The Ford Performance Racing School in Grantsville, Utah, offers owners and racing school classes. All curriculum teaches awareness of your surroundings and understanding that how you drive your vehicle affects how it performs says Ty Hamill, lead instructor and offsite program manager.
Most of us who are car enthusiasts believe that we are good drivers (dare I say great?), but unless we’ve actually attended a performance driving school we’re probably not. All of the big three American auto manufacturers have their own official schools, in fact, if you buy their performance model, it usually comes with a free one-day admission included in the purchase. Spaces are in high demand, so there is no guarantee that you will get a spot, but if you do, this is what you may experience on your journey to speed.
The classes for the general public are the Ford Racing School’s Day 1 class (FRPS Day 1) which places a person in a 435 horsepower 2015 Mustang GT that has been stripped, caged, and upgraded with Ford’s now-discontinued FR3 performance suspension. They are fast, forgiving, and “the perfect school car,” says, Brendan Johnson, instructor. An entrant fee for Day 1 is $1695.00 and a two-day class cost $3195.00.
Owners’ classes are similar to FRPS Day 1, except they drive the same model of car that they own (Focus RS, GT350, Raptor), and there is a spotlight on selectable drive modes.
A second day can be bought for $1695.00, but you will be in the Mustang GT school car.
For advanced drivers, you can upgrade the second-day vehicle to the Boss 302 for an additional $650.00. Hamill describes the Boss as being for “people with more experience. It’s a race car, on race tires.”
Classes start at 7:30 am. You walk in and are given a racing suit and a helmet. You sit down, and you are introduced to your instructors who come from all over the country and have raced in professional series all over the world.
The first lecture focuses on finding the correct driving line, weight transfer, understanding the contact patch, and using your vision.
Your vision is the most important tool that you have.
“So many things that go into high-performance driving first is the line and maximizing your radius through a corner because the less you have to turn the faster you can go,” describes Hamill. This concept works in all performance-driving no matter on tarmac or dirt, the less you are turning the wheel the more throttle you can add. The instructors use an analogy of an imaginary string that connects your hand on the wheel to your right foot. They need to correlate: less turning allows for more throttle and vice versa.
“Road racing is just a drag race with a bunch of inconvenient corners,” says Johnson in his explanation for how you view performance driving. Learning how best to navigate a corner to keep control while maintaining good entry and exit speed is essential to driving fast.
A car has a certain mass, and depending on whether it is accelerating or decelerating, the weight will shift—more towards the back as in a hard acceleration or more towards the front during heavy braking. You must “Balance the car before you ask it to change direction,” says Hamill. The driver’s job is to understand how to manipulate the weight transfer. More weight on the front will help the tires grip by making the contact patch larger, which will aid in cornering.
Most people overlook the importance of the contact patch. The patch is actually small, being only as wide as the tire’s aspect ratio and only about an inch or two tall. That small area is the only part of your car that actually touches the pavement. It grows and shrinks depending on how you are driving. “If we go sawing at the wheel, were totally distorting the contact patches,” says Hamill, who stresses that slowing down your hand movements will avoid shock loading the tires. The goal is to “maximize [the] performance of our tires without distorting the contact patch” (Hamill).
The tires also communicate with the driver, in the form of audible squealing. Ronnie Swyers, an instructor with over 30 years of racing experience, explains that “when the tires squeal, it is the tires saying to us: ‘I’m approaching the edge of grip, I’m starting to get into some slipping.’”
So many things that go into high-performance driving first is the line and maximizing your radius through a corner because the less you have to turn the faster you can go
Some people confuse this squealing as, “the tires completely losing grip, and then they slow down,” but as Swyers points out, “a squealing tire is a happy tire; a howling tire is not.”
Swyers describes howling as being when you keep turning or applying power to an already squealing tire, “when the tire then starts to chatter or the sound drastically changes from a high pitch to a very low growl—that’s bad.”
Some tires will communicate less like “Race tires, slicks, soft tires,” which Swyers notes, “don’t give you any audible feedback unless it’s physically sliding sideways and the car is spinning out.”
Your vision is the most important tool that you have. Swyers suggests student’s eyes should always “be looking to see what is coming next.” Many students have a habit of looking only at what is right in front of their car. “Everyone struggles with it when you’re on a new track, you put on your helmet and our eyes drop.” Hamill says that students have to “look further ahead, you can’t be focused on the car in front of you … [and] in slow corners, you actually need to turn your head and look out the window, you need to look all the way around.”
After the class, the students either enter their cars or trucks and head out to their first exercises that are tailored towards either tarmac or dirt.
For Raptor Assault, the students are paired together, and they jump into a truck. They follow the instructor out to an offsite training facility.
