Posted: June 3, 2016
How many times have you driven 2 iconic super cars at grip limit on circuit in one day? Not had the pleasure? .... then read on. Colin Hoad, Chief instructor at CAT Driver Training has, and he is sharing the experience with you here.
I consider myself to be very fortunate. I am a petrolhead who works in the motor industry - for me, work has become a pleasure and not a chore. The past six years since launching CAT Driver Training have been all consuming. The excitement of building a business and providing driver training to a truly international audience at some amazing locations has been awe-inspiring.
The cars I have driven and trained in could not fail to light even the most hardened enthusiast’s fire. Consequently I am often asked: “what is the best car you have driven?” On receipt of that question any thoughts floating around in my grey matter cease instantly, and I am transported back to Moscow race circuit. The date is August 2008. It’s very hot and sunny and I am about to climb into a Porsche Carrera GT to give the owner a demonstration lap, (which turned out be several), of the circuit.
The motor racing circuit on the outskirts of Moscow is a tight & twisty almost Kart like circuit. 15 turns linked by 4 long straights. A challenging prospect with 600 BHP under your right foot. I am sharing the circuit with several track day regulars in a variety of exotica: Ferrari 599’s, 430’s Scuderias, Porsches M3s Imprezas and Evos. Russia has adopted the Legends series and several of the local racers are testing, along with the equivalent of a Russian Touring Car - a heavily modified Ford Focus.
Process, Process, Process
When Porsche launched the Carrera GT, any article I read placed a high degree of emphasis on the vehicles unpredictability at grip limit. Several mentioned Walter Rohrls accident whilst testing on the Nurburgring (Nordschleife). I had also witnessed first hand from the pit lane, the vehicles ability to swap ends through Copse during a Silverstone track day. All of this negative thought was now affecting my focus. A few sighting laps would be needed to dial into the circuit grip levels, and the basic characteristic of the platform I was about to explore, and of course, focus on the job of driving quickly.
So it is head down and get to work, irrespective of the vehicle you are driving the rules are the same. Work your driving process until you reach the limit of adhesion, and then evaluate the characteristic of the vehicle. Any small unnecessary inputs or exaggerated use of any of the controls will be magnified in such a highly strung machine. Your aim should always be to understand the basic handling characteristics before you start to exploit the available grip. What am I driving? And how does it behave at “Steady State Grip Limit”? What does the grip limit trace look like? Pointy and unpredictable, or rounded and user friendly?
It’s sometimes hard to control your emotions when faced with such an engaging piece of machinery. The clutch bite - sharp and unhelpful - takes several low RPM attempts to move off smoothly. The engine barks and rattles with a harshness akin to a circuit machine. The view from the driver’s seat is confusing: Porsche levels of perceived quality - neatly stitched hide with uncharacteristic splashes of polished carbon fibre. The flavour is Porsche, the taste is racing car.
A lap to “dial in” with my emotions now in check, it’s time to build some speed into the lap. Contrary to what I had read, my brain, hands, feet and eyes were very happy to work the oversteering rear out of the slow speed turns. But what about the high G sweepers? Directional change is pin sharp, the chassis rotates neatly around its central axis and inspires confidence.
The sweepers, however, are a little more challenging. So much power and yet not enough grip. Push on and you have to be ahead of the oversteer (Yaw Rate) with your counter steering input. If you are slow with your hands and/or do not dial in enough counter steer angle the monster appears. For the experienced this is petrolhead nirvana. The ultimate challenge: a racing car with an MOT! Enough compliance in the chassis to make it a viable road car and edgy enough to make you feel you have just walked a tight rope. Could my day get any better?
Wake Me up I Must Be Dreaming!
My client happy, I jump out of the Carrera to speak to client no.2. I am working with three drivers today and have scheduled time with each of them on a rotational basis. Here comes the question any aspiring supercar owner only needs to be asked once: “Colin would you like to give me a few laps in my Enzo?” My answer? “Yes that would be a pleasure” (translated into petrolhead language would read Yeeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaa!).
I have driven many Ferraris, both current and historic, and have the utmost respect for their dynamic behaviour. You can never quite relax when driving on circuit in a Ferrari. They are, in my opinion, what the brand perceives them to be, thoroughbred horses. Small irregularities in geometry settings, uneven tyre wear, or perhaps an over heated brake on a track day, are not as easily tolerated by the prancing horse. When they are working in tolerance they are sublime - the ultimate drivers machine .... but you must keep them well fed and stabled.
