John Bowe driving course

By: Scott Murray, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

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John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course John Bowe Driving Course
Terry Bowe, JB's brother offers the class his wisdom Terry Bowe, JB's brother offers the class his wisdom Terry Bowe, JB's brother offers the class his wisdom
Kent Youlden, two-time Production Car champ and racer for 35 years, explains all Kent Youlden, two-time Production Car champ and racer for 35 years, explains all Kent Youlden, two-time Production Car champ and racer for 35 years, explains all
John Bowe gives Scott advice on the forced-induction grunt of the WRX at Sandown John Bowe gives Scott advice on the forced-induction grunt of the WRX at Sandown John Bowe gives Scott advice on the forced-induction grunt of the WRX at Sandown
Instructor Iccy assesses and takes Scott through the finer points of the lap Instructor Iccy assesses and takes Scott through the finer points of the lap Instructor Iccy assesses and takes Scott through the finer points of the lap
Both hands on the wheel - no distractions! Both hands on the wheel - no distractions! Both hands on the wheel - no distractions!

Staffer Scott goes back to school at the John Bowe Driving Course and gets to point a Subaru WRX at a rain-soaked Sandown circuit...

John Bowe driving course
John Bowe Driving Course

 

JOHN BOWE DRIVING COURSE

Don’t bend the metal." That was the first piece of advice editor Leechy had for me when I was starting out in this job. Nodding in emphatic agreement, especially knowing I would come across some of the most financially and sentimentally precious sets of wheels in the country, I felt the weight of responsibility. This is not a tale of hooning or ripping skids, either. Driver training is a subject I’ve passionately advocated many years. Put simply, as a society we just don’t do enough of it.

We don’t expect parents to teach their kids geography, maths or English at school, but they are expected to teach one of the most fundamental and dangerous activities young people can perform. Bad habits, laziness and poor skills are the inevitable results.

Working on the basis that it’s never too late to learn, I signed up for the John Bowe Driving course. His personally picked team introduce you to the dynamics of driving professionally-instructed laps around Melbourne’s gorgeous Sandown Racecourse. Now, this isn’t learning to use indicators or reverse parallel park. It’s learning about apexes and driving lines, recognising and controlling both understeer and oversteer, how to get the best from ABS brakes and most crucially, undivided, attentive driving.

SANDOWN
The Track: Melbourne’s Home Of Horsepower

Topographically, Sandown Racecourse doesn’t look like much. It’s an elongated box with a couple of zigzag ends. But standing on the apex of turn one, envisioning a V8 Supercar bellowing in at 260km/h before stomping on the fat pedal, any vague notion that you could have been a contender rapidly vanishes. The racing line careens downhill, so it’s a big haul on the brakes before darting right-then-left through turns two and three. Make an early left turn-in at turn four onto the back straight, exit on the right-hand kerb with the Armco beside and man-up through that kink-that-isn’t-really-a-kink, gently rolling the long pedal to the floor. This is a "power-down" circuit, so you need balance and controlled aggression plus ability to get the car’s power to the road. Pulling gears up the slightly ascending tarmac, you pass under the advertising gantry, cresting the hill where you hit the big numbers on the speedo and prepare to brake on the right side of the track, down-shifting for the fast left hander. Caution is your ally because there’s not much run-off to your right as you nudge the apex, feeling the grip come to you as the car settles under brakes into the Dandenong Road section. Keeping things tidy, you take a little kerb on the right, miss another on the left, and grab second gear into the 90-degree left. Again, gently apply throttle on the exit towards the penultimate corner. Here, if you’re not careful you can get to the point of turn-in and realise you haven’t braked hard or soon enough. Get your deceleration done in a straight line, start the entry early, grab the apex, keep the car to the right and you’re set for a tidy left-hander winding onto the main straight. Lap done.

