Fast Track / #2016
Advanced Driving Consultant, #Rob-Colbourn,
teaches us how to better our driving techniques on track with a Performance Driving Course. He can do the same for you… Words: Simon Jackson. Photography: Malcolm Griffiths.
Some driver training will make you a much better circuit driver.
TRACK DRIVING TUITION
Around 18 months ago we undertook a full course of driving tuition with Advanced Driving Consultant, Rob Colbourn. Our experience was limited to the road as that is where we all spend the majority of our time behind the wheel. The syllabus focused around improving our general attitude to driving, whilst sharpening our observation and anticipation skills. It provided us with an arsenal of useful techniques and common-sense hints useable in practically every road-going scenario. They’re ones I personally have used every day since. Quite rightly, Rob’s courses are tailored to each individual, but they ultimately serve to coach a person, no matter their skill or confidence level in a car, towards functioning as a better driver.
Rob’s methods explore the idea that there is an art to driving well, a road craft if you will, and his approach showcases that once equipped to practice it there is a whole extra dimension to driving, one so obvious it has been staring you in the face. You’d simply be lying if you claimed that didn’t sound appealing.
Rob’s background is unlikely, which makes his tutorage even more significant in my eyes – Rob was once a ‘white van man’. Charging up and down the country delivering parcels, Rob was the guy in the van sat three-inches off your back bumper, headlights ablaze chewing the steering wheel in anticipation of getting ahead of you. Since becoming a driving instructor, and today an Advanced Consultant, those aggressive days are long gone as Rob has gone through what he terms a ‘shift in attitude’. However, his past gives him a real world insight and pragmatic level of understanding unlike most driving experts we’ve encountered. Driving psychology and an indepth interest and understanding of the ‘human condition’ ensure Rob is able to relate to, and irradicate, any long-formed habits hampering your driving. When it comes to driving on the road, erasing bad habits is a very useful undertaking, translate it to the track and it might just save your life.
Despite spending much of his professional working life tutoring on track at Silverstone, Rob would be the first to admit that he’s not a ‘racing driver’. There’s a distinct difference between someone who can drive quickly, intelligently and safely on a circuit, and an individual who can exhume the last few tenths of a second in competitive motorsport. But if you have any level of desire to improve your track driving skill set, as we did, then Rob’s teachings are most useful and the ideal basis from which to move from merely enthusiastic to competent on track.
Interestingly, much of the craft Rob teaches on his road course can be translated, perhaps in an amplified fashion, to the driving techniques he promotes specific to the circuit. Driving psychology features heavily once more. Although each of us may respond differently when we are behind the wheel of a car, many of the reactions caused by our actions will have the same (unwelcome) outcome. Just like on the road, first and foremost using our vision becomes key to mastering an effective track driving technique.
Changing the way we observe situations can aid our ability to predict, understand and subsequently react. During road driving we’re taught to anticipate potentially hazardous situations, using a mixture of our experience and what the surrounding environment can communicate to us. This enables a driver to prophesize a possible course of events and act to minimise a problem which may arise in advance of it emerging. The principle is the same on track – if you know what might be ahead you can plan for it in advance. One of Rob’s mantras is to look through a corner, flick your eyes ahead through the turn, then draw them back to the apex to build a picture of where you’re going ahead of your arrival.
Rob let’s you build speed gradually, pushing on as and when you feel comfortable, and should your enthusiasm overtake adhesion, he’ll encourage you to reel it back and take a step back before moving forward and potentially out of your comfort zone. As you push the envelope of your perceived comfort level, so too do the limits of your skill set grow.
Vehicle dynamics also play an important part in the process of Rob’s teachings. Understanding what a car is doing underneath you, and what it might do as you feed it various inputs is vital. For example, Rob ensures you have a level of knowledge of the physical reaction your steering inputs make – drilling into you that as you turn the wheel you should be considering the angle of your car’s tyres, exactly what you’re asking of them and the relationship between road surface, tyre and car attitude.
“Many clients are familiar with the terms ‘oversteer and understeer’, but are not necessarily confident of giving an accurate definition or explanation of how they’re caused, identified, corrected or most importantly, prevented,” Rob explains.
