Finance

I took a high-performance driving course in a 526 horsepower Ford— here’s what I learned (F)

I had a smile on my face all day.

I had a smile on my face all day.

Ford

So what did I learn?

I’m pretty familiar with my weaknesses as a driver, so it was great to have race-tested instructors help me overcome them. Typically, I don’t like to turn laps in cars as powerful as the GT350 because I feel as if I can never get the machine under control, but in Sport Mode the beast bent to my will and made me comfortable in a hurry (the magnetic ride control and traction management give you all sorts of margin for error).

I spent most of my laps in third gear, savoring that 8,200 redline on the big flat-crank V8. This enabled me to concentrate on setting up my corners and hitting my apexes, while still hammering the GT350 down the straights and every so often hearing the rev-limiter tell me I needed to go to fourth. (That really just led me to prepare for breaking sooner, rather than lose time upshifting for half a second before downshifting and having to get my heel-toe right into the corner.)

My biggest problem is looking ahead on the track: instructors told me all day to look ahead, look ahead, look ahead — put my eyes where I wanted my hands to steer the car. After a while, I got it, and my final lap was technically satisfying. I drove the track fast, but made good corner entries and exits and could feel just a touch of oversteer underneath me as I unwound the wheel and brought up the throttle.

The instructors stressed a valuable rule: you have three main inputs and 100% to work with. You can use throttle, braking, and steering. If you’re at 90% throttle — building up speed on a straight, for example — that leaves you with only 10% available for braking and steering. If you’re using 80% steering in a corner, going too hard to the throttle — 30%, say — overloads the car by 10% and you could lose it.

As far as the program goes, it’s a no-brainer if you buy a Ford Performance vehicle (even a Raptor, for which there’s an extensive off-road course in Utah). Not only will you learn what your car can really do, you’ll meet like-minded people and get some of the highest-caliber instruction, on and off the track, you’re ever likely to experience.

Oh, and you’ll get to do so amid some spectacular natural scenery.

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