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Took a performance driving course in my P85D

Discussion in 'Model S: Driving Dynamics' started by thimel, Nov 8, 2015.

  1. thimel

    thimel Member

    Feb 27, 2015
    I’m not a car or racing kind of guy as evidenced by the cars I owned before I got my Tesla Model S P85D seven months ago: a Toyota Tercel, a Toyota Corolla and a Nissan LEAF (the gateway drug that helped addict me to EVs).

    Still, I’d drooled over Teslas since the Roadster prototypes and finally the amazing reviews, awards and the announcements of the dual motor and promise of auto-Pilot tipped me over the edge and I indulged. No regrets. I love my Tesla.

    I could immediately appreciate the power whether it be just to enjoy being pressed back in the seat by the roller coaster scale acceleration, to knock the socks of friends or on rare occasions when it is actually useful to get on the freeway or pass safely.

    However, all the reviews say it handles very well and, not being a car guy, I couldn’t really appreciate or enjoy this. While I know in theory what it means to oversteer or understeer, in practice, all cars I drive have always turned as expected when I turned the steering wheel. I’ve never understood how someone can drive a car on normal roads at normal speeds and say it handles well or not.

    So, after talking to a few friends who are car guys and one who had tried racing and reading some posts on this forum about how driving on winding roads became fun after taking a performance driving course, I decided to do just that.

    So, last Saturday I went to the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca and took the one day performance driving class given by Hooked on Driving (HOD). (HOD teaches at other racetracks also.) The rest of this post describes that experience.

    Knowing that racing takes many more Watts per mile than normal driving, I left home early and range charged at the supercharger in Monterrey before driving the last 10 miles to the raceway to arrive at 7:15. There were about 100 cars there. About 25 were beginners. There were lots of sports cars. A few came in on trailers because they were race cars and not street legal. A few had brought a set of racing tires which they put on at the track. Mine was the only Tesla. Several old timers told me they had never seen a Tesla at the track. Some of the instructors had seen them. Everyone had heard about them. I took care of the preliminaries of renting a helmet and putting numbers on the car (both required by HOD) and then chatted with other participants until classes started at 8:15.

    The more advanced drivers went straight to the track after that, but we beginners had a one hour classroom session and one of drills in the parking lot before lunch.

    The classroom instruction emphasized safety, taught us how weight shifts to different tires as a car accelerates, brakes and turns and described under and oversteer. It told us how to make use of the full width of the track to maximize the radius of curvature of the turn. (E.g. for a left turn, start on the right side of the track, move to the left side at the apex (center) of the turn and end at the right side of the track.) They told us how to brake into a turn and accelerate out. Everything should be done gradually. We were also taught the meaning of the flags used on the course and where to enter and exit. At the end of the hour lecture I was confused enough to be very glad an instructor would be in my car with me the whole time I was on the track. They also elaborated on and repeated some of the material at meetings we had between our sessions on the track.

    We next did a series of four drills in the parking lot with cones used to mark the course and nothing solid nearby. We were told that this was the place to test the limits of our cars and encouraged us to lose traction and that spinning out was OK. They told us to turn off traction control which I knew simply was not possible in my car since I read an amusing article by an automotive reporter who took a P85D to an icy track to have fun driving it. After getting better time than the other cars TC on, he tried pulling fuses and calling to Tesla to turn off TC. They told him it simply was not possible. So, I did the drills with it on.

    • Figure 8: Cones were set up to delineate a figure 8 course. Goal was to drive through it, screeching or skidding around the corners. On each turn we went around the course 3 times and then got back in line. A watching instructor would suggest what we should do differently the next time. I was told to make my car oversteer by punching the accelerator while in the sharp part of the turn at the top of the figure 8. This is supposed to break the rear wheels loose and make you turn more sharply. I did this, properly I think, but the TC prevented any oversteering. I was told my car did understeer at some points. I could hear all sorts of vibrations, warning alarms and the ride was a bit wild. It was fun, but I didn’t really learn to tell by the seat of my pants what was happening. Definitely the wildest driving I have ever done.
    • Straight braking: Starting from a stop we were to floor it until we came to a cone about 50 feet away where we were to hit the brakes as hard as we could. This was to teach us the feel of the pedal vibrating during ABS activation. I did this and stopped well, but did not feel the vibration of the pedal. The instructor said the ABS did activate. Possibly it is a much faster pulsing than the ABS on my Corolla had? Several people who watched me do this drill commented on the amazing acceleration of the car.
    • Braking with a turn: Same drill as above but turn while braking. This was simply to show us that ABS brakes truly let one stay in control of the car while panic braking.
    • Giant slalom: Cones were placed so this slalom was a series of tight 180 degree turns. Lots of screeching, but not much learning for me on this one.
    After these drills we had another half hour of classroom time and then an hour for lunch. People who were willing to have a short lunch could get a ride around the track as a passenger in instructors’ cars.

