Skip to main content
HOME   |   ABOUT   |   NEWS   |   TECH ARTICLES   |   AT THE TRACK   |   REVIEWS   |   VIDEOS   |   CONTACT ME

The HPDE Instructor


In true Jeremy Clarkson fashion, I always found myself wondering "How hard can it be?" Not in a trivializing the effort kind of way. I just always heard about the safety risk. HPDE Instructors agree to trust a complete stranger not to kill them in a fiery crash, while said stranger pushes their car towards its limits and, in return, they teach you high performance driving. Trouble is: I have ridden shotgun in a very wide variety of cars that span a huge range of capabilities.

I'm quite fond of my memory of a ride in a 997 GT2 RS so I always love an opportunity to mention that. I've been in GT3 RS's, a C6 Z06 on R-comps, M3's of various ages and ranging from stock to heavily modified, and plenty others. I have also been in stock GTI's, Miatas, and similarly capable cars. And I took them all with a giant grin on my face as some of the best drivers I know piloted them. I had no fear of the passenger seat. If an opportunity ever presented itself for me to ride shotgun on track, I always took it.


To make matters worse, I've been on the receiving end of HPDE instructing up until last year, when I took a seat on the other side of the table for the first time, and that solidified my conviction. The problem is that my "student" was not a beginner, nor was he a stranger. He was a friend that wanted to compare our lines, braking points, throttle application, etc. Worse yet, the fact that he is a good driver not only meant no scary shenanigans, but also predictable reactions to input. If you said "brake", you didn't even need to qualify if that's a brush of brakes, touch of brakes, light braking, or heavy braking. Instead, it's very clear what the intensity of braking is based on how the car is loaded, how far into the turn, what the tires are doing, etc. That's a luxury I didn't appreciate, up until my first fresh, green student this year. Indeed, how hard can it be?

The actual experience in the car is vastly different when it's someone you don't trust and know is fresh to this. I had never thought to picture before what it would feel like if I didn't trust that the driver is going to do the right thing. It was kind of a "duh" moment as we took the first hot lap. Every time you approach a braking point, you wonder if they'll take it. If a braking point is missed, you always wonder if it can be salvaged or you're in for an off track excursion. You need to be ready with direction for corrective action and that has to be clear and concise and, above all, timely for the situation. Oversteer? Going wide? Locking up? Abrupt inputs? Be ready for it all. And worse yet, be ready for your student not to know how to deal with a car out of control or console an upset chassis. And it will be a long time before consistency is achieved. But as they improve, they will no doubt gain speed.


A mistake now is that much more of a problem.. and speed gets picked up just as fatigue starts to set in. Meanwhile, you have to remember how overwhelming it can be. For someone who's been doing this a while, a lot of stuff is second nature and you start to work on the details, but a new track driver is still picking up all the skills. You, on the other hand, still remain calm, cool, and collected through it all. And there's more once you get out of the car, too.

Breaks are fewer and further between for someone (most) who instructs and drives, because you also want to go out and have fun in your car. And you'll be surprised how many more people ask you questions once you are assigned an instructor role. You always have to be aware that you are no longer just you out there learning and having fun, you now represent the organizing club and, to an extent, all instructors. Above all, you are also co-responsible for that person's school experience; how much they learn, how safe they are, and how much fun they have. That last bit alone is far more eye opening than the scary passenger seat with a new driver.


Perhaps that is the reason why you overlook the scary passenger seat with a new driver. Or it could be contributing to growth in the community. But you know what? I don't care at the end. I'm sure there are various reasons why everyone does it, but regardless of the reason, my appreciation for all the instructors I have had and the organizers for such events has grown exponentially. I don't know what other regions are like, but we seem to have a pool of massive but humble talent. At the last school, I wasn't really assigned an instructor. But I wanted to still get feedback on my driving because I think a second person critiquing everything you do is a huge help. You know what I did? I asked four different people to come out with me during different sessions. I didn't expect the result..

ALL FOUR came out. These are people already busy with other students and tasks at the school. They already have to deal with all the above. They do know me, so perhaps the "fear factor" isn't as big, but they still all happily came out to help, took the time afterwards to chat and give feedback instead of running off. That was not an isolated incident and I can still remember just about every instructor I have had, as well as all those that I didn't "have" but they came out anyway. I can't thank them all enough, so here's hoping this does the trick.


