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Should I take driving lessons?

Discussion in 'Roadster' started by daniel, Jul 8, 2011.

  1. daniel

    daniel Active Member

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    I've been driving regular cars for over four decades. A Jeep when I was younger in North Dakota, then a Civic, then a Prius (which is still my gas guzzler), and a little Zap Xebra, which has been my daily driver for four years and which I'll be trying to sell soon .

    Except for the Jeep way back when, and the Xebra, which goes too slowly to matter, I have not driven a rear-wheel drive car. I've never driven a high-performance car. I have no interest in racing or other car sports. I bought this car because it's electric.

    I'm having great fun in the 9 days since my very orange Roadster arrived, but I'm wondering: Should I take high-performance driving lessons? Apparently there's a raceway near here where there's a guy who gives lessons. Or is that just for people who are going to race?
     
  2. Sparrow

    Sparrow S105/ Roadster 189

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    I bought the Roadster for the same reason, it is electric. The only time I ever accelerate quickly is when I am giving a test ride. Other than those few test rides, I drive the Roadster very sedately and have always been impressed by how easy it is to controll your acceleration. If you want to go fast it goes fast if you want to go slow it doesn't force you to be extremely light on the accelerator. As such I have felt that I am always firmly in controll of the car and see no reason to take any kind of driving lessons.
     
  3. Mycroft

    Mycroft Life happens

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    Unless you're planning on using it on a track, then while it may be fun, high-performance driving lessons would probably be a waste of money. Better would be defensive driving lessons.
     
  4. Slackjaw

    Slackjaw Member

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    #4 Slackjaw, Jul 8, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2011
    My 2c worth: My wife and I both drive "like old ladies" most of the time, mainly I think because this is by far the most expensive car either one of us has ever owned. Like Sparrow, we both give fun rides to friends/family/stangers, but in regular usage we drive conservatively, not that you have much choice anyway as most of the roads around us have 25 or 35 mph limits.

    But I am planning on doing exactly the type of training course you talked about (specifically at Englishtown Raceway, alluded to in various other threads e.g. here), mostly for fun but also for safety. If you're on a highway doing 65 and overtake another car, you might be doing 80+ for a few seconds, and what if something else happens at that point? Maybe a deer appears on the road or some other vehicle swerves into your path... My thinking is that I want some experience of how the car handles under those conditions. Maybe I'm just making excuses though.

    I'll report back whether I think it is fun on the day and/or valuable experience after the event, probably end of July 2011.

    Defensive driving lessons sound like a good idea too.
     
  5. Doug_G

    Doug_G Lead Moderator

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    I've taken a race school. There's lots of stuff that you learn that are probably not relevant to street driving. But there are several things I learned that I'd say have increased my margin of safety in general.

    They teach you proper accident avoidance techniques. You probably don't know how to do that correctly. I didn't.

    They teach you how to properly position your body and how to hold the steering wheel. Yeah you're probably not doing that right, either.

    They teach you about the limited friction of tires and how that is shared between acceleration/deceleration and turning. They teach you about weight transfer when you accelerate or decelerate, and what effects that has on front/rear tire friction. That all affects what you do when you're maneuvering the car. It's very important for racing but is definitely relevant any time you are driving.

    They teach you the differences between how front and rear drive cars behave, and about understeer and oversteer. They also teach you want to do when you start to lose traction, and this varies depending on your specific car's dynamics. All this information is useful when you start slipping. Knowing how to handle your car in that situation might make the difference between a crash and getting home safely.

    So I'd say it's worthwhile, although you might get just as much relevant information from a defensive driving program (never taken one so I don't know). But doing the race school is a real blast and I'd heartily recommend it!
     
  6. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    I say yes. If you are asking the question, you should take the class. Not only does the amazing power of the Roadster need finesse but every driver in a car owning household should take a class that teaches car handling and what to do if it gets out of control.

    The US does it all wrong. Do we have any Finnish drivers here?
     
  7. strider

    strider Active Member

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    As opposed to a "race school" I would recommend something like this:
    Skip Barber Racing School

    My wife and I both took it when we bought the Corvette years ago and loved it.
     