Once at the course, the Raptors split into two groups. One heading to the “Handling Course” and the others entering the “Rock Crawling Course” that includes a 40-degree incline, hill climb, and descent.
At the Rock Crawling exercise, the instructor directs students to slowly climb onto the side of the hill. As they creep up. The instructor stands nearby telling students where they need to place their front wheels. As he coaches, he stops them at the steepest point. He explains the mechanical grip of the tires and highlights the Raptor’s stability. The instructor even jumps onto the truck, yanking at it, attempting to dislodge it—the truck only shifts its weight, but the Raptor stays affixed to the ground as if it were glued.
After each student has experienced the incline exercise, they move to the hill climb and decent portion of the Rock Crawling Course.
The students point their trucks at a hill that rises over 22 feet in the air. It is not a gentle climb. Slowly they roll the wheels up onto the hill, fighting the urge to just mash the gas and power up it quickly. They slowly control the throttle. The tires grip and the Raptor scales the hill. At the top, they turn the wheels, heading towards the descent portion of the course. They tip the Raptor over the precipice, while still turning hard right. The bottom of the truck almost kisses the ledge. Carefully the driver navigates his truck down the hill using left foot braking.
The Off-road Cornering Course consists of high-speed sections, a slalom, and a 180-degree turn. The goal is to practice finding the line around the corner, and maintaining speed.
GT350 TIME ATTACK/FPRS DAY 1 and 2
The on-road classes differ in that students are first split into three groups that attend the Skid Pad, Braking and Cornering Courses.
The braking course teaches you to brake only in a straight line. You accelerate up to fourth gear, reach the braking zone, and then apply the brakes—hard. As you lap the course, you progress from 70% to 100% pressure, to activating the ABS which cycles the brakes to stop the car from an uncontrolled slide. The reason for reaching ABS is so you can find the threshold or the point where you can brake hard enough without triggering the ABS. On the track, this is your target brake pressure. They also give a quick explanation on heel-toe downshifting, where you blip the throttle while you’re still applying the brakes and downshifting for fourth to third. Students will use both threshold braking and heel-toe downshifting when they are driving on the track.
The skidpad, puts students in a 2019 Ford Taurus that is equipped with an electronically controlled rig that changes the front and rear balance to induce understeer or oversteer.
When the instructor shifts weight from the front of the car, it induces understeer. Approaching the corner, the car does not turn, it wants to continue in a straight line. “To cure understeer, just lift off the throttle, transferring weight back to the front tires,” says Hamill.
Next, the instructor adjusts the rig, hydraulically lifting the weight off of the rear of the car inducing oversteer. To resolve it, Hamill instructs students to “lift off the throttle and turn into the slide. Look where you want to go and your hands will naturally turn the steering wheel, and the front tires will be pointing exactly where you want to go.”
The Cornering Course resembles an autocross event with braking, acceleration, cornering, and a slalom section all made up with cones. Students try to find the correct line while maintaining speed. An instructor rides along, giving you critiques and tips.
Look where you want to go and your hands will naturally turn the steering wheel, and the front tires will be pointing exactly where you want to go.
After lunch, the group transfers to the road course. The Utah facility has both an East and West road course. The school brings students up to speed slowly, first with a van ride to familiarize them with the track. Instructors stop the van on the corner’s apex, illustrating where students should position their cars. Next is lead-follow exercises where students follow the instructor’s car while playing leap frog so that every student drives directly behind the instructor. The last chaperoned instruction is a ride along, where instructors ride in the passenger seat giving advice and offering corrections.
On-track sessions last 20-minutes and are followed by another 20-minutes in class session. In the class, you debrief and get advice on how to confront any issues that you are having.
The students are released on the track, by themselves, for the final two sessions of the day. Instructors may or may not allow passing in the last session. The school concludes with the instructors giving demonstration laps where “[they] are talking you through everything,” says Hamill. This demonstration helps illustrate concepts because students have been given a lot of information in one day.
Driving at high speeds has an inherent risk that you may damage the car. The school sell insurance for $165.00 per day. It covers the entire car, with a deductible of $5000.00.
In the GT350 Track Attack, half of the students were new to track driving. At the end of the day, almost all had a desire to attend track days in the future. A common recommendation was to purchase the second-day class as it gives you more practice and allows you a chance to correct any issues.
With the popularity of track days and performance cars that are tailored toward spirited driving, now is the best time to attend a school. You won’t instantly become a professional, but if you listen to the instructors you will become a better, safer, and more capable driver. Don’t forget insurance at the school or at your local track day. Track day insurance can be purchased through third-party agencies like Hagerty. After you leave, try your best to retain what you learned. If you haven’t already, go sign up and go back to school.