Skip Barber 3-Day Mazdaspeed Racing School Review

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As you expertly trail-brake your MX-5 Cup car into T11 and get a run on the driver in front of you heading up the hill on the front straight at Laguna Seca, you have just a few seconds to think "shift, aim at the telephone pole, holy hell, I'm really moving--how is this just three days in--BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE, downshift, trail brake, apex, apex, GAS" and you're out of T2 and headed through the fast right-handers on your way out of the flat and back up the hill to the corkscrew.

Skip Barber's three-day Mazdaspeed Racing School, taught in the MX-5 Cup race car by racers for racers (and for those just interested in learning more about racing), is an experience no driving enthusiast can fail to enjoy. Best of all, the instructors are not just great drivers, but great observers and teachers, and will readily tailor the curriculum to your level of experience, talent, and desire to learn.

That last factor should be considered seriously by anyone looking to take a driving school. If you're just there to show off how awesome you already are, chances are good that you won't just be wasting your time (and the instructors') but that you'll also make use of the optional damage insurance. You did spring for the $500 insurance, right?

You might not end up bending any sheet metal should you charge ahead with little heed for the instructors, but if you're taking the school at a track like Laguna Seca, where I just completed the three-day school in the week following Christmas, you'll almost certainly end up in the gravel waiting for the tow truck, or "hook." Just ask several of the Skip Barber Formula car students that ran during our school--and a few of the MX-5 Cup students, too.

Your faithful author wasn't one of them, fortunately, though I did my best to ramp up the speed and aggression to near-race levels over the course of the three-day school. By the end, I was lapping at 1:53.xx or thereabouts, despite being limited to a maximum of 6,000 rpm of the 7,200 rpm available in all but a few places on the track. That's just a few seconds off of fast-lap pace in the hands of the pro-racer instructors, and a good ten seconds per lap quicker than when I took my first tentative runs at the circuit. In other words, if you come to the Skip Barber racing schools to learn, you will  learn, quickly, and you'll approach the limits in a safe, controlled manner.

Skip Barber Mazdaspeed 3-day racing school

Skip Barber Mazdaspeed 3-day racing school

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The cars

So what will you be driving if you opt for one of the several MX-5 Cup-based schools? A race car based on the third-generation, or NC, Mazda MX-5, in very similar trim to the Playboy MX-5 Cup cars (and Skip Barber's own MX-5 Cup series cars). The exception being that 215-mm BF Goodrich g-Force Sport street tires instead of racing slicks.

The street tires are chosen in part for their lower overall grip, but also for their wider range of acceptable slip angles, both of which help the driver to recognize mistakes without penalizing through sudden loss of traction that can result in severe offs and bent metal.

Otherwise, you're looking at an MX-5 with a racing header, no catalytic converters, a roll cage, a relatively high-end set of dampers, upgraded springs, and a racing alignment. With about 200 horsepower at the crank and 2,400 lbs at the curb, it's not exactly a rocketship, but its nimble handling and short wheelbase will quickly outpace the skill of most that drive it for the first time. Once you get comfortable with it, however, it becomes a willing office for the business of speed, compliant and predictable.

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