There is one more thing I should mention. The Manittino – little lever in Italian. This is the dial on the steering wheel that alters suspension, traction control, the stability programme, E Diff, gear change speed and throttle response settings.-599s and 430s have 1 dial for the various settings. The Enzo has several dials and my customer had elected to give me race settings with traction and stability functions off! Thanks! 1 million pounds worth of car that’s not mine, and no help from the stallion!!!
Just getting into an Enzo is an event. Once you’re in with the butterfly doors shut, you don’t need to start the engine to feel like you are going fast. This is one happy place to be. Wrapped in a carbon skin with little headroom (with a crash helmet on), my enthusiasm to drive the car is overwhelming, the Formula 1 grade detailing inspiring.
Press the start button and my happy space becomes frenetic. The engine feels like it is bolted directly to the chassis: high frequency zings fizz through the pedals. Pull the paddle to engage 1st gear and we are away, through the pits and out onto circuit. Building speed is an effortless task, the power and torque curves immaterial, the feeling of acceleration brutal.
The overwhelming first impression is the speed of the gear shift - harsh and mechanically unkind in its operation, any loss of drive imperceptible. I have the ability to change gear and to not have to be so clinically concerned with tyre scrubbing weight transfer through a corner, as with a conventional gearbox/clutch arrangement. It creates a liberating feeling of adventure.
After only a couple of laps my mental track map is readjusting to this new found sense of freedom. I am not about to take liberties, but I can go up and down through the gears mid corner without the risk of aggressive lift off or roll oversteer. You can instantly feel the benefit of the paddle shift on lap time and vehicle stability.
The warmer the tyres become the more grip they offer. I am pushing now, power sliding out of the hairpins and taking gears through the long sweepers with my foot nailed to the gas pedal. The Enzo is not difficult to drive, it just wants a firm hand on the reins. I am left with a feeling that no matter how good dynamically the chassis behaves, I have simply too much power under my right foot. The window you are driving within at grip limit, is pointy and sharp. The transition from a hint of understeer to full blown oversteer is predictable but short in real time.
Too Much Power?
Reduce the power output by 100 BHP and you would be driving a phenomenally well balanced machine. The edgy feel is power induced, not just the amount of wild horses, but the way they deliver. Just curl the toes of your right foot on the gas pedal and you are accelerating exponentially, steering weight and response are tuned to match the performance ... the result - the Enzo feels like an extension of your body. Fantastic!
Back to reality and my day continues but this time from the passenger seat. A great experience and one to be savoured. Which did I prefer? I have to say both vehicles would be welcome to reside in my garage under a soft grey car cover, but the Enzo would be the first to reserve its place.
Engine: V12, 5,998cc
Power: 650 BHP @ 7,800 RPM
Torque: 485lb ft @ 5,500RPM
0-62 MPH: 3.7secs
Top Speed: Claimed 220MPH
Kerb Weight: 1365kg
Porsche Carrera GT
Engine: V10, 5,733cc
Power: 604 BHP @ 8,000 RPM
Torque: 435lb ft @ 5,750RPM
0-62 MPH: 3.7secs
Top Speed: Claimed 205MPH
Kerb Weight: 1380kg
"Performance Driver Track Day Course I participated in the course arranged by Porsche Club GB and very happy to give 5 stars all round. The team has put a huge amount of thought and effort into making the facilities and training Covid-secure, which is indicative of their professionalism. I found the whole day both fascinating and a lot of fun, in briefings, on the various driving segments, and chatting with the team and other participants. I was genuinely in awe of how much Colin moved my theoretical and practical driving on, and what he got me to get the car to do in the space of one day - always building confidence, encouraging me to explore my limits, while not pushing me beyond them. Can't wait to return!"
"I have had a reasonable degree of driving training over the years as am ex police officer and advanced police driver. I took the performance driver driver training to learn about track driving, and found it excellent. My instructor was Paul who was fantastic. The training built up during the day and I learnt so much about the capabilities of my own car and although I was nervous about using my own car realised afterwards it was the best thing for me to do. The instruction was extremely informative from an engineering perspective coupled with driving, friendly and tailored to your individual needs and abilities. At no time was I encouraged or pushed to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. It was extremely professional throughout. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone whatever your standard of driving."
