More accidents happen due to driver error than mechanical failure and there are statistics to prove that. Thousands of innocent lives are lost out of of pure negligence or an all out lack of knowledge about what to do in the face of danger no matter how safe their car is. Cars these days have all sorts of gadgets to help keep occupants safe, but there is only so much it can do if the person behind the wheel has no idea what he’s doing. To compensate for the lack of general driving skills among everyday drivers, it is the duty of tyre manufacturers around the world to reduce the possibility of a crash.
Some manufacturers turn to advanced technologies to create the ultimate compound and grip levels while others do that and also promote higher driving awareness. Manufacturers like Bridgestone do exactly that, integrating advanced tyre technologies and advanced driving skills to make our roads safer.
The Potenza Driving Lesson that Bridgestone organised took place at a track that’s worlds apart from the world class circuit we are all so well acquainted with. The Dato Sagor track is located in a place called Kampung Gajah (Elephant Village for those unfamiliar with the lingo) in the state of Perak, that was till a few weeks before the event, totally alien to us. The track is a series of tight chicanes, long sweepers, a 300 meter straight and equally tight and abrupt left and right handers, a drifters paradise, and apparently it is, some of our well know national drifters are known to use the track to fine tune their machines. The only sad thing is, the tarmac has taken a beating and needs resurfacing, other than that, it is definitely fun.
The driving lesson featured professional drivers who were headed by national drift champ and MME Champion, Tengku Djan Ley. There was definitely plenty of lessons to be learnt that day and so it proved. Bridgestone put together a series of courses that involved everyday driving conditions that you and I inevitably come across in our daily commute. After we were separated into our groups and assigned an instructor, we went on to our first lesson of the day; the cone slalom course which is an all time favourite.
Understandable though as it teaches the correct hand positioning while driving (9 & 3 o’clock) and also promotes the correct hand-eye coordination, which is important as we learned because you unconsciously steer where you look, so the trick is to look at where you want to go, not where you’re heading, very handy when you’re heading towards someone rear end without stopping power. Our group instructor, Faidzil Alang tried his best to convince us that the eye is a powerful tool when it comes to being quick or getting out of sticky situations and it really does work, the next lesson proved it.
Imagine driving into a corner at around 70km/h without lifting off because you feel you can take the corner at that speed, so you set up the perfect line that minimises the body roll of the car and when committed to the corner, suddenly right in the middle of your line is a stationery truck, what will you do? Getting on the brakes and staying on them will just lock up your wheels and kill traction causing you to understeer all the way into the end of the truck, chances are, you’ll be looking at the truck as it happens.
Well, according to Faidzil, the trick here is to keep calm, use your left leg that’s resting on the foot rest to push yourself into the seat so you can feel what the car is about to do, get on the brakes, look for an exit away from the truck, get off the brakes so you don’t risk locking up and just steer, your arms will naturally follow where you’re looking, just make sure you’re looking at the right direction.
It’s pretty intimidating really to barge into a corner knowing that you’re going to have to slam on the brakes and get away without wrecking the cones or the car but it comes naturally when you know where to look. If you feel the wheels locking up, get off the brakes and steer, you don’t want to make major adjustments to the steering wheel like a lock to lock because you’ll just break traction and slide, keep steering wheel inputs to the minimal and try to keep the car balanced, it seriously keeps you from ending up visiting places you’d rather not be.
The following lesson was fun and something all of us claim to be good at, tracing the correct line into “S” shaped corners and through a 90 degree corner. This lesson reacquainted us with an old friend who graced our pages a few months ago, the Satria Neo R3, so we were in familiar territory except this time we were with a pro driver seated next to us. This race oriented lesson is not something you can use everyday but it is definitely good to know whenever a clear stretch of winding tarmac appears. The entry points into a line were marked with cones as were braking points, and after a few laps around that particular stretch of the track, it was pretty much second nature.
Now all I got to do is keep making frequent trips to Cameron Highlands or Sepang to hone my new found skills, entry points are tricky though, get it wrong and you suffer a slower exit.
The final lesson of they day was braking with ABS, and this was pretty nerve wrecking as well, especially as one journalist lost it and got the BMW test car heading straight towards us at killer speed, great tyres Bridgestone I tell you, they screeched and screamed and brought the car to a stop, thank god. Well, you see, in this lesson, we were required to accelerate as fast as we can towards cone barriers where a Marshall with a flag will tell you when to brake and whether to turn right or left just are you’re sure you’re going to run into the barrier, taking cones, boards, and people with you.
And again we heard those now very familiar words by Faidzil, “the eye is a powerful tool, find your exit, not the marshall”. Unfortunately for the marshall, the earlier journalist happened to be female and could just be checking him out before realising she was heading straight towards him and us. This test is only applicable to cars fitted with ABS, as it allows you to steer under hard braking, for cars without ABS, getting on the brakes has to be like an on/off switch, on ’em, off ’em, trying hard to not lock up the wheels, I’m sure by now you know why.
After a series of driving lessons and close calls, you can’t help feeling like a better driver as you walk away, well not like Schumacher better but you feel educated. As if ready to face the consequences of having to face reckless drivers everyday or possibly even unforeseen circumstances like falling trees or motorcyclists, it does help in making you feel safer when on the road, indirectly, you’re keeping others safe from you as well. It’s difficult to come across good driving academy’s that promote such driving skills and even when you do, the prices are exorbitant, but even reading up on it can be helpful, you will come across things that you may never have known, like how your eyes are probably the most important tool you have.
Throughout the 2-day training course, we noted that the Potenza Adrenalin fitted on all the cars on track, performed extremely well. Very progressive and no real drama experienced during the obstacle courses, and felt very assuring even on the much heavier BMW 3-series testcar supplied. With OEM status for cars like the latest Civic Type-R and the NIssan GTR, and exclusive tyre supplier for the Formula 1, Bridgestone certainly carries the pedigree to integrate some of the technology and quality onto their road-going production series.
Bridgestone certainly is looking at the opportunity to extend the Potenza Advance Driving Course to the public in the future as part of their promotional efforts for the Potenza series. We’ll definitely let you guys know of any public event coming up!