    The afternoon consisted of four twenty minute driving sessions on the track. We spent part of the hour between sessions in the classroom going over questions and reinforcing what we were supposed to be learning.

    There was one instructor for each pair of students. The instructor would be in one of the two cars and in radio contact with the student in the other car. Whether it was good karma or because I had never been on a track before and it showed badly, they brought in an extra instructor so I had someone in my car for all but two laps. This was great.

    In the first session we were not allowed to pass. I should mention that emphasis was always on safety. I it was made clear that we were not racing, laps should not be timed and that the goal was to learn how to drive properly on the track so that gradually speed could be increased in a safe fashion.

    In all the sessions, my instructor would tell me which side of the track to be on, when to brake, when to turn and when to accelerate. You go around the track many times, so in theory you get to know the eleven turns and where you should be and how fast you need to be going for each one. There are some hills, so at times you cannot see very far ahead on the track. I had to learn not to slow down at these places except where there was a turn right after one.

    Each 20 minute session was very intense. I didn’t realize it during the session so much, but after my first session, I was a bit shaky, probably because of all the adrenaline in my system. Watching the road, listening to my instructor and trying to do everything just right occupied all my attention. I rarely glanced at the speedometer and have little idea how fast I went. Compared to the other cars, I tended to lose ground in the turns and gain on the straights. Not too surprising for a newbie in a P85D as mashing the accelerator is a lot easier than picking the exact right line and speed for the turns. I can only imagine how much more difficult it was for those who had manual transmissions. (One ran off the track while he was shifting.)

    For the first two laps of the second 20 minute session, we practiced passing and being passed. There are 4 straight-a-ways where this is done (marked by green cones) and a hand signal the driver being passed uses while he lets off the throttle. I’m afraid the only time I passed anyone was during these drills. I did get a lot of practice afterwards with the signal telling someone to pass me ;-). After being passed, I could keep up with that car for a while partly because they were showing me where to drive and how fast.

    The rest of the second and third sessions were simply more practice, trying to get the feel of the track, learn where to look, what path to follow and where to brake and accelerate. I had to skip the fourth session as each 20 minute session used about 50 miles of my rated range. My battery was at 9% when I got back to the Monterey supercharger to charge up to get back home.
    Altogether, it was an interesting day. I was having fun at the end and I learned a bit. I won’t take the same class again, but don’t regret taking this one time.

    For me, personally, I would like to have more drills with cones and be able to try them in different cars so I can see how some cars handle better than others. The time on the racetrack learning the right path to take is fine for someone who wants to race, but much of it doesn’t apply on normal roads. (I don’t believe in crossing lane lines on a road to straighten my turns.)

    I still don’t understood how someone can drive a car on normal roads at normal speeds and say if it handles well or not. While some say they can do this, some people at the track said you need to take it to the limits to be able to tell. I’m starting to believe the latter is true.

    I will have to see if driving on windy roads is more fun now.

    I’m thinking of taking the BMW driving course in Palm Springs. (The adult version of the one aimed at 16 year olds.) I’m also thinking of just going to a big parking lot with some cones, my LEAF and Tesla and setting the cones up to force a sudden lane change maneuver like Consumer Reports does. Then see what happens as I drive each car through faster and faster.
  2. CHG-ON

    CHG-ON Still in love after all these miles

    Jun 24, 2014
    Santa Cruz Mountains, USA
    Awesome narrative on your experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks so much. Wow! Such a leap (no pun...) from what you were driving 'til now. I was at least driving some pretty sporty cars, so I had a bit of an idea of what I was getting myself into.

    I have only once done an autocross class and that was a good 25 years ago. I would love to do what you did. I could use the education. How much was it? I'm in Santa Cruz. So it's an easy hop to get down there. I have checked the track calendar and it always looks fully booked. So I thought I had no chance of getting in. And now that Tesla is open in Seaside, I can actually get home after!