  8. smorgasbord

    smorgasbord Active Member

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    Yes, and also check out Bob Bondurant's and Jim Russell's offerings.


    One thing to consider is the type of vehicle you'll be driving in the school. With a half-ton battery that is 35% of the car's total weight right behind you, then handling dynamics of the Roadster are challenging. If you do the class in something better balanced, like an M3 or a Lotus Elise, you won't necessarily learn the skills you need to handle the roadster. A pre-1990 Porsche 911 might be a good enough match, at least in terms of learning how to prevent "swapping ends." You also might want to see if there are classes you take in your own car, but then you risk damage and you will definitely reduce your tire life.

    You can see the poor handling dynamics in action in the otherwise worthless Top Gear review. IMHO, it's the worst aspect of the car, which is why everyone's glad to see the Model S's batteries in the chassis for better weight distribution. IMHO, the Roadster is a vehicle to be driven at a quick but relaxed pace, with occasional punches of glory.
     
  9. kgb

    kgb Member

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    #9 kgb, Jul 8, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2011
    I would disagree. There is a lot of hype about how the handling of the Roadster is its weakness, but in a non-racing track event I attended, I felt that the roadster handled surprisingly well. I say "surprisingly," because I was expecting bad. The Roadster actually was very predictable and in control. Of course, YMMV depending on tires and suspension settings. For that, I direct you to this thread.

    P.S. Every time I read the title of this thread, I think, "If you have to ask, then probably yes." :wink: Please flame off, because I realize it is usually the people who don't ask who need the driving lessons, but I'm sure I'm writing what others are thinking.
     
  10. daniel

    daniel Active Member

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    Thanks to everyone for all the advice and suggestions. (Anyone else, feel free to post more.) I would only take such a class in my own car, which means I would take it locally. If that puts some wear on the tires it would be the cost of learning about my own car. I can afford new tires when these wear out. And I would specify that I don't want to learn to race, but rather to handle my car safely, so they can leave out race-specific topics. I think I'll call the guy who gives lessons here, after I get back from my summer hiking trip up in Canada, and ask him what kind of lessons he gives. (His web site says he teaches both beginners and experienced drivers.)

    I have not yet gotten tired of the jackrabbit starts, but the only time I exceed the speed limit is when I'm following the flow of traffic. Often everyone is going 5 mph over, or the fast lane on the freeway is going 5 to 10 over, and in those cases I go along with everyone else. So I'm not driving like a grandma, but I'm not driving like a 16-year-old either.
     
  11. S-2000 Roadster

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    #11 S-2000 Roadster, Jul 8, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2011
    Daniel,

    I would recommend taking a course that teaches handling, and I would also recommend taking a refresher course every decade at a minimum.

    I took a day-long course in the early nineties after getting my Honda CRX Si. That was the best $100 I ever spent, and I'm not just talking about the opportunity to get on a professional track and drive fast without risking a ticket. I learned many useful driving techniques for handling a car in adverse conditions ... which translates to "in the rain" here in Seattle. Unfortunately, I never took a refresher course, and in 2006 I lost control while driving in the rain on the freeway. Such occurrences are incredibly rare, but I think that if I had gone through the training a second time in that 16 year period then I probably wouldn't have lost control.

    Basically, I let off the accelerator, my rear tires started drifting to the right, I steered into it but eventually the rear tires gripped suddenly and flung my car around in the opposite direction in a 360 spin. Had I remembered what I was taught almost twenty years ago, I would have given the car just a little acceleration - just enough to put weight back on the rear tires - and I might have successfully steered out of the situation.

    My point is that you don't have to be racing and you don't even have to be speeding for these sorts of lessons to be a life-saving benefit. You might not have much rain there in Spokane, but perhaps driving on sand could be the adverse conditions that you get into unexpectedly.

