Audi Driving Experience

21 08 2009

Wow this is a really late post. Sorry for that. But it’s on my list of Things I want to do in 2009, and as such it needs a blog post about it.

So, on the 24th of July, 2009, I set off in peak hour traffic on the way to Kyalami Racetrack, where 4Rings is situated. 4Rings is of course, the event organisers and the people who run the Advanced Safety Driving Course. Traffic was a bitch, but I still managed to get there in time, so all was well.

I met my brother, Geoff, there, and we did the course together, although we were put into separate cars (more on that later). Anyway, we got there, signed in and had some breakfast (sausage rolls and croissants and coffee. Wow it tasted good). Since we were a little late we didn’t have much time for breakfast, and we had barely finished before we were called into a room with chairs set up for the theory part of the day.

It was basically a lecture on the theory of road safety. We covered the grip circle of cars: which is the theoretical area around each tire that you still have grip, influenced by acceleration, braking and turning. It was quite interesting in retrospect, although at the time I was scratching my head and wondering what was going on. We also do weight distribution, and how it affects the handling of the car; in addition to the ideal way to hold your steering wheel (hands at 9 and 3 respectively) and the correct ways to react to under and over-steer situations.

From there we went outside into the freezing cold wind, where we were split up into groups of 3 and assigned a car each. I think there was 8 cars, so there must have been about 24 people there that day: the maximum I think that they allow. We drove to a place called Gerotek, which is a military owned testing facility, and where they have, among other things, the only Aquaplane facility in Africa. Pretty cool. They’ve also got an awesome banked oval race track, but we weren’t allowed on that.

Anyway, so the first demonstration was held on a flat track, and we were first shown the correct way to sit and to hold the steering wheel. Then we were shown exactly how long it takes a speeding car to stop from various speeds (about 15m at 60km/h, 40m at 100km/h and about 100m at 160km/h). It was a real eye-opener and highlighted the need for a good following distance, as well as the benefits of having ABS on your car.

From there we were divided into two groups and did two different exercises (although we all got the chance to do all exercises. It just determined the order which we did them in). Our group was first up on the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) exercise, which basically corrects over and under-steer situations by automatically applying brakes or power to specific wheels or cutting brakes, steering and power if the user is engaging them incorrectly. Pretty amazing all in all. I took a video in slow motion, but you can’t see much of anything (and WordPress won’t allow me to host a video without paying them money. Maybe one day I’ll throw it on YouTube and post a link Decided to upload them now. Enjoy).

Oh, I forgot the thing we did before the ESP exercise. It was basically a slalom that tested the correct way to hold the steering wheel. Nothing terribly exciting but quite informative on the benefits of the 9 and 3 approach.

Basically what we did in this exercise is accelerate to a certain speed (can’t remember exactly what speed) and then slam the steering wheel hard left and hard right, to avoid the obstacle that had been set up (traffic cones). It really got the adrenaline pumping, and when in the back seats we got thrown around something crazy. It was awesome 🙂

The way each exercise worked was that the instructor (we had one instructor per car) would first do the exercise with us in the car, as a demonstration. Then he would talk us through the actions required, and do it again. After that we would take turns doing the exercise, until all three people in the car had completed each exercise.

Afterwards we went to the aquaplaning station, which is pretty cool. Aquaplaning occurs when the car’s tires can’t displace water fast enough, and the holding grooves can’t carry anymore water. What basically happens is your vehicle is floating on top of the water, resulting in absolutely no response to any control from the driver’s seat. The best way to handle this is to straighten the steering wheel and apply brakes when you get control again. Anyway, we went around this rather sharp corner at 90km/h and aquaplaned over the specially designed feature, before straightening out and coming to a stop. Again, really cool to do, and scary and awesome to watch and experience.

From there, we all came together to have lunch, which was the usual buffet style stuff: potatoes, rice, meat, chicken etc. It was pretty good, but they were pretty stingy with the servings (one potato, one piece of meat) and they hustled us out of there pretty fast that I couldn’t even finish my after-lunch coffee.

After lunch we split up again, and our group went to the  skidpan, which is basically a painted (I think?) circle of tarred area with a sprinkler in the middle that wets the entire surface. We did some exercises on ESP and under-steer, which was basically taking a long corner on the skidpan at speeds, and seeing the difference between taking it with the ESP on and off, as well as how to handle under-steer without ESP (gently straighten wheel until grip is regained and resume turning).

We then swapped with the other group and went aquaplane station, where we did a more advanced ESP control test (the water wasn’t turned on for this exercise), which involved swerving around two obstacles, first to the right and then to the left. Most people hit at least one cone, and I knocked my first (and only) cone down as I pulled off from a stop. Pretty lame, but better than the woman in the car in front of ours, who knocked down like five and got one stuck underneath her car. Haha, I laughed so hard.

We then went back to the skidpan, and joined the other group for a few practice runs on the benefits on ABS on a wet surface, basically just to experience it. It wasn’t the most exciting exercise but still pretty fun jamming on the brakes and skidding and feeling the ABS kicking in. There were two different types, the straight stop, where we simply jammed the brakes as hard as possible, and the swerve, where we steered the car around an obstacle while braking as hard as possible.

After everybody had completed all the exercises, the instructors set up a series of cones for the gymkhana. One at a time, everyone went through the course, which consisted of a whole set of challenges: a slalom, cornering, braking and stopping in a set area. Everybody was timed and the results were announced back at 4Rings, where we returned to after everybody had finished.

Back at 4Rings, we had a debriefing, where we all had to give feedback on the day, and the winners of the gymkhana were announced and given prizes. We also all received our certificates. Then they had drinks and snacks available to enjoy, and we all left to face the traffic once more.

All in all, I’d say it was a really amazing experience and a great day. I’d highly recommend it to anybody interested or thinking about it.

Oh, before I finish up, here’s some pictures I managed to take of the cars we drove in.

Hope you enjoyed that! I enjoyed going on the course and telling you all about it. What’s next on the list? Who know!