There’s few better ways to spend your time than having fun in a way that’s educational, fun, and potentially lifesaving. Welcome to Audi Driver Training.

HOW ABOUT DRIVING a premium German car, on a racetrack, on a variety of exciting courses, learning things you never knew you needed to know? We’re at Audi Driver Training to brush up on some of our car-handling skills.

To most people, the concept of driver training is an oxymoron. We tend to treat driving as a right, not a privilege, and somehow we’re all born knowing how to do it, especially the blokes. Sir Stirling Moss had it right when he remarked that there’s two things men will never admit they cannot do well – driving is one, and the other is making love. And for proof, take a look a professional motor racing. How many drivers have coaches? Pretty much nobody. What about top-level tennis, golf, swimming… you name it, there’s a coach for it. Oh, and that was proof for the attitude to driving only, we’re not touching the other skill!

It’s a real shame that we don’t treat driver training more seriously, because it’d be a great way to slash the road toll everyone apparently cares so much about. Somehow, it’s never the driver’s fault – the “car left the road”, and we talk of accidents when in fact most “accidents” are avoidable incidents.  Driving instructors barely scrape a living – look at their hourly rate – and we encourage parents to teach, when they’ve got bad habits to begin with.  
Enter post-license training.  Think you know it all?  Think again.  And if you’ve only ever driven on public roads doing public road sort of driving, prepare to rethink just how much fun driving can be.
There’s quite a few types of post-license training, from on-road focused all the way through to race driver.  Pick according to your needs – if you want safer road drivers then courses featuring racetracks are not going to help as the skills are quite different, and in some cases race training can instil false confidence the driver can simply car-control their way out of situations.  Not the case, as studies show the best way to reduce accidents is to focus on driver attitudes combined with skills of observation and anticipation.
Steve Pizzati at Audi Driver Training
We asked Steve Pizzati, Audi’s chief driving instructor, if Audi’s courses were aimed at road, motorsports or fun. “All of the above” was the answer, along with experiencing the Audi brand.   We had a bit of a taste of the programme during the RS 6 and RS 7 launch at Phillip Island, and even amongst the seasoned motoring journos there were smiles aplenty.
First off, everything is superbly organised and professinally laid out.  None of this instant coffee business and rusty old shack for shelter while you wait your turn, it’s a proper five-star experience as befits the Audi brand.  I cannot help but smile at the contrast between the Phillip Island I know on club track days and what it’s like when Audi run their events – I’ve mentioned to the committee that we too should have scented candles and flowers in the gents toilets, leather armchairs, a tame barista and gourmet lunch.  Won’t repeat exactly what they said, but I don’t think it’ll happen. 
But enough of the ambience.  The cars are of course the very latest models, all ready to roll, the instructors are highly experienced and picked not just for their skill, but their ability to teach – and, Steve stresses, the fact they enjoy teaching.
So what do you actually do on the day?  It varies according to the course, of which there’s four to choose from (prices correct as of May 2015, and all courses are a full day)
  • Advanced ($950) – a basic course suitable for anyone, slaloms, basic car control, track laps
  • Performance ($1290) – higher speeds and more advanced vehicle placement, racing line training
  • Sportscar ($3300) – in the R8 you learn more about racing lines and track work
  • Race ($6500) – a full on racecar experience in an R8 LMS.
There’s two specialty events:
  • Lifestyle – on public roads, drive a selection of new Audis behind a lead car around a local scenic area, then drop in to somewhere upmarket for lunch.  As a journalist, I can definitely say that you need to spend more time with a car than just the usual test drive you get from a dealer, and you should drive the car around locations you know well.  Definitely consider this if you want a new Audi, or indeed are just researching the market.
  • Ice – a day at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground in New Zealand, sliding and drifting on groomed snow surfaces.  I have done similar courses, and this has the highest fun-factor of them all!