Sandown’s long history and scratchy resurfacing efforts mean there’s probably twenty surface changes during a lap, so unless you’re Craig Lowndes, you’ll need to leave a bit in reserve when entering and exiting corners and determining how much grip you’ve got in the wet. If dry, just focus on your lines. This is what JB’s course teaches; awareness, focus, assessing your driving as well as attitude. Learning about target fixation is another key point; keeping an eye on your driving line, braking points, apex and exit point. If you look at the tree or the car in front, that’s all you see and your brain tells your body to drive one foot in front of the other. But if you’re looking at the traffic a hundred metres up the road, the traffic lights ahead, or the intersection around you (not waiting for the green light), your driving becomes proactive, not passive. You also adapt, maximising the use of your peripheral vision. It’s about using the safe environment of the track to develop skills that are 100 per cent applicable to road driving.

SUBARU WRX
The Car: Make It Easy On Yourself

Melbourne’s weather has multiple personalities, so with that in mind we hedged and put the call in early for Subaru’s new WRX. For two decades it’s been the benchmark for AWD turbocharged pocket rocketry, the trademark symmetrical all-paw system being something you must experience. I’ve always been a simpler rear-drive, front-engined kinda guy and the Rex’s boy-racer image was something that had passed me by. Well, on this day, Sandown was sinister. Wet and greasy for the first four hours, the appeal of simple and rear-drive palled somewhat. Still, as the instructors said, I’d learn more when there was less grip on track.

The Rex was fitted with a Sports Lineartronic CVT gearbox. Yes, I know, it’s a punch in the plums not to be operating three pedals and an H-pattern, but one less task to consider is a good thing. Plus the paddle-shifts are great fun. The 2.0-litre DOHC direct injection turbocharged boxer’s 197kW/350Nm, delivers in a linear fashion which pays dividends in the wet. The chassis is tight and edgy, offering you options but the spring rates are pretty burly for road use.

The Results?

In the wet, the consequences for braking late or light for that penultimate corner are amplified. There’s a surface change which goes from slick and new, to older and stone-surfaced black stuff; from usable grip to an ice-rink in barely a second. My first attempt was uber-cautious, and rightly so. Second go and under guidance, the complacency is tempting but I’d remained careful. With the third shot, I go in with a touch too much speed having braked slightly later. There’s a heart-in-mouth sensation of understeer. In one of those bigger or rear-engined romper-stompers I’d have been in a different postcode to the apex. In my daily driver it’d be a sponsorship opportunity for Jim’s Mowing. It’s a chastening moment and Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control kept me in check, the Active Torque Vectoring feeling like a keel deployed beneath, helping me miss the apex by inches, not metres.   Yes, the more powerful cars had the horses to pull away on Sandown’s long famous straights, but in the corners they’re goners. Although I’ve pedalled many go-karts before, this was my first go at a full-blown racetrack and after a cautious start, I began to understand the benefits of the tuition. Looking further ahead buys you time and prevents you being surprised at the last moment. Everything seems to happen slower and there’s the odd sensation that as you concentrate harder, you relax into your driving, building rhythm and flow. The Rex’s CVT paddle-shift gear change and all-wheel drive traction at times felt like cheating but helped achieve tidier laps.

As for JB’s driving course, this is not about racing. His instructors will show you where to trim the fat in your driving and you leave more competent and conscious of every move you make with hands, feet and eyes.

I’m preaching to the converted here, but as a gift for your kids who might well be more interested in their smartphone than a car, especially while driving, it’ll open their eyes and might just add one or two to the next generation of car enthusiasts. At the very least, it’s a Christmas presesnt that’ll actually teach them something.

At course end, I’m more aware of my limits and what I need to concentrate on in order to improve. Leechy’s second piece of advice? "It’s what you learn after you think you know it all, that counts."

To book your John Bowe Driving course call (03) 9885 1097 or email driving@johnbowedriving.com For more info visit the Facebook page or website www.johnbowedriving.com.

 

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