If you plan to take your car to the track or already attend track days on a regular basis, a successful driving school can help you improve your skills by learning from the professionals. Some automakers offer these programs — three Car and driver editors just attended schools with BMW, Porsche, and Lexus – and there are other options as well. CD staff members also attended schools such as the Bridgestone Winter Driving School, Radford Racing School (formerly Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving) and Ron Fellows Performance Driving School.
These schools offer similar programs with one- to multi-day schools covering topics such as car control, cornering techniques and timed laps. Participating in an automaker’s program is particularly beneficial if you own one of their vehicles, but you don’t have to be an owner to get the full experience. We suggest joining a two-day program for a more in-depth experience, but start where you can.
Day schools are generally more affordable and meet a range of interests and driving needs. For example, Bridgestone’s winter driving performance and safety programs start at just $ 309; Skip Barber Racing School offers a four-hour Roush Performance Intro to Racing course for $ 1,195; and the Radford Racing School is offering a one-day performance driving course for $ 1,899. Expect prices between $ 3,000 and $ 4,000 for the two-day schools described below, with prices rising as the level rises.
Our employees share their recent experiences with three automakers to help you decide whether attending a performance driving school is worth it. Spoiler: it is.
BMW West Performance Center
It’s hard to get used to approaching a turn above 100 mph and looking out the driver’s window at the top while simultaneously slamming the brake pedal. At the two-day BMW Performance Center M School, instructors constantly reminded us that a driver’s vision is the most important aspect of track driving. This and other instructions learned during the classroom sessions are practiced on multiple sections of track, starting with the tracks, using the Performance Center’s on-site autocross course and the Thermal Club circuit in South Palm Springs, in California.
“Eyes up,” the instructors regularly told us over the radio. They were posted in various places to give instructions and comments. In this course we learned behind the wheel of BMW M2, M3 and M5 competition cars, all the latest models. The M2s were used for autocross lessons, where we practiced different turns and competed in timed laps against other students in the class. The M3s were used for similar exercises, but one of the perks of the BMW School in California was that we also had access to the South Palm Circuit at the Thermal Club. Learning to counter-steer and maintain the fins on the wet skate was done in the 617hp M5 competition, and we also practiced sections of the race track there.
Nothing beats the fun of driving on the track, with speeds on the straights of the South Palm Circuit approaching nearly 140 mph in the M5, but my favorite part was the autocross course in the BMW M2, arguably the best. M’s car on sale today (unfortunately they were all automatic). And the added element of competition is always fun.
The BMW Performance Center has several other programs including teen driving schools and car testing, and I was there for a third day as well for its M4 GT4 experience. It was like the two-day M school, where we warmed up with M2s and M3s on the autocross and Thermal course, but it also included follow-up laps on the South Palm circuit in the race car. M4 GT4. We were in bomber gear and everything. How often do you get this opportunity?
BMW has performance centers in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Palm Springs, Calif., With the two-day M course priced at $ 3,595 and the M4 GT4 experience priced at $ 4,995 to $ 9,995, according to siege time. You can see more options and availability and book online here. – Connor hoffmann
Lexus Performance Driving School
Lexus makes sure you’re well prepared before setting off on the dreaded WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in the 471 horsepower LC500 coupe. The full-day Lexus Performance Driving School begins in the classroom, with theoretical driving lessons covering weight transfer, brake modulation and throttle input. Legendary runner Scott Pruett, five-time Daytona 24 Hours winner, acts as the head instructor and is accompanied by an experienced team who guided us through each activity. With nearly 50 students on the day I attended, Lexus divided the crowd of drivers into groups, allowing curious students to ask more probing questions.
After the classroom session, we put what we learned to the test around an autocross track – a maze of cones set up on a large flat expanse – in a 2022 Lexus IS350 F Sport. was devoted to establishing practice laps to learn the layout of the track and the limitations of the car. In the afternoon we came back to establish official timed laps, taking time penalties for cutting the cones (admit I hit a few to try and win a few more tenths). Our fastest lap counted for a school-wide competition, with the fastest driver overall and the group with the best average time, taking home a small prize.
We also practiced moving sideways on the skidpad in a Lexus RC F with all the nannies turned off. With an instructor training us over the radio, we each had a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with, well, the loss of grip. Holding a dagger was no easy task, and the lessons learned on the skidpad were a godsend as we moved on to the full-size track.
Our time sitting in the magnificent LC500 around Laguna Seca began with slow aiming turns and braking exercises to feel the full force of the car’s powerful skates. The remainder of the day consisted of lead-followed laps behind an instructor, gradually increasing speed. In the final laps we were pushing the LC close to its limit on the hilly corners of Laguna Seca, using all the knowledge we had gained from the day’s activities to boost our confidence behind the wheel.
The Lexus Performance Driving School was a pleasure for everyone in our party, from novices to enthusiasts who regularly follow their Lotus Elise. The full-day program costs $ 995 and the 2022 program includes events at Laguna Seca, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, and the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, TX. You can find more information about the Lexus Performance Driving School here. – Caleb miller
Porsche Los Angeles Experience Center
We’re lined up outside Porsche’s Los Angeles Experience Center (PECLA), side by side with a group of other journalists admiring the bright red Porsche 911s parked a few feet away. The morning sun lights up the cars as we pair up for the day. I’m with a colleague from another Hearst publication Road & Track, and we’re both eager to hone our driving skills.
The first is the Low Friction Circle, a wet pad intended for riders to practice holding a drift. As our instructor gives us tips on how to unfasten the rear wheels, I brag that my years of winter driving in Michigan will come in handy here. They don’t. It’s much harder than it looks to slide the 911 sideways without completely losing control.
Then the 1.3 mile handling circuit. It’s a challenge, but with the instructor leading the way and giving advice using a walkie-talkie, we’re up to the task and reaching the heights in no time. Upon returning from a particularly hot session, our instructor said to another, “These guys are fast,” which makes us smile from ear to ear. Speaking of speed, then we switch to the Taycan Turbo S and do some dizzying full throttle launches on the dynamic pad before moving straight into throttle for some high-speed antics.
After a gourmet lunch in the chic on-site restaurant, with pieces of butter shaped like a 911, we get back behind the wheel. This time, it’s off-road in Cayennes. “How many Cayenne owners go off-roading with their cars? I ask one of the staff. “Probably exactly zero,” he replies. “But it will. You’ll see.”
We took the Cayenne through easy simulated trails with low rocks before hitting more difficult obstacles like staggered bumps, a bascule bridge, and climbing a steep cliff with little visibility. He’s right: the Cayenne will do these things, and unlike us, he didn’t sweat.
Our day at PECLA was as fun as it was educational, even for a group of drivers who do these kinds of things for a living. Prices for these experiences start at $ 450 and go up to over $ 1000 depending on the model and events you choose, but it’s money well spent. Porsche has experience centers in Los Angeles and Atlanta. The company also has a Track Experience facility in Birmingham, Alabama. You can find more information on how to book a Porsche experience for yourself here. – Drew Dorian
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