The C7 Corvette is a helluva car. Anyone that has spent a length of time behind the wheel of one can attest to that claim. It is so good, in fact, that street-driving alone will never allow an owner to experience even a fraction of the car’s capability. While that could be said for the last several generations of the Corvette lineage, it’s even more true with the current machine. To truly experience the latest opus of the Corvette engineering team, time need be spent on a racetrack.
That’s where Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club comes in. The facility, which is located Pahrump Nevada, is home to the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School. And, if you have even the slightest background in Corvette Racing, that name carries some serious weight.
But, for those unfamiliar with the man’s accomplishments, Ron Fellows has been a driving force in the road-racing world for decades. Most significantly, he has been involved with Corvette racing since the C5.R was kicking ass and taking the names on the straights of la Sarthe. Fellows has had seat time in more cars than Larry King has had wives and his list of racing achievements includes a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona, two wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and an amazing trio of wins at the 24 Hours of LeMans. That level of experience, passion, and precision trickles into every bit of the racing school’s curriculum.
The facility also offers driving schools for the C7 Corvette (with a special deal for Corvette owners); Radicals, which are open wheel prototype-style racecars, Cadillac CTS-Vs and Corvette ZR-1s. They also offer SCCA Licensing school for those looking to get started in competition.
Spring Mountain has a fleet of C7s onsite and an expert team of racing instructors to teach students and demonstrate the car’s full potential. We were invited out to the school to experience their hands on Corvette Owner’s School and get some seat time in the new ‘Vette. Obviously, we jumped at the opportunity.
Having been to more than a few race schools, we can say that the Ron Fellows’ approach is unique. Its course structure not only teaches the basic principles of racing, such as proper line, braking, heel-toe downshifting, etc, its vehicle-centric design delves into Corvette specific items such as electronic traction control modes and the in-depth mechanics of the C7 chassis. It gives allows Corvette owners to cultivate a skill set that is 100 percent relevant to them.
“On the track, the drivers can experience the Stingray’s capabilities at its limits in a safe and controlled environment,” said Chief Driving Instructor and Driving School Director, Rick Malone. “Students gain an understanding of car control and balance to make the driver a better and safer street driver. And if they choose to track or auto-x the car they have an idea of how to do it correctly and safely.”
Back to School
C7 Specific Topics of Instruction
- How the Stability –track works
- How to use all the drive modes
- How to customize their settings
- How to use launch control
Overall Performance Driving Topics of Instruction
- Dynamic car control exercises
- Learn proper cornering techniques
- All cars equipped with two-way radios
- Up to 250 miles of track time
- How to sit properly with the correct hand position
- The racing line
Time spent lapping the Corvette School’s dedicated 2.1-mile track is not lacking by any means. The basic C7 Owner’s School is a two-day program but students can opt to sign up for an extra day, which consists of open lapping and gives students an opportunity to put all of their new skills to use.
The two-day school encompasses the core of the performance driving program and gives students the mental toolset necessary to drive the C7 the way it was intended to be driven.
The first exercise in the program is a slow speed autocross designed to familiarize drivers with the physical dimensions of the car, but more importantly, teach the importance of proper vision in all manners of driving.
While many enthusiasts have attended an autocross before, few have seen one like this. The instructors actually place a sunscreen across the windshield to stress the importance of looking ahead and through the corner rather than at the road directly in front of the car. Students navigate the cone course through the exclusive use of side windows. Speeds are kept low and safe, obviously, but the exercise does put drivers out of their comfort zones just enough to make a conscious impact, and more importantly, develop a habit students maintain when speeds pick up on the racetrack.
The autocross training is followed very quickly with an exercise in proper braking and abs usage. Drivers practice aggressive stops all the while maintaining control of their vehicles in a wet condition. Instructors coach students on high speed and emergency braking maneuvers and accident avoidance – that last part is the keyword, as some insurance companies will actually provide a discount to drivers that have been through an “accident avoidance” program.
Next up is an exercise to practice the tried and true method of the heel-and-toe downshift. After a classroom session explaining to drivers the mechanics of the somewhat ambiguous phrase. Drivers are loaded into their Vettes and sent hurtling down the front straightaway to practice blipping from fourth gear down to third and subsequently to second.
The expansive front straight of the racetrack gives ample room for drivers to learn the difficult technique in a comfortable setting. In addition to practicing the technique the old-fashioned way, instructors also go over the auto rev match feature that is built into all manual transmission equipped C7s. The system is a great failsafe that will match the RPM perfectly should the driver either neglect to or improperly do so. While systems like this are, in all likelihood, the way of the future, we are glad the Ron Fellows school still provides students with invaluable instruction on how to safely an effectively downshift a standard-shift car.
Before putting students on a real racetrack, drivers took turns alternating between two different car control exercises, a wet skidpad and a dry flat track.
