and there is a full workout center and spa that you can hit up. The other guys taking the class with me were staying back in Las Vegas and so they all piled into a mini-van for the one-hour drive back to the city.
Day Two started off bright and early with the full class meeting back up at 8 am in the morning. Our four instructors were back and we were also briefed by Rick Malone who is the head instructor of the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School.
After a quick recap of the some of the exercises we went over the day before, we gathered back out on the track for another go at the heel-toe exercises. This also helps to get the blood flowing and to re-acclimate ourselves for another day of sitting inside the cockpit of the Corvette Stingray.
Our next classroom session was specific to the C7 Corvette’s electronics and driving modes. While Stingray and Z06 owners will be familiar with the modes because they own and drive the Corvettes daily, the guys I was with in class were not all that familiar with the C7 Corvette and its five driving modes (Track, Sport, Tour, Weather and Eco), so the instructors talked about each of them specifically. The instructors also went over the Performance Traction Management systems in our Z51s.
For the next on-track driving session, we went back to the asphalt skid pad where the we did a couple new cornering exercises. The first was a wet-figure eight and the second was lapping a large oval. These exercises helped demonstrate oversteer and understeer and how each of those feel to the driver as its happening. The wet asphalt adds that element where you are in control, but just barely. Should you go over that edge, all that happens is that you spin out.
After those sessions, we were back in the classroom where we specifically went over the course track map and discussed cornering and shifting. Spring Mountain is a very large track with circuits that can be enlarged or constrained depending on the event. During the weekend, there were multiple tracks in use at any one time. Our class utilized the smaller 1.5 mile West Track which features 10 turns and has corners with names like Zora’s Run, Ego Check and The Drop.
It was during the final driving sessions on the 2nd afternoon that everything we’ve been learning over the last day and half really came into play. The sessions featured a lead-follow format with our instructors in their C6 ZR1s but this time we would be going a little faster and shifting up and down through the turns. As a student, it was exhilarating to be following the ZR1 as we went through the course, and knowing when to turn in to take the corner apexes, touching the brakes for weight distribution and working the 7-speed manual transmission up and down.
Like anything in life that is done well, there was a certain amount of satisfaction when you put down a great lap – making your turns at exactly the right times, banging off the curbs at just the right moment and hearing the kudos from the instructors as you put the power down and exit the corners.
It was also during these fast sessions that I learned just how good the Corvette is and how much more comfortable I had become in the car over the last two days. In a lot of ways, the Stingray’s technology makes it easier to drive fast. For example, the heel-toe downshifts work really well when they come together, but it wasn’t my strong suit, so I made sure to engage the Active Rev Match (you’ll see me click the paddle) during this video that was made of my track sessions:
As the speeds increased and we had more familiarity with the course, a couple of other interesting observations occurred. We were are always jumping into a different Stingray during each of the sessions and the fleet at Spring Mountain is made up of Z51 coupes but some had the regular suspension while some had the magnetic selective ride control. I found that on the track I preferred the feedback from the non-magnetic shocks car vs the Corvette with Magnetic shocks. I also found it interesting how the track conditions can change from session to session. In the morning session, it was fast and very grippy but during the afternoon sessions, the track felt a little “greasy” and so feedback from the car was essential in determining the outcome of completing the course.
The experience of taking the Ron Fellows Performance Driving Source at Spring Mountain was something I will never forget. If you have purchased a new Corvette Stingray or Z06, you have exactly one year to take the course or you lose the Chevrolet discount. And these courses are very popular so you need to take the time and schedule it now so you don’t lose the opportunity.
The other thing worth mentioning is that some of the Corvette Owner’s School courses offer a third day of instruction for an additional $1,150 which includes open-lapping sessions on the track. Those that have done the three-day school claim it’s the most fun they’ve ever had in a Corvette.
To schedule your Corvette Owner School or to take part in a level 1 driving program, call Spring Mountain today at 800-391-6891 or visit them on the web at www.CorvetteOwnersSchool.com.
Here’s our photo gallery from our weekend at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club:
Chevrolet and Ron Fellows Offering New Corvette Stingray Course at Spring Mountain
Ron Fellows Performance Driving School Partners with the NCM Motorsports Park
[VIDEO] Four 2014 Corvette Stingrays Running Hot Laps at Spring Mountain