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On the spur of the moment, I signed up for the L1 - Introduction to Race Driving class at The Driveway, here in Austin. It was $295 for an eight hour stretch.

I had a blast.

Bill operates the place, and is also an instructor. He taught our group of 3. He has a direct, sort of Texas way of speaking. By that, I mean he speaks plainly, not that he has a drawl. It is pretty obvious he's done it many times before, but I never felt like he was on autopilot. (He actually claims 15+ years of instructing and was a professional driver before that.)

When I got there, there were two other students waiting for class to start. Aaron was a young, good looking guy with hair gray-to-early. He brought a silver-gray Mercedes AMG CLK55 (or something). I thought it was a beautiful car, with fierce, sporty lines and large exposed brake calibers. Josh's face was framed between a baseball cap and a goatee. He was driving a newer silver GTO with an LS1 engine. Neither guy had any experience driving on a track, although Josh had done some competitive driving off road.

The sit down part was held outside. We went through several boards of information about the basics - "how the flags work" was first. After that, we covered what a track line was. He had maps of the course with "the line" drawn on it. Colored points indicated turn beginnings, apexes and exits. This was all very dull. We went over the idea of planning ahead for each turn. This is something I heard, but did not absorb.

We got up and walked the .6 mile track. Colored cones marked the entries, apexes and exits we had just discussed. Suddenly, I wondered if I had missed anything in the tedium earlier. I asked some stupid questions, just be sure I had.

Then we got into our cars! Tony, another instructor, led us about course along the line. He's a tall, quiet guy with a souped up, burbly Neon SRT. I was glad to be in the seat, even at 20 MPH. I was the last car. After two laps around, Tony would signal one of us to pass him, until he was last in line. This went on for 20 minutes or so.

Tony exited the track and the rest of us continued. He and Bill would watch particular turns and yell critiques at us. "Closer to that cone!" was their favorite. We drove faster and faster, eventually doing about 40 on the straight.

Then we went to lunch. It was my first time at Juan in a Million. Aaron and Josh and I talked about the class and how much fun it was.

After lunch, we had more sit down time. Bill explained what it meant to "roll into" and "roll out of" a turn. I was surprised at how simple an idea could have been so foreign to me for so long. Each turn was an singular event. Each turn would be turned into up to the apex, and turned out of sometime thereafter. Turn in once, turn out once. Sounded easy enough. He also explained something I thought I knew: how to hold the wheel. 9 and 3, yeah yeah.

We go back onto the track. I thought I was doing ok. Bill took turns riding with us. While riding with me, I was faulted for not doing as he instructed earlier.

"Where are your eyes?"
"Why are your arms crossed?"
"Can you try aiming at the yellow cone BEFORE finishing the apex?"

He even slapped my hands as I made mistakes! lol

At some point he decided to take control of the car. Were my eyes opened. The car no longer jerked from turn to turn. Coming out of turns, we accelerated smoothly all along, not forcefully when it was too late to catch up. Shifting happened along straights, complete with throttle matching I couldn't believe. When I was doing 65 MPH along the straight, Bill was easily hitting 75. I was trying to absorb the lessons as he got out of the car to join Aaron in the AMG.

I started off again, this time determined to do better. I was trying to much harder pay attention to the apex and how I was turning the wheel, and when. I did get much better at not crossing my arms. My grip would just alternate between my hands in turns. This was something every driver on the planet ought to know, but despite 20 years of practice on the street, I never "got it". Well, I got it this time.

I felt much better this time out. I caught up to Aaron's AMG and followed him without any effort at all. I felt like the 5 minutes spent with Bill driving my car and talking about it had really paid off. The AMG is a much heavier car than the Elise. It is a tourer, of course, not a track car. At this point, though, Aaron simply couldn't escape me. The Elise was faster in the turns by magnitudes, and as least as fast in the straights. In the turns, the AMG would squeal and the rear quarter would rise up a little, exposing the underside of the car.

This was great until Bill got into the AMG. He started behind me and caught up to me after a single lap. I was following Josh until that point, when Josh went to the pit. I decided to escape Bill. Around the Monaco turn I went in fast, down shifted jerkily and turned the wheel left. I got nervous when I realized that my entry speed was too fast, and I was going to miss the line. I decided to slow down a bit until the straight. By then, the AMG was right behind me. I gunned the throttle and hit the second cam and shifted into 3rd. The AMG was right there. I hit turn #3 and put on the brakes, just a bit. I rotated the wheel and, with all my balls, put my foot on the throttle hard. Then I got anxious, and right about where the apex of the turn was, I lifted off the throttle...and spun.

Bill pulled up and yelled "Don't worry, I won't run you over!" I guess he was making a joke about the disparate sizes of the cars.

After a few more laps, we had another sit down class...on throttle steering and the importance of braking into turns. Bill climbed into my Elise and drove again.

"Do you feel that?" he asked while we were barreling through a sweeper.

"Feel what, exactly?" I yelled over throaty exhaust and squealing tires.

"THIS!"

Without warning, the car started sliding sideways, and then caught itself and went back to the expected trajectory through the turn. He had demonstrated why I spun earlier. My mind raced back to a day autocross where I had spun when I had put the clutch in. Ahh! The engine acts as a lateral brake! How counterintuitive.

We spent the rest of the day driving around the track. Hitting 75 in the long straight was given. At this point, I had no problems keeping up with the AMG or the GTO. In fact, I probably would have had more effective practice if I had gotten off the track and re-entered to come out in front of them. I'm not saying I am any better driver (I'm not), but the Elise is just a flat out better track car.

