Volkswagen Magazine

Golf

So you think you can drive?

Participants in the Volkswagen Driving Experience learn the principles of safe driving in controlled conditions with the help of a team of expert drivers. It’s plenty of fun, too.

Text Mac Roberts
Images Chris Benny Imaging
Volkswagen's Driving Experience

Professional driving instructor Andrew Winton knows a bad habit when he sees one. In my case, it’s a wayward right elbow that I like to rest on my car’s door sill.
Over the course of four hours of intensive driver training at the Volkswagen Driving Experience, I learn to understand why this indiscretion, and many others like it, need to be eliminated from my driving repertoire. If I’m to be the excellent driver I believe myself to be, it appears I have a few lessons to learn.


Thankfully, I don’t have to learn them the hard way. I can gain an in-depth understanding of what it means to control the car I’m driving, even in adverse conditions, while having an enjoyable day out on the track with Volkswagen’s sleek and powerful Golf GTI, Golf GTI Performance and Golf R performance hatches. By taking part in a series of exercises, owners (and prospective owners) learn about their capabilities behind the wheel. At the same time, they can see exactly what the vehicles are capable of under controlled track conditions.


Sydney Motorsport Park at Eastern Creek is the venue for the 2014 Sydney leg of the Volkswagen Driving Experience program, which has been educating and enthralling participants for five years.


Fifty lucky motorists turn out for the morning session, with 30 enrolled in the Progression course and 20 (including me) in the more advanced Evolution program.

to the track.

After a hearty breakfast and an introduction to the day’s format it was time to meet our instructors and get down to business.


Thankfully, Winton is a jovial and relaxed fellow, considering some of the would-be Mark Webbers he must encounter at track days such as this.


Starting with the basics, we were given a detailed run-down about correct driving position (hands at 9 and 3 o’clock), wing mirror positioning (too wide for doing your hair) and, most importantly, the need to avoid – at all costs – resting an elbow on the door sill.

After a hearty breakfast and an introduction to the day’s format it’s time to meet our instructors and get down to business. Starting with the basics, we’re given a detailed run-down about correct driving position (hands at 9 and 3 o’clock), wing mirror positioning (too wide for doing your hair) and, most importantly, the need to avoid – at all costs – resting an elbow on the door sill.

 

Most people regard themselves as pretty good drivers but our instructor, Winton, is prepared to excuse our faults by stating (correctly, in my case) that we were probably taught to drive by our dads.


Transitioning between the Golf GTI Performance and the all-wheel-drive Golf R, the eager students are put through a series of drills to provide Winton with some idea of each individual’s skill set. Each drill is an opportunity to iron out some of the poor driving habits that generations of dads have passed down to their kids.

 

After a tentative first attempt at a simple slalom between some battle-worn witch’s hats, it’s time to put the foot down and show Mr Winton just what we’re capable of.
A couple of speedy runs and one or two ‘dead’ hats later, we dial things up a notch with a full stop at the end of each run to test reaction times and braking styles.

 

The 60km/h attempt is fine and 70km/h cranks up the sweat glands, while the final run at 80km/h makes for some nervous moments and some more seriously damaged witch’s hats.

»Timing, like confidence, is critical when negotiating a corner, particularly one that you’re taking at a fair clip.«

slow in, fast out.

Following a quick briefing on the theory behind understeer, oversteer, weight distribution, braking and cornering, it’s back to the track to apply some of the race car science to Sydney Motorsport Park’s notorious turn two. The exercise involves a short slalom followed by a 270-degree wet-road left-hander and then a dead stop in a car-sized painted box.


Simple – or so it would seem.
At jogging pace it’s a doddle. At a reasonable speed it’s tough enough. But at the warp speed that Winton suggests, it becomes much more of a challenge.

If the exercise is designed to show us what the Golf GTI and Golf R are capable of – and reveal our abilities behind the wheel – it’s a huge success. I’ve lost control just once so far, so I’m pleased with my efforts. But it’s still early days.


There is a simple mantra for cornering on a racetrack – and on the open road for that matter – and that is ‘slow in, fast out’.


Timing, like confidence, is critical when negotiating a corner, particularly one that you’re taking at a fair clip. So with that rule in mind, I soon become accustomed to finding the right pace to carry into a corner and just how hard to plant my right foot on the way out.

speed it up.

As a MK7 Golf GTI owner I find the Golf GTI Performance, with its outstanding front electronically controlled mechanical differential lock, warmly familiar and therefore easier to handle than the more powerful all-wheel-drive Golf R.


The latter’s extra 37kW and all-wheel-drive system introduce challenges that will take this driver more than a few laps to iron out.


Finally, it’s on to the circuit lap component of the day, which encourages drivers to test the limits of the cars (safely, of course) and really gain an insight into the outstanding technology that is standard in each one.


Hitting 200km/h down the main straight is a particular thrill, as is tackling the dreaded turn two under fantasy race conditions.


Several laps later and I return to the pits with adrenaline coursing through my veins and feeling every inch a better driver.

»Hitting 200km/h down the main straight is a particular thrill, as is tackling the dreaded turn two under fantasy race conditions.«

the final analysis.

Every participant in the Volkswagen Driving Experience receives a driver assessment book that grades all aspects of their performance from one to five. One indicates ‘needs work’ (which is being kind) and five is simply ‘good’ (read: it’s not possible to be ‘very good’).


In most categories it appears I’ve progressed from being a two or three to a four or five by the end of the day’s activities.
According to the very patient and brave Mr Winton, I’ve developed a sound understanding of the car and steering technique, even if I was somewhat lacking in vision.


But at least I’ve overcome my appalling ‘elbow on sill’ habit.

TO REGISTER for the 2015 Volkswagen Driving Experience visit:

Driving Experience Fast
Facts:

The numbers
The 2014 Australian program comprised 31 courses over 13 days. Almost 800 drivers took part.
More than 31,000 drivers took part in the program worldwide in 2013.

Location
The Driving Experience program is held at the following locations:
Sydney Motorsport Park, New South Wales
Lakeside Park, Queensland
Phillip Island Circuit, Victoria

Which course?

Progression
Designed for experienced drivers wishing to learn about vehicle dynamics and technologies in a controlled environment. Utilises Golf GTI and Golf GTI Performance models.
How much?

$200 with the Volkswagen owner’s discount ($300 without)


Evolution
Elevates drivers’ skills from reactionary to proactive by building on previous driver training. Utilises Golf GTI Performance and Golf R models.
How much?

$300 with the Volkswagen owner’s discount ($400 without)