"Truly exceptional In my experience, driving instruction has generally consisted of being repeatedly told that you are 'doing it wrong' accordingly to some unknown standard or principle that you had hoped to learn about by taking said instruction. Then there is Colin. It is not that common to find an individual who genuinely understands both people and engineering. It is incredibly rare to find one who can actively apply both to deliver a sustained behavioural change. Colin adapts his teaching style to the way you learn. For me, he lead with the WHY of the learning point, grounded in physics and engineering. We'd then put it in to practice, often doing several variants of an excercise to explore how the car reacts to differing inputs, providing valuable context for what good feels like and reinforcing the learning point. Each point built on the previous ones, layering up and coming together in to a whole, one far greater than the sum of it's parts. Subtle changes to huge effect. I was concerned on the day that the learnings would rapidly fade, but I have found that because Colin has taught me an understanding the lessons have persisted, even if I do still need some more practice (48 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit last Thursday definitely helped!). Add to this the fact that Colin is great company and an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and you have one of the most positive learning experiences I've ever known. Truly exceptional. I could not recommend more highly. Thank you!"
"Superb day with calm knowledgable and professional guidance from Paul. Thank you Paul. The course is so well structured consistently building ability and knowledge in complete safety. I fully recommend anyone wishing to increase their knowledge, confidence and experience to attend."
"Far better than any track day you can imagine! There is a massive difference between a typical driver experience or track day events and CAT driver training. The main difference is that you drive your own car to the full extent of it's capabilities, and your own, while being given expert one to one tuition by brilliant trainers Colin and Paul, who come from a Motorsport and auto engineering background. Their combined domain knowledge of engineering and competitive Motorsport allows them to explain the physics of why the car behaves as it does and how you can exploit the cars characteristics for maximum performance., in a safe fun environment. The frankly brilliant experience on the track is matched by the quality hospitality hosted by Jo, and classroom training, which prepares you for what you will experience on the next stage. These stages include such delights as the ring, where you will drive with no hands on the wheel at 100MPH, providing you with a clear understanding of the fact the car finds its own balance , and my personal favourite the alpine stage, with hairpins a plenty and 'character building' drops and rock faces. I have to admit to being slightly 'corner shy' before the training, however after some brilliant coaching from Collin urging me to 'stay on the gas, stay on the gas!' I am now far more confident and safe in the twisty stuff!"
"I don’t want to make this review too long and detailed, so I think the best way to summarise it is this: I think I possibly learnt more in one day that I’ve ever learnt before and the skills are relevant to all driving and can be practised daily. On the way home, I drove the ‘long way’ just to practise and feel the difference in the attitude of the car. I used to do this now and again because there are a few good straights and it’s nice to give the car a ‘blast’. This time, I drove that way home because I wanted to drive round the corners properly."
"Extremely professional driver training. Period. I wanted a course that would deliver a very high level of training, in an organised and professional manner. The course exceeded my expectations in every way, I wish I had started working with CAT Driver training years ago. There is no doubt that if you are looking for absolute top level training, there isn't anywhere else to look. Somehow they manage to follow a very tried and tested course structure, yet it is tailored all the way along to meet your requirements and current skill set. very impressive. I cannot rate this company highly enough. I have more dates booked already."
"Very structured training Paul was very clear and methodical in his coaching. The training technique was built up in various sections during the day and all came together like a jigsaw puzzle in the end for a great result."
"It's hard not to be enthusiastic about the lasting impact CAT Driver Training will have on your approach to driving. I spent a day with Paul exploring the potential of my new vehicle. The coaching is clear, methodical and structured to allow you to go on learning for a full day without overload. The training venue is superb and quiet enough (on the day I attended) to allow uninterrupted driving. Brilliant admin team too. Absolutely 5 Star!"
"Everything you read about these people is true and i cannot really add anything apart from clicking these five stars and to say they are truly incredibly knowledgeable, professional and nice. I did the Performance Driver Track day in my amazing six-month-old 911 GTS 4 and I now know so much more about my car and myself. I was in a group of six people all with different driving skill levels from the complete novice (me) to regular track day enthusiasts and the day was a journey of discovery for everyone. I am so pleased to have done it."
"First class performance car training day. Many thanks to Paul & your great team for a really enjoyable training day at Millbrook on Friday. I learnt a lot more about the capabilities of my F430 and found many new limits! The attention to detail in the delivery of the training was exceptional. I would recommend this to anyone with a performance car who wants to fully understand and enjoy their vehicle."
"An amazing day. If you drive you should go to CAT. If you have a performance car you MUST go to CAT. A day with CAT will transform your driving, you it be safer on the road in any situation and it will be the biggest performance upgrade your car will ever get. I learned so much in one day without any pressure, effort or stress. Colin's coaching is world class, he makes it simple / interesting to understand and easy to absorb / remember. The whole day and and everything leading up to it are well organised by the team. They REALLY care that you have a great day and TOTALLY deliver. You owe it to yourself to go."
