First Drive On The Snow

First Drive On The Snow

Having ridden bikes in the snow for the last ten years, and not having had any reason to take the car out in recent snows, I decided to make one up!

So, in order to do lots of ‘essential’ Christmas food/booze shopping, and with more heavy snow forecast overnight, I got to see what all the fuss and panic was about.

My garage is on a steep hill up a dirt track.  I figured I could probably get down the hill, but doubted I’d ever get back up.  So I dug out the garage door and went for it.

I was suprised by how much resistence deep snow offered to a car.  Reversing down the hill, where I expected it to roll back through it, I found I had to give it a bit of gas.  Other than that it was stable and did nothing silly.  I turned around at the bottom, engaged first gear, took a deep breath, and turned out onto the road…

And drove.  Nothing else happened.

I drove slower than normal, but to be honest didn’t really have to.  I did put into practice the theory of downshifting and using careful engine braking rather than touching the brakes wherever possible, and there were no dramas.  I was able to pull away with no wheelspin, and turn through corners without falling into hedges or running any kittens over.  Unlike everyone else, I kept a good gap to the car in front (notice to the ihabitatnts of the seal farm that is Bromsgrove: this does NOT mean 6″ away).

So I decided to provoke it.

From second gear I floored it and was chuffed to hear it spin up like a good ‘un!

You have to bear in mind I can’t condone this, but at the same time understand that the last time I drove it was to a skid control course.  I knew what to expect, and the little Fiat seems to have very predictable understeer, but with nice balance to it.

Locking the brakes made it slide straight on with slight squiggles if provoked further.  And it seemed to drift ok, too!

It’s quite amazing what you can do in a car and stay in control.  That much lack of traction on a bike would equal lots of airtime, groundtime and abulancetime.  I wasn’t anywhere near pushing it, and don’t intend to on the roads.

In short, it was exactly what I needed, and allowed me to safely explore the limits of the car at slow speeds and on some empty roads.

Oh, and my 1 litre snorting Italian beast on its skinny tyres also seemed to be one of the fastest accelerating cars on the roads for once!

The fun ended when I found there was no way in Hell the Fiat was going back up that hill to the garage, though… Ah well!

Snow driving is snow- oops I mean IS NO trouble at all – providing you just leave yourself a load of space to do it safely!  Look and plan well ahead, and it’s a lot of fun!

Keep it safe out there you kids – and if you haven’t already GET SOME BLOODY ADVANCED DRIVER TRAINING!  It will give you the confidence to laugh at all the other muppets out there!

There’s also a video of some in-car action and ranting.

More Skidmarks Than A Curried-up Pub Crawl!

More Skidmarks Than A Curried-up Pub Crawl!

Almost as soon as I’d passed the car test I was turning my attention towards what else I could do to get some fun out of the boring four wheeled stuff.

There are a fair few courses around to train you up to control a skid.  Most of these seem to be held at race circuits as part of a ‘Gift Experience’ type setup.  They seemed ok.  The going rate appears to be around £99 for your session, but reading the small print you only get around twenty minutes of actual driving time!

Now, assuming these are valuable life-saving skills and not just the bloody good laugh that I wanted, twenty minutes seems a little bit short to me!  Imagine learning any brand new skill for the first time.  Twenty minutes of that will just about get it through yer noggin what you’re supposed to be doing – but nothing more…

So I searched around a bit to find other schools offering skid-pan training but with more actual driving time.

I found and as a bonus,  they were offering more like 90 mins driving time for £85!  Bargain!

Even better is that they just use normal cars (although they used slick tyres as I found out) rather than the cradles with wheels on like most other places have.  They may be good, but surely they’re not quite as realistic?

Saturday was that date, and I headed around the filthy country lanes around Corby to try and find the damned place.  Eventually I found the old airfield, and having avoided pot-holes all around the runways the size of a fat kids lunchbox, I pulled in to find just the instructor (Stan) and a female Other Monkey ready to drive.

After talking us through the basics of why a car skids (tyres lose traction) and what causes it (mud, diesel, water, leaves, ice, cow-pat etc) we jumped in the front wheel drive car with Stan at the wheel and he took us out onto the skid pan.

The skid panconsisted of an oval track with two ‘roads’ running through the middle to do braking maneouvres.  It was damp and Stan had helpfully poured lots of vegetable oil all over one half of the track.  As you do.

Stan drove us around first, showing us what to expect and what to do about it, then we swapped seats and I took it in turns with Other Monkey to have a go.

First was the FWD (Front Wheel Drive) car – I think it was a Ford Orion – on full slicks.  Driving around the outisde course, I hit the vegetable oil mid-turn and the little bastard just goes straight on!  We tried it slamming the brakes on and steering hard to the side with the same results.  Then under Stans expert guidance we tried lifting straight off the gas and turning the wheel just slightly, taking steering off until grip came back and getting some steering control back.

This was the key for the FWD – lift off and steer slightly where you want to go.  We did the same for braking in a straight line and trying to avoid an imaginary truck ahead.

Next we jumped in the RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) car – a Ford Sierra – for the bit I’d most been looking forward to!

Driving the outside course we hit the oil, and whether you hit the brakes or eased off you could instantly feel the back start to swing around.  Then it was a case of getting as much opposite lock on as fast as you could to try and catch it before it spun, and then judging it so you don’t over-correct it – which meant it started to spin back around in the opposite direction.

Most of the cars in the UK (and Europe) by a lonnnng way are FWD.  As I understand it, most cars in the US are RWD?  Well if that’s true then you’re lucky gits!!!

The FWD was a bugger.  All you could hope for was to get it to turn eventually.  And this is safer?

The RWD in contrast was an absolute hoot!  It came around so slowly and predictably that if you were quick it was easy to catch.  Best of all, it was totally controllable.  Where the FWD had no ‘feel’ to it, in the Sierra you knew exactly what was going on all the time.

The best bit about the course was that after the Instructor had shown you, and then watched you do each task, he then got out of the car and let you have a go completely on your own!  Now THAT is something that boosts your learning curve no end!

It also meant that I got to try getting straight back on the gas and powersliding and drifting around the course – which, let’s face it, is something every person who’s ever played Forza or GT or just about any other driving game has ALWAYS wanted to try!

Yes – it is as much fun as you think it would be!

It was a great few hours and I learnt loads AND had a good laugh.  As it turned out, we had over two hours in the cars.  Oh, and we got a certificate, too.

For the last bit I clipped one of my mini cameras to my jumper to try and get a bit of footage – unfortunately you can’t see much over the wheel, but you can watch my hands going for it like a cheesey UK hardcore raver!

Highly recommended – get theeself to one now!  It could even save your life!