Feedback from Stuart Rowland

Feedback from Stuart following a Car Control course.

Let me start by asking you a question: How do you know when you've made the right choice? Well...some people ‘just know’ and others need feedback; confirmation or recognition you might say. Between the 2 there's an instintive gut feel we all have....it tells us when something is instinctively right...it tells us we've made the right choice.

Well....that's the feeling I had right after we'd finished our mugs of tea and bacon sarnie's in Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground's Diner cafe and Don said "follow me" and we drove the 2+ or so miles down to the end of the airfield.

You see, Don doesn't drive an exotic motor like you may expect...no snarling Lamborghiini, TVR or Noble here. No, a de-badged Golf PDi150. Yup, that's right....completely understated, just like the man himself. Well....‘said’ diesel golf, piloted by a bearded (and slightly portly) Don Palmer sprinted away down the straight and out cornered 2 jap turbo nutter cars with twice the power so comprehensively, that by the time we were thinking about braking from 130mph to shelve off some speed to take the final right hander at the bottom of the airfield, Don was already halfway up the opposinig strip of runway, manoevering his car into a parking slot on the grass (that's two thirds of a mile ahead). Just like I said... sometimes you ‘just know’. We had chosen the right course, and the right coach.

So...the format of the the ‘Fundamentals of Car Control’ day was to drive one's own car, at progressively higher speed, through a pre-determined course of cones depicting fast lane-change events and slalom style direction changes, a course set out in advance by Don himself.

Each series of runs results in questions, why did this happen? What did you feel? What did you notice? What was the cause of that? This is followed by suggestions for the next run – with occasional demonstrations from Don himself.

Which is exactly how the course started back in the diner, lots of questions. After an initial intro over tea and a good chat about cars in general Don asks "So...what do you want to learn"?

For me, this was all about ‘the limit.’ Where is it, how do I recognise it? How do I drive near or at it? How can I be more calm and confident when I am at or near it... instead of a blur of steering, tyre screech and tension. Don asked me to recount a particular moment I had on the track at Anglesey last year...I described it as a click of the fingers when the car let go. He asks me repeated questions "Was it really? What did it feel like? What did you notice?" Eventually he revealed it was the fear factor which was preventing me from relaxing. He built the whole day around that. Your needs only.

Well... back to the driving... After 7-10 familiarisation laps I am lapping the course in 57 seconds consistently. Come lunchtime, I was down to the 53 sec bracket... but at a brick wall... I just couldn't seem to go quicker.

Don helped me understand the factual information preventing me from going quicker - I answered my own questions and discovered, over a steak and chips, that my particular style was not optimising the grip of the tyres. It's a long story and I won't go into it in detail but suffice to say that, come the end of our day, my best time was in the low 49 seconds.

Between the 57 and 49 second bracket I span numerous times and on occasion, achieved the most rewarding series of seamless drifts I previously thought were outside of my talent.

Don's driving and coaching talent knows no boundaries. He demonstrated numerous fundamental points of the day with unparalelled car control and elegance. One of which entailed drving at 110mph, ragging the steering wheel over to the right, getting out of the throttle, then letting go of the steering wheel completely......

On the way back from lunch, driving my car, Don showed us the cornering technique which left us trailing on the horizon back in the morning. A long left hander leading onto the preliminary runway strip, I glanced at the speedo as we entered the corner. 120mph. "Always finish the corner" Don says... Man, that was F.A.S.T.

So...did Don Palmer meet expectations? At the beginning of the day, my belief of the limit was 'a click of ther fingers,' a horrible, gutteral, pant-cacking black and white movie, where scary things happened. By the end of the day, the 'limit' was reduced to a set of beliefs and refrence points... driving at and beyond the limit of your car is actually not as hard as it looks... it is certainly not a click of the fingers. In fact, as I discovered, it's all a bit of fun and a giggle... THEN a bit of a slippery slope (and quite a long one at that) and now, ONLY now... is everything in slow motion... cruise control in fact.

So all that remains is to say thanks to Monsieur Palmer... I've taken the opportunity to sit with many many instructors on track days... all they do is bark orders at you then show off by taking the wheel of your pride and joy (mostly against your wishes) and ringing it within an inch of it's life. Don's unique coaching style is not about that... I discovered the answers for myself and what's even better, I now 'own' that information. Pretty cool, that.

2013 Don Palmer. All rights reserved.