Just got done with the first day of the 2 day advanced school with Skip Barber on the north course at VIR.

First off, the school was originally scheduled for the full course. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago, which was kind of disappointing as I really wanted the experience on the full course that all the pro series run, as well as nasa/scca. I also couldn't use my experience at oak tree from Bertil Roos. That's not to say the north course isn't an awesome track though. Like the full course, It's very fast with a lot of sweeping corners and rhythm sections, and many elevation changes.

The class started with instructor and student introductions. The instructors we got were pretty experienced, most with some experience in pro series in either open wheel or sports cars. Like my class at Bertil Roos, the students were on average more experienced with me. At least 3 students were registered for the summer series race this weekend and using the advanced school for seat time at the track. Two guys had extensive karting experience from a young age in south america, and one had run a formula Renault (I think, if I remember correctly) series somewhere for a year. One guy was a NASA instructor. There were two guys that I think have about equal experience to me. For a few other guys I'm not sure exactly what their experience is but I think it may be more then they revealed. There were a total of 12 students. I was also the only student who had never run any skip barber car before.

Because the class wasn't full, Phil (the lead instructor) opted to run everyone in one group instead of two so we would both get a little more track time and be able to finish a little earlier.

After the introductions, there was a short classroom review of the basics, and some pointers on shifting the sequential box. Then a few minute demonstration in front of the car about getting in, starting the car, shifting, etc.

Before getting in the formula cars, we did a quick van around the track for a few laps. Next we did some lead follow with the students in race cars following the instructors in street cars in groups of 3. The instructors took it a little faster each lap. It was a good way of learning the track and working up to speed. However, after a few laps, the instructors Mazda 3 we were following started smoking really bad under acceleration; I mean so much white smoke out of the exhaust I could barely see. The instructor continued on for a few laps before pulling into the pits. In the pits, we stayed in the cars for what felt like a long time before going out for a few more lead follow laps. I thought they were fixing the mazda 3 or finding another car to use. But when we went out again, the mazda was throwing out the smoke again!

Next, a really short classroom session about passing (open passing on the two longest straights and wave bys allowed elsewere) before heading back out for a lapping session with a "stopbox." In the stopbox lapping session, you do a lap at your own pace and then come to a stop on the front striaght, where the instructors who are positioned around the track give feedback (if they have any) to you through the radio. I went around at what I felt was a moderate pace, not pushing it too hard. Apparently I was doing ok as the instructors never had any comments for me! After the seesion, I got feedback from all the instructors and most said I was doing good but needed to work on braking closer the threshold. In terms of my driving, the shifting took a few laps to get used to but was easy after that. Everything can be done in one motion so it is much easier and faster. It was still kind of confusing to remember what gear you were in.

Lunch followed which was provided free. Then we did a long open lapping session. Phil said it was going to be 30 minutes, much longer then any session I've done before, even in go karts! I started out moderately and slowly worked up to speed. Although I felt I was progressing pretty quickly, pretty soon, I got passed by a few cars, and couldn't keep up with them. I started pushing harder and was getting the car sideways in a few places but well off the pace of them. Even though I knew a lot of the guys were a lot more experienced then me, particularly in these cars, it was slightly discouraging. Towards the end of the session, I didn't feel physically tired but I was making more and more mistakes, not putting the car exactly where I wanted it, etc. Also some of the foam I put to hold myself in the too-big-for-me seat came loose and interfered with my left arm. I drove through it to the checkered flag. I didn't see any spins but saw a few cars off and a few yellow flags. Feedback for the session was again positive and again I was told to continue working on braking.

After a short break, we did another open lapping session. This one was a little shorter. I continued to progress, going later and harder on the brakes, carrying more speed in some turns I was tentative in earlier, and I also felt like I was able to carry more speed in a few places by adjusting my line slightly and adjusting the throttle and brake amounts and positions.

Tomorrow more lapping sessions and some practice passing and starts/restarts. should be interesting.