    I think you're on the right track: Ask the instructor what sorts of lessons he gives, and then tell him that you're only interested in learning how to handle your vehicle under all the conditions that you might get into on the freeway when obeying traffic laws. You won't need to know the psychology of competitive drivers when racing, but you'll probably find everything else useful. This sort of thing is about 90% physics anyway, and those same physics are in play whether you race or just follow the laws on the freeway.

    P.S. Sometimes our instinctual or common-sense reactions are appropriate. I've certainly gotten myself out of some near-misses using nothing more than my raw driving instincts. All the same, though, sometimes it requires that we act contrary to the natural first response and specifically take control based on knowledge of physics. This is where a course on handling will improve your safety. It's not all common sense - some of the necessary driving skills are highly scientific. If you think you can handle all potential emergencies with common sense alone, just because you're obeying traffic laws, then I submit that you're potentially fatally wrong.
     
  12. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    Nice if it was at a place with a skid pad available.
     
  13. Dragon

    Dragon Lightning Green Fairytale

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    Keep in mind that there is a little button with "TC" on it in the car. There are huge differences in fast driving wether traction control is on or off.
     
  14. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

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    (Watching as the Roadster slowly turns Daniel into a sports car enthusiast...)
     
  15. daniel

    daniel Active Member

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    Thanks. I'll do that.

    What's a skid pad?

    My salesman told me never to disengage the TC.

    ONLY if it's electric. I HATE gasoline and the cars that use it. And I REALLY HATE the loud noise a lot of fast cars make. Someone blew past me on the freeway the other day (I was going the speed limit) making a filthy noise that was absolutely obscene.

    There's a guy who converts Porsches to electric, and then he'll sell you a CD of loud engine noise. That's like running your drinking water through a filter and then pissing in it.

    I do love the acceleration of the Roadster. And I like the fact that at 70 on the freeway it's very solid, compared with my Prius, which is a bit squirrely at that speed. But faster than that holds no interest for me.

    BTW, the Roadster attracts far less attention than the Zap Xebra. Tons of people stare and take pictures and kids wave and shout "Cool car!" as I drive by in the Xebra. Only the occasional sports car enthusiast even notices the Roadster.
     
  16. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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  17. Doug_G

    Doug_G Lead Moderator

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    That's how I felt when I first got the car, but I've found that TC on dry pavement has some disadvantages.

    With stock tires (Sport or Base) you can't really burn out. The tires are just too sticky. So you're not going to go spinning into the ditch. I don't think there's any risk to turning it off on dry pavement.

    The problem with TC on dry pavement is its tendency to trigger, hard, when you hit a bump. If you're accelerating it's a minor nuisance. But if you're braking, that's a different story. It increases your stopping distance significantly, because regenerative braking suddenly vanishes. It's as if you let up on the brake pedal 50% when you didn't intend to. By the time you react it's already done its thing, and you're coming in hotter than you planned.

    All that said, I would strongly recommend leaving it on if it's raining, icy, loose road surface, etc.
     
  18. smorgasbord

    smorgasbord Active Member

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    Unfortunately, it's not a matter of opinion. While Tesla/Lotus did a very good job compensating for the rearward weight bias, when pushed the car has a tendency to swap ends. I drive mountain roads every day. The service manager & advisor in Menlo took a look at my tires at 800 miles and proceeded to warn me about going fast around curves, especially when wet.

    More telling is that at the Laguna Seca Refuel last month, a Tesla employee and race enthusiast was 6 seconds slower in a Roadster Sport than in his Lotus Exige S. Power couldn't make up for weight & handling.

    When pushed, the Roadster can get dangerous fast. That's why they have so much understeer dialed into the factory settings - to help prevent end swapping.

    As for adjusting the suspension, the thread you referenced is mostly about auto crossing. I started a thread for twisty mountain roads. Almost a week later, but no replies.
     
  19. vfx

    vfx Well-Known Member

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    I don't disagree with you.
    Is this truly apples to apples? It was not clear in the interview whether the Lotus was stock while the Roadster was stock.
     
  20. smorgasbord

    smorgasbord Active Member

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    Very good point. The article does mention his "track day Exige S", so it could have some mods.
     

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