I’ve always been cynical about so-called advanced driving. Driving is something many of us do, and it’s rare that we get it wrong.
OK, there are occasions perhaps when we fail to negotiate a corner and end up in the scenery, and some of us might be more prone to minor incidents than others. These generally only happen a couple of times in our entire driving career, however, meaning that driving can’t be that difficult.
How do you make it ‘advanced’, then? Well, going by a previous session I’ve had with a leading advanced driving organisation, it would seem that it’s to pointlessly wheel shuffle and do things precisely by the book, even if it defies logic.
However, it was recommended that I should consider attending the High Performance Club’s young drivers’ day. If you’re not familiar with the HPC, the name comes from the high performance course set up by BSM in 1962. The high performance bit is the driver – not the car, so I wouldn’t look silly turning up in my Puma.
Effectively, the HPC is an advanced group of drivers, many of whom already have IAM or ROSPA qualifications, and are now taking their driving to the next level. It’s a mixture of serious enthusiasts and extremely talented drivers – traffic police and their instructors, for example. To join the HPC, you have to take a test with one of their two coaches. As their website says, “only experienced drivers of high average ability can expect to qualify!”
Despite my cynicism towards advanced driving, I headed to a hotel in Oxfordshire with an open mind and a Puma tanked with super unleaded.
How does a day with the HPC work?
The day involved being paired with HPC members, being given demonstration drives on local roads and having the opportunity to show them our driving and receive feedback on it. The driving alternated with various workshops on things like, “how to overtake”.
Again, I was cynical towards “how to overtake”. I’ve been driving for five years now, I overtake fairly regularly and I don’t cock it up too often. But think about it, when have you been taught how to overtake? It’s probably one of the most dangerous things we can do, but it’s kind of self-taught. A crash waiting to happen, really.
I won’t go into too much detail about the HPC way of overtaking as I’ll probably miss a bit out and you’ll get angry with me when you try it and it goes awfully wrong. But when I overtake, I usually commit to the overtake before I’ve really had a proper look at the road ahead, accelerating hard behind a vehicle and kind of swerving around it. It minimises the amount of time I spend in the “danger zone”, but it’s not the best way of doing it.
HPC’s method basically involved “getting out and taking a look”. Don’t be afraid of moving over and getting a clearer idea of what’s ahead. And don’t commit to the overtake until you’re completely on the other side of the road.
I was concerned that these techniques might look aggressive, but if you keep your distance, other drivers seem to be fairly happy about it.
When practicing, I found myself feeling a lot safer overtaking (even in places that before I wouldn’t even have considered an overtake), and during a demonstration we had a driver (of an Audi, no less) realise our intentions and indicate left to encourage a pass.
Cornering – the HPC way
We also tackled cornering. As my partner for the morning, Dave Turner, put it – “if you can tackle corners well and make them fun, everything else kind of slots into place.”
I know my cornering technique has never been particularly advanced. I like to “fling” cars into corners far too much – enjoying the sensation of entering a bend quickly and dealing with the consequences. This means I usually end up exiting a corner slower than I’d like, however (and occasionally not always in a straight line).
Dave’s an engineer by trade, and designs suspension systems for a living. He knows his stuff about handling, which makes him a useful person for teaching you about cornering.
His technique starts with entering a corner really slowly. Brake quite hard, to get the weight on the front wheels, and drop down a gear if you think it’s necessary. Then, start chasing the “limit point” (the furthest point you can see), before you’ve even reached the apex of the corner. It means applying power, hard, much sooner than you instinctively would.
Effectively, it’s “slow in, fast out”, but accelerating early enough so you can steer the car using the throttle, with only small inputs on the steering wheel. Trust me, it works.
What did we make of the HPC day?
The day has completely changed my view of advanced driving. Sure, lots of people drive, but seemingly few do it well. It’s great to see an organisation that doesn’t frown upon driving for the purpose of having fun. Not once was a “speed kills” mantra uttered, nor did they take themselves too seriously.
After the day with the HPC, my driving feels smoother and safer, but at the same time faster and more fun. Driving is a skill, and taking pride in improving it isn’t a bad thing. Maybe I was wrong about advanced driving – but you still won’t catch me shuffling the wheel.