All the courses are available in Western Australia, South Australia, NSW, Queensland and Victoria except for the Race, which is only run at Phillip Island in Victoria.  Australia is the only country outside Germany to offer the Race course, and you must be assessed before you’re permitted to participate.  
As you move up through the courses you drive faster and faster cars, there’s less and less theory, more time is spent on race/motorsport skills, and there’s fewer students to share the vehicle with.   We’re told the R8 LMS used for the Race course is the fastest vehicle that can be hired in Australia, some four seconds a lap quicker around Phillip Island than a V8 Supercar, and it is a real-deal racecar not a dressed up roadcar.  The LMS has won multiple times at Bathurst in the highly regarded 12 Hour, and most recently at the Nurburgring in May 2015.
You have to do each course in turn, but I asked Steve whether more experienced drivers could slot in at higher levels.  The answer was “on a case by case basis”, so see how you go, but it never pays to be too ambitious.
The exercises are interesting, and fun. First up for us was lift-off oversteer, where you dive far too fast into a corner, lift off the throttle, lightly touch the brakes and see what happens next which will either be an understeer or oversteer slide depending on exactly what you’ve done, and then you can recover the car to normality.  
We then did the stopping distance exercise, usually run at 110km/h but for us journos they upped the ante to 150km/h…takes a while to stop at that speed, and we started so far back the cones weren’t visible over the crest on the main straight.  Then there was a novel exercise, the “which way”.  You approach the instructor at 80km/h, and at the last minute he points left or right, and you brake hard while slotting your car into the appropriate garage. Interesting stuff, and you’re approaching thinking “c’mon, c’mon, tell me which waaaay!”
Then we onto my personal favourite, the swerve.  Drive through a set of cones, swerve right, then swerve left, no slowing down.  I was told off for “finessing” the car through and directed to get the slide on instead, so next time around managed a huge oversteer moment..  Tried again the next time and of course blew away a poor innocent cone…it’s always the way with these things when you try and improve on a first effort, the next one is a total failure.  But a fun failure.  Finally, we also had a timed motorkhana on the wet skidpan which again was huge fun.
It was good to see that Audi focus on the basics.  Did you know that you can tell how well trained a driver is in within seconds?  It’s how they sit in the seat, hold the steering wheel and where they look. Let’s just say it’s not something you see in Fast and Furious!
Audi make much of the fact that their 2012 revamp focused more on driving, less on theory, and they reduced numbers from 30 to 24 per day for the introductory courses.  They also opened the event to the public, rather than just Audi owners.   Passengers are allowed inside the cars, so you get to ride along with your partner for the day and that really adds to the experience as it’s not only fun, there’s less waiting around. Even when you’re briefly outside the car it’s not long before the action starts, and there’s  the other drivers to watch too.
So, who should do one of these courses?  They’d be a wonderful, can’t-go-wrong gift for any car enthusiast, or anyone who just enjoys a bit of a thrill, or someone who has “drive on a racetrack” somewhere on their bucket list.
The higher-level courses will set people up well for motorsports, as well as be a great experience.  If you have a nervous learner or novice driver I’d suggest more road-oriented training with a specialist would be better value as well as more effective, and these aren’t corporate courses designed to reduce accident rates for fleet drivers.  But everyone else is likely to have an experience they won’t forget for a long, long, time.

Steve Pizzati’s tips 

Top three tips for new road drivers:
1. Get the best tution you can. Not cheapest driver instructor you can find.  
2.  Keep eyes up, look as far up the road as you possiby can.  
3. Practice, practice, practice (and see point 1!)
Top three tips for new motorsport drivers:
1. Do not move up a category until you have succeeded. Great champions have won everythig they’ve worked at.  
2.  Be honest about your own performance. So much bravado and bulldust.  
3. Get the best possible tuition.
For more information, visti the Audi Driver Training website.
We’ve also put together a short introduction to track days, and some tips on what makes a bad (road) driver.
Want to learn to drive this? Work up through the courses and maybe you can…

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