Likewise most modern cars feature an abundance of electronic safety aids but do you as the driver really know how they all operate, to what extent they influence the vehicle, and how best to use them to good effect? Through Rob’s tuition, you’ll soon learn just how clever these systems are and whether or not you really need them, or rather why you should never rely on them. It’s the same with braking techniques, Rob likens emergency braking to bankruptcy: “We all understand the basic premise but spend years, quite rightly, employing other skills to try and avoid facing it for real,” he says. “If we do have to face it, we are likely to find ourselves lacking the necessary skills to overcome it. Paradoxically, practicing these skills to a high competency level reinforces the point that you should not allow yourself to need them.”
Sir Jackie Stewart is a big influence on the track driving techniques that Rob endorses, not as you might presume for his speed, but for his smoothness. Stewart was famed for his chauffeur-like driving style, and it’s this smooth, calculated and considered approach that Rob presses home. He teaches a driver to roll off the brake pedal, not jump off it, to balance the car through a corner, often with a small input of throttle mid-turn. Using all of the available road, letting the car gently run wide out of a corner, your task is then to gradually feed the power back in as the steering lock is wound off: “Imagine there is a piece of string between the accelerator pedal and the steering wheel,” he says. “That throttle pedal cannot go down until the wheel is fully straightened.”
Each and every input is designed to not upset the car, you should not overdrive it but rather make considered smooth adjustments to retain a certain level of balance. Coming out of corners this often feels like the old Martin Brundle adage of ‘hurry up and wait’ before you’re able to get on with things (and apply the throttle), but it ensures the cleanest exit and believe it or not will prove faster than letting the car slide from apex to curb.
We’ve already told you that much of what your improved road craft has taught you will also serve you well on the circuit, but conversely that works both ways. Employing a smooth and flowing approach on the track can also work effectively on the road, with a focus on using and extending your vision to your own advantage. I wouldn’t consider myself a confident track driver prior to spending time with Rob, yet with his help I’ve learnt both a greater understanding of what a vehicle is doing in a track environment, but also perhaps more important is how my perceptions have altered towards my own limitations. I’ve learned that I can gradually push to improve my level of comfort on track and, as a consequence, my skill levels improves with it.
Rob’s talent is arguably not a dark art of turning the average driver into a racing driver, but rather the methods he uses enthuse and inspire drivers to believe in themselves, and to hone their existing abilities. Indeed, far from schooling his clients in a new method of driving, Rob extracts the better driver that lies within us all, and he does so in a relaxed and informed manor that guarantees success.
Thanks to: Rob Colbourn / Web: www.robertcolbourn.co.uk
Track regular, Sam Preston, shares his experience of Rob’s course…
Although I have my fair share of track days under my belt, these often oversubscribed events sometimes prove to be as effective as supplying you with an opportunity to find the limits of a car as trying out the same techniques on the public highway during rush hour. At the Nürburging Nordschleife, for example, I’ve found myself spending more time checking my rear-view mirror for the likes of GT3 RSs to appear out of nowhere (as they so often do), than gaining the confidence needed to instead begin focusing on improving my own talents.
With Rob sat beside me and a nigh-on empty track complete with nervesettling amounts of runoff to play with, the rate of learning is naturally far quicker here. Especially once I’d realised that Rob wasn’t there to criticise my current level of driving but instead was genuinely interested in helping me work on what I’d already learnt to become a better, faster driver. Surely a dream of any true petrolhead?
Rob soon determined that smoothness in and out of corners was something that I could certainly do with some help with. First up, he assisted me in honing the art of trailing off the brakes gradually into slower-speed corners. Known by the pros as ‘trail braking’, the technique is something of a mirror to the ‘piece of string’ theory mentioned earlier; where the brakes are hit hard as you’d expect before turning, but then let off gradually as you begin to turn the steering wheel. As well as allowing you a later braking time, this technique perhaps more importantly helps keep the weight distribution of the car balanced for optimum grip and tyre usage throughout the turn. Easier said than done, for sure, but with some practice it’s soon easy to understand why this is one of the most effective weapons a racing driver can keep up their sleeve.
Other small nuggets of invaluable wisdom Rob helped me pick up on included keeping your vision focused on where you’re aiming as well as where you are (“don’t just live in the moment – you don’t know what’s around the corner unless you look”) and maintaining good positioning on the steering wheel (“those spokes are put in the ten-to-two position for a reason”) with a relaxed grip to ensure you pick up on as much feedback the car is supplying you with as possible. All techniques I don’t know if I’d ever manage to teach myself, regardless on how much track time I was exposed to.