Performance driving on a track is truly the experience of a lifetime.
You’ve seen it. You’ve heard about it. And if you like to drive, you’ve wondered about it: Performance track driving. But what does it entail? Who can do it? What does it cost? I had a chance to give it a try at the Island Motorsport Circuit in Duncan, British Columbia on beautiful Vancouver Island. I learned how to trail brake, corner, to “nibble” the rumble strips with my tires – or just barely hit them for the most perfect turns possible – and create just a *little* jealousy in my husband that I got to do this! He’s a bit of a car guy himself and drag-races his 1970 Chevy Nova. So, being the amazing wife that I am, I let him tag along and even let him take a few turns around the track.
Nibbling the rumble strips around corners means you want your tires to take a nibble, but not a bite, going into and out of turns.
The Island Motorsport Circuit track is 2.3 km, has 19 corners with 12 right turns, 7 left turns and incredible elevation changes. Designed by Formula 1 level track designers, it’s designed to to make you an expert performance driver. Yes, you can bring your own car or you can rent one. And YES it’ll pump your adrenaline, but it’ll also sharpen your focus with a day of learning that will carry through to safe daily driving.
I was apprehensive at the start of the day, which is priced at $995 CAD for the basic package and an additional $799+ to drive the track’s super cars (tracks around North America have similar prices, typically starting at$300 and going up based on the level of instruction, time of the session and more). I was a little nervous to drive on a real circuit with fast cars and others around me, and I often think ‘this is for men’ – but that just isn’t true The instructors made me feel at home, comfortable, and completely capable throughout the day.
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So What Does a Day at the Track Look Like?
I experienced the Performance Driving Program Level 1 (there are 3 levels) and it runs from 9 am to 4 pm. You start the day with your instructor learning about a few important theories like driving position, vision, driving line, and what trail braking means.
Driving-position was the first thing we learned: lowering your seat forces you to look forward past your car and really focus on where the car is headed, rather than staring down at your car’s hood. Sitting close enough to the pedals is key for safety, you should be able to place your left foot firmly on the dead-pedal (the foot rest to the left of the brake) if it’s not a manual transmission, and your right foot should be able to depress the brake and accelerator all the way to the floor with your knee still bent. Next, you should be able to turn the steering wheel all the way 180 degrees with both hands on the wheel at “9 and 3,” and your elbows should be bent.
Next, we covered some theory – like what IS trail braking exactly? It means to brake hard at the beginning of a turn and then slowly release through the turn until you quickly switch back to acceleration out of the turn. This is important for control and to get to maximum speeds.
Now, Step On It!
If you have a performance car and want to put it to the test, a track like Island Motorsport Circuit is ideal. Invest in a day of learning with professional drivers who will take you and your car through its paces.
If you’re car shopping, the facility has an amazing fleet of performance cars you can rent for the day. This option was so worth it for me as I was able to experience so many different cars throughout the day, feeling the difference from a Subaru WRX at the beginning of the day, working my way up to the Alfa Romeo 4C and Porsche Cayman S, which were an absolute thrill. Throughout the day, I also drove a Subaru ZRB, BMW M240i and a BMW M5. And my favorite of the day: the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 45. Amazing performance cars perfect for handling through all 19 turns.
A day like this is a chance to spend the day with your dream cars and really put it to the test as well.
Lead/Follow Driving is Perfect for Social Distance Learning
Normally your pro driver would be in the car guiding you throughout the day, but due to COVID we couldn’t be in the cars together. So, the Circuit set up a lead/follow process: We (the 4 drivers in our group) followed closely behind the pro driver on the track . We all had radios in our cars so that he could speak to us throughout each turn, each straightaway, and through each exercise. Every driver took turns being first behind the pro driver so we could closely follow behind him and stay on the same driveline. It was actually so much better than having them sit beside you because you can really see how to perform, not just be told how to.
@xoconniepetersI spent the day Performance Driving Level 1 at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit yesterday and it was AMAZING!! ##hosted ##shedrivesnow ##carsoftiktok♬ All For Us – Labrinth
Braking for Maximum Speed? Yes!
Braking is probably the most important thing you’ll do on the track–other than hitting top speeds. Performance driving is complex and you have to be highly focused to be able to brake at the right time. You’ll also try to “curb your wheels” or touch the rumble strips with your wheels as you enter and exit each turn. As you go into a turn, you’ll want your outside wheels to cross the rumble strips, which are placed at the ideal spot for each turns entry and exit. While they are a great visual cue, they actually are designed to protect the track (assuming every driver will hit the turn perfectly which would cause stress to the pavement). As you exit the turn you’ll probably see another set of rumble strips; hitting those lets you know you’ve entered and exited the turn with perfection and now you can really accelerate into the straightaway. It’s truly an exhilarating experience!
Let’s Go Faster!
While the morning was all about following and learning the track, doing trail-braking, and driveline exercises, the afternoon was pretty focused on faster and faster lap times. We were still behind the professional driver but he learned our pace and pushed us just a little harder with each turn and lap.
And, at the end of the day, you’ll be impressed with your performance. And so will others. This was the first time my husband came to a car event with me and he admitted he was impressed with how well I did and how fast I went. And, of course, that made me feel even more empowered.
Picking Up the Speed
Finally, towards the end of the day, they split us into two groups, two of the drivers were going a bit slower than the others. When it was my turn behind the instructor, we lapped the other group … twice. Boy, that felt pretty bad-a$$!
Which cars did I like the best? I loved the Porsche Cayman S, but the Mercedes-Benz AMG45 CLA was impressive; it’s a toss-up. My husband said the Alpha Romeo 4C was his favorite car of the day.
It’s Worth the Fleet Rental
The opportunity to learn on different cars is rare, and they’re all fun in their own way. If you have a performance car, this is a great place to learn about its capabilities. I would do BOTH my own and the track’s fleet if I could.
Check out Island Motorsport Circuit or find one in your ‘hood. The Performance Driving Level 1 experience runs a full-day for CAD $995 and up depending on the season and fleet rental is an additional CAD $799+ depending on Tier. We were Tier 2, which is CAD $1299.
Conquering Fear Makes You Stronger, Right?
By the end of the day, I felt stronger. I’d conquered a fear, learned important (and FUN) new skills, and felt thrills that I haven’t felt before. Well, maybe not since my day at the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta last year.
Honestly, this is a one-of-a-kind experience. There was an ex-racer in our group, a new Corvette owner, and a woman in her thirties celebrating her birthday. It’s for everyone and anyone. And the most amazing thing? What you learn about performance driving will also help you drive safe in your everyday driving.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Island Motorsport Circuit for this story. All opinions are my own.