Continental Tires Invites PRN to the Snow Track at ICAR
First of all, this was a unique and educational experience since my training is only on dry pavement. It was amazing to have the chance to take part in the new BMW winter driving training at course since the old one that usually would take place in Montebello was last held about five years ago. Now the course is taking place at the amazing ICAR facility in Mirabel Airport outside Montreal.
The day started far too early in the AM but I got to the track a little early and sat in my car a bit before heading inside. After signing in, I headed right to the coffee table to get some much needed caffeine in me and to eat some breakfast that was provided by BMW.
Once all the students had arrived, signed in and had their breakfast we all went into the classroom for the official start of the day. We were introduced to our instructors: Pierre Savoy, Philippe Letourneau and Jean-Francois Veilleux. After our introductions we started the in-class theory learning about ABS systems, Continental winter tire technology, driving techniques like how to control oversteer and understeer. Of course we also learned about the systems that BMW has on their cars and how they help improve safety in bad conditions.
One half of the students would be driving 335i’s and the other half 335d’s all equipped with Continental Winter Contact 225/45R17s. The same tires and alloy wheels available through BMWs winter tire package from the dealers. I was assigned a manual 335i and after everybody was in their cars and all set we all proceeded to the first exercise. To get us warmed up we did some slalom tests, attempting with all the traction and stability systems activated. Then we tried it with the BMW ETC system that allows some wheel slip and lastly we turned off all the computer aids to really see the difference that traction control can make. During the slalom we were also being shown all the proper ways to place our hands to not shuffle them around the steering wheel like a ham-fisted journalist.
After we had become comfortable in the cars and how the stability systems work we started our first actual exercise, emergency braking. To make it really interesting, the instructors disengaged all the systems including the ABS! It was a great exercise that really showed you have to look to where you want to go and how to properly avoid accidents if a situation comes up. It was an exercise where a lot of cones got eaten by the students. At the wrap up, the instructor put the systems back on to show how much they really help…it was really impressive when comparing them side-by-side.
The next exercise was one that I was exited about from the start, learning how to control oversteer and understeer. We tried out the different techniques on how to control them on a huge circle skidpad. Now we were ready to swap cars with the other group, so I was driving an automatic 335d. The torque of this car was impressive and ripped through all kinds of snowy conditions. Our next exercise was really my area of expertise; how to control a sustained drift on an hourglass shaped course layout. We had lap after lap of sideways action. It was all about being smooth on the gas pedal, looking to where you want to go and doing it smooth. I received some compliments from my instructor and two other students that were in my group but then again, I am into drifting.
The last event was a competition-style event. It was an AutoX-style race that put all the students against each other on a course that combined everything we learned during the day into one action filled race and the winners would get some special prizes. The course started out with a reverse 180, then into the accident avoidance breaking zone to a run around the skidpad. The final section led into a series of S-turns, a slalom course and finally a stop box. Any cone that was hit during your run would be a 3.0s penalty added to your time. We each had one practice run and one timed run. Even though it was just for fun, this was still a race. Once we all had finished we headed back in for the debriefing and to find out who won. They named off the 3rd place, then 2nd place and then they named first place. As soon as they said the car # of the winner I could not believe it…I won and did PRN Mag proud!
I think everybody should try the BMW Winter Driver Training at some point, especially for the people that live in heavy snow areas. We found the safety systems enabled the BMW to perform well with the Continental Winter Contact tires biting though the loose stuff to maintain grip under very harsh conditions.