Bill timed us for 5 laps at the end of the day. The good news that my slowest time (41.19) was faster than the other cars' fastest time (41.55). The bad news was that we were being graded on the delta between the laps. The AMG finished every lap withing .33 of a second of the other laps. I finished with a difference of 1.13 seconds between my fastest and slowest times.

The Driveway offers "L1 Lapping days" for practice for guys who have finished the Intro class. The cost is $25 for a 20 minute session, and there are 5 sessions on those days. After 10 sessions, you get tested verbally and also with a consistency test, as in the previous paragraph. If you score 5 laps within .5 seconds of each other, you graduate and can go on to the L2 class.

If you're there on Saturday for lapping day, come say hi.

http://drivewayaustin.com/

If you have problems with the website like I did, just call. I get the sensation that Bill is an extremely busy guy, but loves his job as an instructor and will happily serve you.
 

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Hey Chris, thanks for the great write-up! Next time we have an autocross out there, I'll have to watch out for you. Sounded like this was time well spent.
 

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Bill took me around the track in an Atom. Beautiful track and great driving. The Atom looked cool and felt very fast but not 300hp fast. On ES 100 tires it had less grip than a base Elise. I neef to get out there for a driving tune up.
 

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Sounds interesting. I would love to track sometime!
 

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I just got back from Driveway Austin after taking the L1 Class. I have to say the guys up there are top notch and really know their stuff. I learned so much about trail braking and purposely lifting in corners to get the car to rotate. By the end of the class I had my car doing things I did not think were possible. BTW, who says you cant lift in a lotus... :D

On the timed laps I put down a 37.5 with a delta of .71, I was trying a bit to hard to be fast and blew several appex's on each lap. Had I not been being timed I probably would have been half a second faster. I'm shooting for 35's by the time I finish my 10 practice sessions.. :)

I highly recommend this class to anyone at any experience level.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
On the timed laps I put down a 37.5 with a delta of .71, I was trying a bit to hard to be fast and blew several appex's on each lap. Had I not been being timed I probably would have been half a second faster. I'm shooting for 35's by the time I finish my 10 practice sessions.. :)
You did better than I did. My best was 39.9 with a 1.5 delta. On serious street tires, though ;)

Your target is also better than mine. I hope to get 37s with the same tires I mentioned.

I'll see you out there at the lapping days.
 

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Chris-

Great story! Good to hear life and your Elise are treating you well! I definitely miss mine, but spent all weekend under the hood of my Fiat, which is actually a very reliable car with proper maintenance. Might be getting up to Austin the weekend of the 4th if you will be around.
 

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You did better than I did. My best was 39.9 with a 1.5 delta. On serious street tires, though ;)

Your target is also better than mine. I hope to get 37s with the same tires I mentioned.

I'll see you out there at the lapping days.
I'm thinking of going down next Saturday to get another practice day in. Is a bit harder coming from Houston though, but Im thinking Ill be able to make it.
 

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Just got back from doing my practice sessions at Driveway Austin and dropped in quite a few high 36 second laps. Several 36.8's and 36.9's (GPS Timed with my traqmate). Only 8 tenths more to go to get in the 35's... :D
 

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I finished my first track event at Driveway Austin this weekend. I started the day with there L1 Road Racing Course ($295.00). The morning sessions started off pretty basic for me (driving line, track in/track out points, braking points). By the afternoon sessions, I was practicing more advanced techniques (heel-toe downshifting, advanced car rotation) By the end of the L1 Course my fastest time was a 37.1 lap time. After the L1 course ended I stayed for two of the L1/L2 open lapping practice ($25 each) later in the day. By the end of the second session I was constantly in the low 37s to high 36s lap time range, with a fastest lap time of 36.6 (I owe this lap time to Joseph helping me on one very important corner). As for the driving instruction, it was first class all the way (made up of retired pro racers). I rode with both Bill Dollahite (owner of the track and former Ferrari racing driver) and Joseph Williams. Both are really nice guys and very good driving instructors. I hope next time I go there to get to the low 36 lap range and maybe even hit the high 35s. Right now I can't imagine where I will find more speed on the track than I just did.

I would recommend everyone give the L1 class a chance from the first time track driver all the way to the advanced racing driver.
 

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Anyone know of anything comparable in the Mid-Atlantic Region? :shrug: Maybe held at either Summit or VIR, or Pocono during the upcoming season?

Sounds like a couple-hundred better spent in REAL performance enhancements, versus (falsely) percieved strictly mechanical mods, fer-sher. ;)
 

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Not naming names he said there is one group that is almost "dangers" for the new driver to run with that is one of the most well known traveling HPDE programs here in Texas.

I would recommend everyone give the L1 class a chance from the first time track driver all the way to the advanced racing driver.
And that's the thing that kind of bugged me about Bill... For some reason he feels that it's necessary to bad mouth other track programs. This isn't limited to just the HPDE folks, pretty much any school isn't as good as Bill's school in Bill's eyes. (And he also bad mouths some of his students, which is basically O.K., except when you refer to them by name.)

Did Bill go into any detail on why this other HPDE program was so dangerous?

Having taken Bill's class myself, I'd recommend it to the first time track driver.

However, for the advanced racing driver I'd send folks to Jason Hart.
 

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Anyone know of anything comparable in the Mid-Atlantic Region? :shrug: Maybe held at either Summit or VIR, or Pocono during the upcoming season?

Sounds like a couple-hundred better spent in REAL performance enhancements, versus (falsely) percieved strictly mechanical mods, fer-sher. ;)
Jason Hart travels. Look him up. Jason Hart Racing | Coaching

You could get a few folks together to get him out to your area for a weekend. Highly recommended.
 
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