Driven - Apr 2021

You think you’re a good driver? Think again…

The reality of working as a motoring journalist means that our bums are in the seats of multiple cars quite often. Everything from the everyday runabouts to high performance exotica. Most of us also have a number laps under our belt at many local circuits when a manufacturer had hosted us for a product launch.

And throughout the years, I’ve often thought of myself as a good driver as I’ve at least managed to maintain a clean record – apart from the infrequent and shamable rim scuff. However, I’ve never had a certificate with my name saying I’ve completed an advanced drivers course – which you can submit to your insurance and you should receive a discount. Tell them I sent you!

So when Volkswagen South Africa offered us a chance to complete the high performance driving course, I simply could not refuse!
Volkswagen Advanced Driving is located at Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng. They recently moved into new facilities on the track which boasts multiple stories, a shop and of course some serious eye-candy!
What you’re looking at is the Golf 8 GTI GTC which was purpose built to compete in the Global Touring Car Championship. In fact, it was the first-ever race car built on the 8th generation Golf. Figures of 370kW and 600Nm are potent! We have racing in our blood!

Volkswagen Advanced Driving offers many courses, from an anti-hijacking course to an off-roading course with the mighty Amarok. Although we are here to experience the high performance variety, the overall message is of course safety. The purpose of this is to not make you a faster driver, but rather a more skilled and confident driver that understands the systems fitted to their cars.

The morning began with a theory lesson as a precursor to our time on the skidpan. Here you are taught everything from grip, road conditions and how each system fitted to the car actually works. It was very insightful and imperative to understanding and controlling the car on the skidpan.

Volkswagen makes use of their Golf GTI and R models for the high performance course. Figures of 169kW and 350Nm for the front-wheel drive GTI and 228kW and 400Nm from the all-wheel drive R model are more than enough to get your adrenaline sky high around the skidpan. We were in the Golf R for the entire duration of the day.

Soon enough, we made our way down to the skipan where our main focus was understanding the differences between braking using the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and then trying not to engage the system through hard braking. The point of this is to teach you how to articulate the brake pedal to stop in the same distance as if you had used ABS – meaning you are more in control in scenarios where you need to suddenly come to a stop.

The next important lesson involved teaching us how the car will react to sudden and sharp turns on the steering wheel. The goal here is to do the manoeuvre as smoothly and gently as possible while trying to bring the car back in line after the turn.
We reached a speed of 70km/h before we were instructed to either sharply turn left or right. Our first run involved a scenario where you would violently tug at the wheel and consequently the car would get extremely out of shape. Nearing almost a 90° rotation before the traction control and other systems kicked in to bring it back in line. Clearly not the right way to do it.

The second run we were instructed to do the same turn, at the same speed, but to turn the steering wheel with similar urgency but smoother and with a deft touch. The differences were remarkable! The Golf R has the ability to send power and brake any wheel while losing traction to stabilize the car. This meant that we always remained composed and I was able to safely, and less dramatically, bring myself back in line. In traffic situations, that’s the difference between life and death.

So, now that we know how to correctly steer and stop a car, our instructors felt brave enough to let us out onto the track.
Zwartkops Raceway boasts 8 corners and total circuit length of 2.4km. We were given a briefing about each corner of the track and the importance of your entry and exit line and how that will effect your braking and speed.

With all that out of the way, we were given 4 sessions consisting of 2 laps each. While the instructor does have to be in the car with you, masks are worn all the times and strict Covid-19 protocols are followed.

This was a true test of what we had learnt on the skidpan as now you don’t have the safety of water and open space. Here you’re carrying much greater speed on a track with other drivers. In other words, this was the most exhilarating part of it all!
You need to be aware of your speed, the correct racing line, braking and accelerating points. With the instructor by your side, your confidence begins to soar as he guides you around the circuit, making sure you hit every apex and you are safe at all times. At some point, I felt I could challenge the greats like Mike Briggs and Tschops Sipuka! Yeah, not really but my aspirations to become motorsport super star died many moons ago.

After a full day on the track, myself and many others who attended the course left with massive smiles on our faces and hopefully we will be safer and more confident drivers on the roads too. Pricing is very reasonable with the GTI course costing R4150 and if you want to the more powerful R model, it’s just R500 more at R4550. Seeming you get a full lunch, an enthusiastic and highly skilled advanced driving team and memories that will last a life time, it’s well worth it!
Head over to www.vw.co.za/en/volkswagen-experience/driving-academy.html to find out more.

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