The flat track consists of a narrow oval-like circuit painted onto an expansive area of smooth asphalt. It gives drivers the opportunity to learn the limits of the car in terms of acceleration, braking and lateral grip, all in a safe and controlled environment. An instructor rode shotgun for this segment offering valuable pieces of advice about throttle, brake and steering input as well as corrections on the driver’s choice of line through the corners.
Wet Skid Pad
A teflon griddle swimming in melted butter would offer measurably more traction than the wet course. Designed to teach car control in at-the-limit or wet conditions, this segment of the school is conducted on a specially coated wet skid pad. Did we mention it’s slippery? Attempting to navigate a figure eight around the difficult surface forcibly instills the concept of smooth inputs on both gas, brakes and steering. A mere blip of the throttle sends the car hurtling in the wrong direction.
Another major lesson to be gained from this exercise is the overuse of the steering wheel. When the car begins to understeer; which in the slick environment, it did a lot, the seemingly obvious reaction from the driver’s seat is to either crank the wheel harder or hold it steady until grip returns. However, both of those options couldn’t be further from the truth. Instructors demonstrate that by reducing steering input, the driver is actually able to lever more grip on the tires and correct the angle of the vehicle.
With students now incredibly familiar with driving the C7 in a performance environment, they are given time to explore the car’s capabilities on track. And, there is by no means a shortage of time to do so. Both day one and two of the school involve extensive track time with classroom sessions briefly and intelligently positioned to correspond to the next driving activity and give drivers a much needed break between sessions.
Once on track, students participate in a lead follow exercise and receive live feedback from the head instructor via in car radios. There is no better way to learn the racing line than by following someone who could likely drive the track with their eyes closed. The pace is brisk, but accommodating of newer drivers, at first but quickens as students build their comfort levels. Also, drivers rotate their positions in the grid once a lap, the lead student falls to the back of the pack and the second moves to the front. This gives all drivers an opportunity to learn the track at their pace and have a perfect view of the instructor’s line.
The hours spent lapping the track are about as blissful as one could hope to be on a racetrack. The staccato roar of the LT1 engine as it races toward redline, the snick of the shifter as it slots back and forth between gears and the peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about burning gas, wearing out tires or burning through brake pads. The cars are professionally maintained, and that makes for a comfortable environment to learn the track and improve your driving at whatever pace you like. If you can spend two days lapping a racetrack in a 450-horsepower Corvette and not have fun, get the number of the cardiologist who operated on the Grinch’s two-sizes-too-small heart.
In the Classroom
In addition to time out on track, a solid driving education requires some class time. The Ron Fellows school offers a good balance of in-class driving theory and subsequent on-track application of said principles. The chalk-talk portion of the school delves into the racing line; in theory and with specific corners on the school track, braking, shifting, weight transfer and most importantly how all of those basic concepts apply in the real world to the C7.
Students will gain one-on-one experience with the advanced Performance Driving Mode (PDM) system built into every C7 Corvette. In addition to technical explanation of what functions each one of the traction control systems performs, students also walk away with a greater understanding of how to set their cars up for the street, the track and various weather conditions. While the systems don’t require a computer science degree to operate, being able to compare the different modes back to back in a classroom and in an on-track environment and having an in-depth understanding of what each mode does, helps drivers discover which mode is perfect for their driving styles.
Aside from learning how to adjust the active suspension (for cars so equipped) and set the traction control systems up, students are also given a demonstration of how to use the C7’s launch control.
Track accommodations and amenities
Spring Mountain, the resort where the school is based out of, has quite a bit to offer outside of racing. Most racetrack weekend trips require at least some amount of roughing it, but that couldn’t be further from the case here. The facility, has an indoor shooting range, pool, racquetball court; and a manmade lake for sunbathing, paddle boarding; and, for the more adventurous, water jet packing.
The track has a luxurious club house at the middle of the facility where breakfast and lunch are catered by the Ron Fellows school. Spring Mountain works hard to offer customers an experience transcendent of the usual track outing.
Also, while attending the school, students receive one night’s stay in Spring Mountain’s fully-appointed onsite condos. Each features a flatscreen TV, free WiFi, microwave, and a refrigerator.
To Drive or Not to Drive
Any time on track is a good time. And, it’s even better when it’s in someone else’s car. The Ron Fellows School offers Corvette owners the rare opportunity to learn the limits of their model without putting wear and tear on their personal cars. In addition, if you have purchased a C7 Corvette, Chevrolet actually splits the entry cost for you.
Entry into the school retails for $1,000 for C7 owners, a $1,500 savings off of the normal school price. The company that invested all of the R&D into designing this amazing performance car actually gives you money towards learning how drive the thing. That’s a pretty enticing incentive to get out to the track.