Allen Berg Racing Schools is the successful merging of two legends in the car-racing world: a famous racetrack and a famous race car driver.
The legendary racetrack, Laguna Seca, now known as the Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, is one of the most popular race venues in the world because of its premier location, spectacular track layout and rich history. The raceway is nestled in one of the top tourist destinations in North America, surrounded by exceptional lodging, dining, and recreational activities nearby such as: Monterey, Carmel, Cannery Row, Pebble Beach, and Big Sur. The track itself is a challenging 2.2-mile racecourse and has it all: highspeed banked turns, serious elevation changes, fast straights, and challenging technical corners. The “Corkscrew” turn is world-renowned to drivers and race fans. Drivers brake uphill before entering the curve that drops 59 feet (six stories) from corner entry to exit. This turn has provided some of the greatest photos, videos, and race passes in automotive history. Retired Canadian professional race driver Allen Berg’s background includes: Formula One, Formula Two, Formula Three, Formula Atlantic, Sport Prototypes and Touring Cars. Berg, ranks among Canada’s top racing personalities and has won the Formula Pacific Tasman Championship. He also won at Silverstone against Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle in perhaps the greatest year ever in British Formula. He qualified for nine starts in the 1986 FIA Formula One World Championship, a record bettered among his countrymen only by Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve.
It comes as no surprise then, that when you combine the location, the famous legendary track, and the racing experience of a seasoned, popular racer such as Allen Berg the school is flourishing and is a favorite racing school experience for racing amateurs and professionals alike. I recently took Allen Berg Racing Schools’ three-day program. With the ratio of instructors to students being almost one-to-one, the personalized attention to detail makes this course an option for drivers of all levels from novice to experienced racers. Along with Allen Berg’s extensive background in racing, his team of instructors have all reached a level of success in racing from karts to formula cars. Between them they have about 70 years of racing experience. Day one starts off with a track walk at 6:30 a.m. An instructor will walk the line with you along the 2.2 mile track. Every aspect of the track is explained including : braking points, downshifts, apexes, turnouts, acceleration, etc. Each of the eleven turns has its own challenge such as: entry speed, down shifting, braking zones, apex, angles and elevation changes. This was extremely informative and a great foundation prior to getting into the cars.
Back at the pit, you gear up for the day. The school has race suits, helmets, gloves, and shoes for each of the students. Once everyone is in their race gear, you go to the classroom to talk about the cars. The Formula 3 cars here are a full monocoque chassis, which are 100% carbon fiber versus other schools, which use tube frame chassis. The gearboxes are sequential transmissions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 up and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 down. This allows the driver to smoothly make critical racing gear changes at a faster and more consistent rate. The cars are the latest in Formula technology. Both front wheels act on a single spring and shock absorber unit mounted on the top of the chassis, connected to the wheels by means of a pushrod. This system reduces both weight and air resistance making for a faster race car. This type of suspension is found on all advanced Formula race cars at the top levels of racing.
After the classroom, we head out to the cars. We were divided into two groups of five; I was in Group A and we were the first to drive. Just getting into the cars is a challenge the first time. You get into the car and slide your legs down the frame to reach the pedals. One of the ABRS instructors must adjust and lock in your six-point harness. Once it becomes more familiar, this becomes second nature. Once everyone is set, the instructor goes over the instructions for the lapping session. In order to get familiar with the track and the car you start out with a lead follow. The instructor will lead the way and the cars follow his racing line. After every lap, the student closest to the lead car will pull out and the next person drops in behind the lead car to have a better view of the racing line. This will continue until everyone has had a turn. After further explanation, the instructor has each driver acknowledge that he understands the format. Then comes the famous ABRS line before starting your engines, “keep it on the track.” After hearing that line a dozen times, I couldn’t help but remember the Sergeant on “Hill Street Blues” who ended each briefing with the line “lets be careful out there.”
Having never driven Laguna Seca, it was extremely helpful to follow a driver that knows the line. The morning is a continual shift from classroom to racecar –in a lead-follow format. The nice thing about the lead follow segments is the continual increase of speed. If the lead car sees that you are following the line and doesn’t see any issues with your driving they will increase the speed in small increments. After lunch, we are all out on track without a lead car. The sessions are run using a stop box and instructors placed at various turns on the track to observe the students and give feedback. Each driver is sent out at intervals. As you reach the straightaway you have to brake hard, downshift to second and slowly approach the stop box. The track official will either wave you through, or have you pull over to receive feedback by radio from one of the instructors on the track.
This instantaneous feedback allows you to correct your mistakes on the next lap. The stop box sessions continue throughout the afternoon. The driving time is the perfect mix between classroom and track time. I guarantee you will not leave the school lacking track time. On the second day, Allen took the students for the track walk. With a day under your belt, the track walk becomes more informative. You can ask questions about your experiences and any issues you may have had previously on this corner or that one. Also it’s great to hear Allen’s perspective of the driving line. The goal of day two is to work on improving your racing skills. This is done through feedback from the instructors placed around the track, plus video and data. We’re now on open lapping. After each session the instructors will find you and give you input on your driving. It could be tips on downshifting faster, or needing more entrance or exit speed, or using more or less braking, and when to apply it. Whatever they see that you need to improve on, it’s their job to inform and instruct you. It’s your job to go back out and apply it.
As the old saying goes … “seeing is believing.” The video and data can be humbling but very helpful. You have it in your mind that you were driving like Lewis Hamilton and when you see the data you’re more like someones grandmother. Each car is equipped with a Go Pro, which can give you the visual of your car placement later in a relaxed classroom environment. It hits home when you thought you hit your apex and find out you were ten feet away. The other incontrovertible information they show you is the data. When the instructor does an overlay of your speed and braking over that of a professional driver you can see all of the elements that can be improved upon and mistakes that need to be corrected.
It is amazing to see the amount of speed that is carried in and out of corners by a pro versus that of the student. That is what you’re here for. I like the philosophy that they teach, which is: “don’t try to fix everything on every corner each time you go out.” Instead they suggest that you pick two things on opposite sides of the track and work on them. Once you feel better with those corners, pick two more. If you listen and take the advice of these highly competent instructors you will improve each time out. By utilizing the on track instructors input, the video and data sessions along with my time on the track, I saw my skills slowly but surely improve. The combining of it all allowed me to go from a 1:59 lap time down to 1:53.
Day three also begins with a Track Walk. By this time everyone has questions. This hour long walk allows you to dissect each corner. I learned more on my third Track Walk than the previous two. The third-day sessions are working on gaining a tenth of a second here or there. There are five open lapping sessions. The day is similar to day two with a few additions. You are now overlaying your best lap from one session to the next. You can actually see where you are improving or still need work. You’re now in a competitive mode, not with other drivers but with yourself. In racing, it is all about driving your line. Our first four sessions on the track were data/video collection. As we came to the end of the day and our last time on the track, I was expecting more data collection. When I first heard they would not be collecting data on this session I was disappointed; I was hooked and wanted more comparisons. The instructor said, “you’ve had three days of intense training, it’s now time to just drive and enjoy the car and the track.” He reminded us, “you are on one of the most iconic racetracks in the world, go out and take it all in.” Those last six or seven laps were the most memorable of all three days. Muscle memory kicks in and you, the car and track are one.
It was intense, informative and fun, and I was able to improve my time significantly. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I hope you get a chance to try it for yourself. To book your one, two or three-day school at Allen Berg Racing Schools please call (888) 722-3220, or go to www.allenbergracingschools.com.
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