Today's supercars, sports cars, and performance sedans are without doubt some of the most impressive bits of machinery humans have ever built, capable of feats of speed and handling that were unthinkable just a decade ago. But it takes a capable driver to get at that performance, and a quality driving school is one of the best ways to make sure you're up to the task.

Let's face it: driving schools aren't cheap. The best ones are even a bit on the pricey side. No one wants to write a check for a few thousand dollars, not including travel costs, without an idea of what they're going to get, so we took it on ourselves to bring you a review of one of the top schools around.

The biggest, best-known driving school in the U.S. is the Skip Barber school. We recently flew down to Road Atlanta to check out the two-day High Performance Driving School to give you an idea of whether it might be what you're looking for. We'll cover the school in detail in this three-part series.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

At $3,500 for the two-day school, it's neither the least expensive nor the priciest of Skip Barber's offerings. More in-depth than a one-day school, and more focused on solid fundamentals than the more advanced car control and racing schools, it's aimed primarily at the driver new to the world of high-performance cars, though it's also a great opportunity to brush-up on the basics for more experienced drivers, or to comparison shop a handful of high-end sports cars in a controlled environment.

Disclaimer: Skip Barber waived the cost of tuition for our attendance at this school. We paid our own way to get there and stay in the Atlanta area.

Whatever your motivation for attending, you'll get plenty of time behind the wheel, some informative classroom sessions, and hands-on coaching from experienced, knowledgeable, and friendly instructors. These instructors are what make the Skip Barber schools work so well, and you'll soon find, as we did, that they don't just know what they're talking about--they all practice it regularly on their own time in amateur and pro racing.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

So what does the two-day High Performance school cover? It's broken down into six core elements, including:
  • Skidpad
  • Autocross
  • Threshold braking
  • Emergency lane-change
  • Slalom
  • Road course


You'll get multiple looks at most of these elements over the course of the two days, allowing you to gauge your improvement and further develop the skills learned in each one. On the second day, you get to put it all together in two or more lead-follow sessions on the full road course. We'll look at each of the stations separately before seeing how they work together to improve your package of skills and techniques as a driver.

Each day starts with a classroom session, including a presentation by one or more instructors, a question-answer session, and helpful illustrations to give an overview of the core principles to be studied that day. Then you'll break into groups for the morning's exercises before coming back into the classroom for another brief session after lunch.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skidpad
The skidpad at Road Atlanta is a large, sealed asphalt circle watered by a sprinkler built into the middle. The water reduces traction to make changes in grip more readily apparent. The school uses a pair of Mazda RX-8s, outfitted with smaller, less-grippy rear tires to help make the cars more willing to rotate.

Here, you'll get behind the wheel with an iron-stomached instructor riding shotgun as you find the limits of grip. Exercises include inducing, then correcting, both understeer and oversteer, as well as recovering from a slide.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

To do this, you'll learn how your throttle foot affects the car's weight balance, what that balance does to grip at each end of the car, and how to handle the steering wheel to make the car go where you want it to. You'll also learn that the direction of your eyes is as important as any other single technique, as the car will want to go where you're looking--if you're looking off-course, that's where you'll end up.

Our class was about half the usual size, with nine total students. We were then split into two groups, leaving four or five students with two instructors per group. This high instructor-to-student ratio means you'll get plenty of time on the skidpad and lots of first-hand tips and tricks, plus direct feedback on what you're doing, both right and wrong, behind the wheel.

If you've never been on a skidpad before, be prepared to find out that even at 18-20 mph, things can happen very, very quickly. You will spin out, but you'll also learn how not to--a key skill to have on the street in any car, but especially in a high-horsepower rear-drive car in the wet.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School


Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Autocross

The paddock at Road Atlanta is setup in a way that doesn't allow for a traditional autocross: there's no unbroken stretch of pavement to be strewn with cones. That's not a bad thing, however, as a small, hilly kart track takes up the challenge. Tricky downhill, off-camber corners, tight transitions, and fast uphill bends all mimic a road course, just at much lower speeds. It's a great environment to approach the limits of the car's handling while still remaining relatively safe.

The Lotus Evora and Porsche 911 were our cars for this station. With one mid-engine and one rear-engine car, you'll get a feel for the different dynamics of both designs, though both are excellent representatives of their type. You'll get many passes around the course in both cars over the two days, though you may never get it quite perfect. It's surprisingly challenging if you've never done it before.

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

On day one, the autocross is a sort of barometer of your current all-around skill set: steering wheel input, throttle and brake modulation, identification of "the line," and overall ability to maintain a car on the limit of grip are evaluated here. Along the way, the instructors ride with you, offering tips and constructive criticism to help improve your ability to hustle the car quickly around the circuit.

There's a lot going on all at once here, and on the first day you may not see much improvement, but even experienced drivers will likely be surprised how much difference a day of instruction makes when they attack the autocross on day two. You'll feel more confident, you'll be smoother, and you'll more easily and consistently approach the limits of the car and the course.

Coming in part two...
In the next segment we'll cover the threshold braking and emergency lane change elements, and in part three, we'll finish off with the slalom, road course, and conclusion.
 

 

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School

Skip Barber 2-Day High Performance Driving School