A Day With the Jaguar Performance Driving Academy
Flooring a 510-horsepower Jaguar around a track is exactly as fun as it sounds -- except most owners don't know the half of it.
It’s nice to see people who work hard getting rewarded.
On Tuesday, a 40-something Italian guy from Long Island, donning a leather jacket and big aviator shades, sped off in his Jaguar XKR convertible. He wasn’t obnoxious. As part-owner of a beverage distributor with 150 employees -- a business he built by breaking his back hauling water coolers to offices -- he was just enjoying himself in an empty parking lot.
“As soon as my lawyer told me my ex-wife couldn’t get any more money from me, that was it,” he said earlier between bites of penne and chicken. “It was time for me to go back to the Jaguar dealer.”
This man, one of eight Jaguar owners invited to a Jaguar-sponsored driving school at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., is able to spend nearly $1,000 a month leasing a brand-new car. It’s this kind of privilege that opens up an overwhelming array of luxury car choices. Yet despite finicky electronics and a history of high repair costs, Jaguar owners love their cars -- and keep buying them. Another man at the school has two XKRs -- one for the waterfront home in Florida; another for upstate – and has owned eight Jags.
However, most of the owners at Lime Rock Park, a 1.5-mile rural course, had never been on a racetrack before.
Like many people who buy BMW Ms, Mercedes AMGs and other powerful cars, Jaguar R owners are familiar with aggressive launches at green lights or the occasional triple-digit burst on the highway. They’re less sure what all the buttons do or that their brakes can squeeze these 4,000-pound cars from 90 to 35 in three seconds, without fade, over and over again.
According to Jaguar, only 30 percent of XFR and XKR buyers sign up for the Jaguar Performance Driving Academy, a one-day course with professional racing drivers on some of the country’s best circuits. It’s included with the lease or purchase of every new R model, with only the cost of airfare or a couple hundred miles to the chosen racetrack. The other 70 percent don’t even bother.
Question is, who wouldn’t want to slide a 510-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive sports car without repercussions?
Or line up and work laps until your palms coat the leather steering wheels with sweat? (Trust me, optional Alcantara trim on the wheel soaks up your juice a lot better.)And why not put the pedal to the floor knowing you won't pay for gas?
If not for all that, at least come for the road skills. “If everyone did what we do, when we get our driver’s licenses, we’d all be a lot safer,” says instructor Roberto Guerrero, a former Formula One and Indy racer. Here are three other tips, in addition to what I grasped from a similar program at Monticello Motor Club with Nissan GT-Rs, that will leave you with greater respect for your car -- no matter if it has 510 or 110 horsepower.
This has nothing to do with subatomic particles. It’s a balancing lesson between a car’s throttle and its steering. Imagine a string tied around the 6 o’clock position of the steering wheel, with the other end tied to your right foot. Going straight, there will plenty of slack on the string and plenty of room to put the gas pedal down. Move the wheel, and the string tightens -- lifting your foot off the gas the more the wheel rotates. If you like driving quickly and taking on-ramps at speed, don’t forget it. A car can’t move in all directions 100 percent of the time.
No jumpy movements
Guerrero earned his racing reputation by being smooth on the throttle, steering and brakes. Too much input of any kind -- save for braking in a straight line -- can unsettle any car into a potential slide. Go easy, modulate the controls, and even fast cars like the XKR can be tamed. But they don’t tolerate error and misuse. I braked too late on a back stretch and nearly ended up on the track’s runaway lane.
Save up your money
Racing is expensive, racetracks are expensive, and hiring a team of former race drivers to teach you for eight hours -- well, you get the idea. Had I not been a journalist, the course I attended would have cost $1,850. Similar one-day programs from other manufacturers and independent schools such as Skip Barber, which also run at Lime Rock Park, cost about the same. The DMV and driver’s ed won’t ever come near a racing school's instincts and skills.
At the end of the day, the greatest reward for working so hard on a track won’t be your improved lap time. It’ll be when you avoid a dangerous situation on the road and get home safely.
MSN Autos attended a manufacturer-sponsored event to facilitate this report.
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