"Absolutely Brilliant! The best advice I can give: believe every one of the glowing reviews on CAT! I approached CAT because I wanted to feel more comfortable with my newly-purchased BMW, the first rear-wheel drive car to be used for every-day driving after decades of FWD cars. I wanted to find out what the car's capabilities are, what it would feel like in extreme conditions, understand what it was telling me at the limits and, generally to get advice on my own technique. I wasn't a novice, having done plenty of track days and laps of the Nordschleife but I just knew that there's always plenty more to learn... A day's Performance Driver session met every one of my targets, and then more! Paul was a patient, logical and technical instructor who took time to explain what would happen in each manoeuvre and then fully debriefed that stage so that I not only knew what the car was doing but also understood what effect on the car my own actions were having. The proof of the pudding was in the final stage - setting consistent timed laps of the handling circuit. I'd worried a little about this all day as I'd have described my driving as enthusiastic but perhaps not consistent. The results were close to unbelievable to me! By remembering all that Paul had demonstrated and explained to me I surpassed my wildest dreams. Fantastic! As a result of this day, I now have more belief in my ability to read what my car's saying to me which brings confidence and relaxation. The car and I are now a team, rather than me just sitting there making it go down the road. I can highly recommend the whole CAT experience. Professional, friendly, patient, technical when required and not afraid to challenge when necessary. Oh, and the lunch is good too! I wish I could afford to go back every month..."
"Achieve your driving goals here! Can't ask for more than that! The entire experience was a positive and pleasant one. Everyone I met at CAT Driver Training contributed positively to the day, regardless of the role, so thank you to Jo, Lynne and of course, Colin! CAT have existing programmes for teaching anyone the fundamentals and advanced techniques of how to drive fast, but Colin can identify really quickly what you can and cannot do, and is quick to understand how to best use your time. I went in with my own unique set of requirements which slightly 'broke' the programme, but it was no problem at all and the most impressive thing was that I achieved my goals by the end of the day! I wanted to understand my car, be able to find and drive at the grip limit, and also understand how to be a faster and better driver. A lot to fit into a day, but Colin managed it in the most efficient way possible, and we achieved them all! Colin has great insights into vehicle dynamics, as well as the human machine behind the wheel. He understands why we sometimes don't function as optimally as we would like! His ability to listen to you, translate your input and isolate what is not working with your current technique helps focus the day on exactly what needs attention. This focus, along with Colin's 'feeling' of how the package of car and driver is behaving, makes him uniquely qualified to provide great direction and input to help you become the best driver possible. A lot of people talk about it, but very few can translate the inputs to a specific process for you to follow as a driver. The process is all about starting with foundations and building on them. It doesn't always seem to make sense, but trust the system - it all comes together in the end! The time is not cheap, but it will help you achieve your goals, so how do you put a price on that!? Thank you CAT Driver Training!!
"Best In Class Driver Training The training provided by Colin at CAT Driver training is superb. I am lucky enough to attended training days with Porsche, Lotus, Aston Martin and the day with a Colin at Millbrook has topped them all being informative, challenging, practical and above all delivered by a true Petrol Head. Thanks again and I will be back with the 911."
"Reminding how to drive fast A day with Colin on a 'One to One' basis is almost essential for anyone who lives on a small rock in the middle of the English Channel or lives in a city. We don't drive fast and don't get the opportunity to drive fast unless we are on a track. Colin spent the day reminding me how much fun it was to have 'fast feet' and to make the Tyres 'squeak' as they reach the sticky limit. I think I lost about 7kg in weight during the day as I was worked so hard but oh what a day. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who had a petrol head. Best bit was the 'Alpine Loop' at the end of the day. Full gas on the exit with all four squeaking. 👍😃"
"Excellent! Colin, Jo, Paul and the team are amazing, professional and have a unique ability to cover all areas of driving properly. My driving capability has been enhanced beyond measure. I highly recommend them and the CAT Advanced Driving Academy Programme. During the course it became clear to me that CAT Driving are one of the very few on the planet with such experience and capability. They have designed a brilliant dedicated package focused on working with you and delivered with an attentive caring personal touch."
"Paul was amazing: awesome teacher with a great brain. Made me realize my Mustang has actually way more grip and better and better handling than I thought. Top notch facilities in Millbrook. Totally worth it."