    Thanks for a great post.
  3. mkspeedr

    mkspeedr Member

    Jun 14, 2015
    Santa Clara, CA
    Excellent summary. Sounds like a great day.
  4. LetsGoFast

    LetsGoFast Active Member

    Oct 13, 2014
    Interesting post. I pretty much agree with people who tell you that you don't know a great deal about how a car handles until you push it near or past its limits with aggressive cornering. The driving school experiences I like are pretty much the opposite of what you found interesting, so I don't have anything helpful to say about them. If you decide you want to get better at going really fast on a closed course, I've got some great ideas for you!
  5. Discoducky

    Discoducky Active Member

    Dec 25, 2011
    Any chance to drive on Laguna Seca and you take it! Well done!
  6. tstafford

    tstafford Active Member

    Jul 4, 2015
    Nashville, TN
    Sounds awesome. I remember that shaky feeling too - track driving sucks you in and you don't even realize how intensive it is until you get out of the car. It's exhausting frankly.
  7. scottf200

    scottf200 Active Member

    Feb 3, 2013
    Chicagoland ModelX S603
    Some into videos here: HOD - First Timers Section - Welcome!

  8. Zextraterrestrial

    Mar 11, 2010
    Humboldt/Los Altos
    Completely different beast than Laguna but you might have fun at an autocross day.
    I think I have a little bit more fun in autocross than I did at Laguna Secca. It is much quicker and you can push your car a bit harder

    really sad that De Anza doesn't do the autocross anymore I would have loved to kick some butt in that one. (guess solar panels are better than an open parking lot :mad:)
  9. 3mp_kwh

    3mp_kwh Active Member

    Feb 13, 2013
    Nice review. I agree most with your biggest point, about having to exceed the limit to understand a car’s over/understeer. However, I think there are safe ways to do this, if you give yourself enough room. Otherwise, I trust you never exceed 25mph, in a 25 zone (wink).

    RE: Cones vs. tracks. I think you’ll come to find tracks are more realistic. At least, I haven’t needed to cross a double-yellow, yet ;) When it comes to cones, it’s the location that limits. Autocross courses are typically in parking lots, or air strips, where there isn’t much width, or room for 3[SUP]rd[/SUP] gear (40+mph). You’ll still learn a lot (emergency maneuver/slalom, etc), but the finer aspects of turn-in, apex, and track-out won’t relate as well to how you actually encounter exit ramps, or sweeping turns.

    With bold, for emphasis. A lot of people think TC-off only exists for slow, ham-fisted fun. It’s more than that, if you want to be a performance car in this price range, a lot more if we’re also talking about the presence of power limiters in turns. I’m curious if the Ludicrous download, where the “launch control” Motor Trend commented about, will enable more slip and less intrusion, when it arrives. If I could have more control of the 400+ available horsepower, it would mean more to me than .2 seconds in the quarter mile.
  10. thimel

    thimel Member

    Feb 27, 2015
    Their main website is Click the Northern California link to see upcoming events and prices. The next available event is December 4 and costs $355. Helmet rental is an extra $25 and vinyl numbers for the car are $5. Lunch and water are included. also offers high performance driving classes you might want to look into.

    Note that most auto insurance does not cover accidents on racetracks. So, drive carefully.
  11. bredi

    bredi Member

    Jun 9, 2014
    San Francisco
    Great post! Been thinking about doing this in my Bimmers many times, but now... I really want to do it in my tesla!
  12. doublejj

    doublejj Member

    Aug 23, 2015
    Sacramento ca
    Yeah & driving on racetracks will also void your warranty in most cases, so be careful where you post that info....I found that out the hard way, auto crossing my Porsche a few years ago
  13. ChadFeldheimer

    Oct 25, 2015
    Chicago, IL
    Thanks for posting. Brings back some great memories =)

    Regarding applying road course learnings to driving on public roads: I've found that getting regular track time has changed my driving behavior on public roads in at least two ways:

    1) I drive much more conservatively on public roads. After the adrenaline rush of driving on track, nothing you can (sensibly) do on public roads can come close, so what's the point?
    2) Turns are smoother and more interesting. There's no need to cross a lane lines to find an apex. A single lane provides ample room for corner optimization. And hitting an apex results in a smoother ride for driver + passengers, everything else being equal.
  14. Khatsalano

    Khatsalano Member

    Mar 21, 2015
    San Mateo, CA
    Awesome post. I would love to do this, but probably in someone else's Tesla. :)

    - K
  15. Cowby

    Cowby S E X C R

    Jun 2, 2015
    ATL, GA
    Do the Audi one up in Sonoma Raceway....they let you ride their R8' have to follow someone, but they let you push them pretty hard.

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