Comments







Does An Aftermarket Grille Really Increase Airflow?
I put a Saleen S281 grille to the test to answer that question.

Stock Suspension S197 Mustang With Square 305/30/19's
What you need to fit a proper size square tire setup.

How Limited Slip Diffs Make You Faster on Track
What you need to know about how they put power down and pros and cons.

Can Telemetry Explain Schumacher's Talent?
A comparison between Schumacher's and then team mate Herbert's data.






Cayman GT4 Track Review
The first Cayman with proper (911-challenging) power.

Is an EcoBoost Mustang any good on Track?
Two days at the track in a Mustang short 4 cylinders.

2016 BMW M4 DCT Track Review
It's quick (properly quick). But is it fun?

Can a stock Golf Diesel handle a Track Day?
Not your every day track beater.




🔥 Most Visited This Week

Michelin Pilot Super Sports vs Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 - Street Review

I've been a huge fan of Michelin PSS tires and exclusively bought them for the Mustang over the last four years. So how did I end up here? This year, I was hugely interested in trying an "R-comp" tire. I had my eyes set on Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R's for two simple reasons: price and reputation. Although not a true "R-comp" tire on paper, it performs like one by the account of every single test and review I've read (down to wear rates...). They seem like they're easily the most affordable (from a big brand) R-comp tire and combine that with a reputation for having tons of grip, it was an easy top contender. I had my concerns, though. For one, I'm told and have read that they are an autox tire, not really designed for high speed, pressure, and temps associated with open track. For another, the Mustang is a heavy car (as far as track cars are concerned) being roughly 3,800 lb. (including driver), which will amplify the unwanted open track loads.…

Koenigsegg Gamera: 4 Seats, 4WD, 3 Cylinders, and 1700 hp

Meet the Koenigsegg Gamera. This car brings so many firsts, not just to Koenigsegg, but also to the entire automotive industry. For Koenigsegg, it is the first car to have 4 seats, the first to have 3 cylinders and the first to have all wheel drive. Koenigsegg calls it the world's first mega-GT (gran touring) car, and I think they're right. For the world, it brings the first four seater, mid-engine, hyper car. Koenigsegg says it wants to bring the "exciting performance traits of a mid-engine two-seater megacar with the practicalities of a four-seater car with more luggage space" so the experience can be shared with "family and friends." Clearly, I need better friends...

With 1,700 hp on tap, you are sure to impress those lucky enough to be your family and friends if you own one of those. Of course, a three cylinder engine with 1,700 hp is likely to have all the driveability and flexibility of a farm tractor so Koenigsegg doesn't rely on it for all the …

Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R Track Review

For better or for worse, I have heard and read so much about RE-71R's. Everyone swears by the grip but complains about the wear. Generally speaking, the pros are:

1. They grip as well or better than most R comps.
2. They don't wear as quickly as R comps if driven occasionally on the street.
3. They work better in the rain than R comps.

The cons were limited to overheating quickly when used on track (being an autocross tire) and wearing too fast on heavy cars like mine.

In the popular 200 TW category, they are faster than the popular Hankook RS-4's and BFGoodrich Rival S's according to published Tire Rack Tests. According to plenty of reviews, they are also faster than well established R comps like R888R's (which don't seem to work too well on heavy cars anyway) and the venerable NT01's. But I was still hesitant for a while until I talked to a tire tech support gentleman at Tire Rack who has gone faster on RE-71R's than NT01s. In a Mustang (his own, not…

Michelin PSS vs Firestone Indy 500 - Track Review

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my first impressions of Michelin's PSS vs Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tires. I've run PSS's for several years on the Boss, but I'm trying the Indy 500's for the first time. In short, I was worried about the narrower tires (I was running 285/35/18 PSS but could only find the Indy 500 in 275/35/18) and tread squirm, but I was happy with them up to that point just driving on the street. I had the chance to drive on them for three track days now. So what were they like? After my first session, they made an impression that basically persisted for the rest of track sessions on them. Phenomenal, unmatched value. Now, if value is something that stands out above all else, it typically means the compromise between qualities you want and those you don't is less than ideal, but the value is attractive. This is no different. I'll start with the bad, which really boil down to two: ultimate grip and grip longevity.

Grip is noticeably lowe…