Motoring / Motoring News
Jaco Van Der Merwe
Most car owners are familiar with the abbreviation ABS. But how many know what it stands for? If you guessed “something to do with the brakes”, you are in the right ball park.
The correct answer is “anti-lock braking system” and it is pretty much self-explanatory. But out of those who knew the correct answer and the exact science behind it, how many have actual first-hand experience of the crucial difference between a car fitted with ABS and one without?
If you never had the privilege of a patient parent, brother or cousin to teach you, don’t despair. Most vehicle manufacturers offer some sort of advanced driving course or series of courses to help you get a better understanding for the machinery you commute in which will ultimately make you a better driver.
The skidpan is where the action is.
Attending one of the many courses is a rather exclusive affair which car owners don’t all do for the same reason. Some manufacturers include a complimentary advanced course with every new performance vehicle and insurers have been known to demand some form of advanced driving skill set in order to cover a car owner, while the thrill of honing their skills at the hand of professional instructors is enough reason for others to fork out fees running into five digits to tick the box.
I had the privilege of recently experiencing Mercedes-Benz’s version of next level driving for dummies which is hosted by the AMG Driving Academy South Africa at the Zwartkops Raceway. And while you might find similar sort of offerings from other manufacturers, the lure of tackling Level 1 of its Driving Experience in the beastly Mercedes-AMG C63 S is a massive drawing card. That was very much evident is many of my fellow students not even owning an AMG product or any Mercedes badge for that matter.
The Level 1 full-day course is divided between a skidpan and track session, each with its own briefing session beforehand. And much to the delight of this author and his waning concentration levels the moment you add a teacher and a blackboard, there is no theoretical overload and you don’t even have to take notes!
Driver briefings are a key part of advanced driving courses.
The wet skidpan serves as an engine room where a car’s clever systems can all be put on display in a safe and controlled environment, eventually to be deactivated to accentuate their importance. And the fact that some sort of electronic malfunction is still a reality even in a R1.7-million performance machine like the C63 S makes learning how to cope without various safety systems a crucial element of the course. And this is where it is so important to understand your car and what it is doing.
When you are travelling at speed and an object suddenly appears before you in the road, should you react in time, your car’s ABS will either allow you to come to a complete stop or swerve out and back while coming to a stop. But with no ABS it’s a different ball game altogether.
Without ABS, hard braking causes the wheels to lock up which in turn nullifies input from the steering wheel. With the wheels locking up, braking becomes less effective and that in conjunction with not being able to turn will in all likelihood results in your car plowing into the object.
Yours truly about to take on the gymkhana time test on the skidpan.
To counter this, you need to release the brakes, swerve out, swerve back and reapply the brakes to come to a complete stop. Mastering is not only a skill that could save you and others’ lives, but can also give you greater confidence in your own driving abilities.
But should you be a very inexperienced driver or low on confidence, there is no failing such a course unless you completely step out of line. The highly skilled instructors, who have nerves of steel I might add, assess every student’s own capabilities and adapts the training accordingly to never push anyone too far out of their comfort zone. The essence of the course is not to scar you for life, but to make you a better driver for life.
Armed with valuable knowledge acquired in the skidpan, taking on the race track is an eye-opening experience. Unlike the skidpan, the 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo powerplant of the C63 S can flex its impressive muscles around the 2.4 km Zwartkops layout. But even though the speeds are much higher out on the track, the same physics apply and therefore it’s vital to experience the relevant forces when travelling faster.
Steering a C63 S AMG around Zwartkops Raceway is a thrilling experience.
Quite ironically, the part of the driving course everyone got horrible wrong, doesn’t even entail sitting behind the steering wheel. To demonstrate how long it takes for the car to come to a complete stop, students have to guess the distance needed when travelling at speeds of first 60 km/h and then 120 km/h.
While the average guess of the 60 km/h distance was fairly decent, nobody expected the 120 km/h run to take almost three times the length to complete the stop. And the scary part is that that was done in a high-performance car with top notch brakes and high-quality tyres.
While the Level 1 Driving Experience on its own should leave a lasting legacy of crucial skills for any attendant, it’s also the starting point for even more advanced courses at the AMG Driving Academy SA. Performance Training Level 2 offers more seat time in a variety of AMG models to hone your skills further on the skidpan and on the track, while Pro Training Level 3 will give you the unique opportunity to your time around the track in AMG’s GT R.
The proud group of graduates show off their newly acquired paperwork.
For more information, visit amgdrivingacademy.co.za.
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