- Lexus Performance Driving School returns to Laguna Seca for 2021, with classes available in June, August, and October.
- Students are given a crash course in performance driving on a skidpad, autocross, and full circuit.
- The ideal beginner track day experience without the stress of putting wear and tear on your own project car while also testing out Lexus’ flagship vehicles, including the LC 500 and RC F.
THIS SCHOOL ROCKS
After chomping down a breakfast burrito inside the pit row hospitality suites that overlook the front straight of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, I made my way to the paddock where typically a field of race teams would set up home base; however, for today, it was the proving grounds for the Lexus Performance Driving School. The first two morning exercises included learning how to control a slide behind the wheel of an RC F, followed by an autocross competition where I’d be battling the clock in a freshly facelifted IS 350 F Sport. It was a nice warmup before hopping into an LC 500 and attacking the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course that has hosted some of the country’s most famous races, including the IndyCar Monterey Grand Prix. Being able to play on the same field as greats like Stirling Moss, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal, and Mario Andretti was already a surreal experience. Improving my skills as a driver made it worth the trip. The full one-day program costs $995, not pocket change by any means, but totally worth it if you’ve always wanted to drive Laguna Seca and fall under a certain criterion.
BEGINNER TO INTERMEDIATE DRIVERS
In my lifetime, I’ve visited Laguna Seca four times (one of them being spirited parade laps at last year’s Drivers Project). I consider myself a mediocre driver at best. I understand the basic concepts of a driving line and possessing a vision that’s one step ahead at all times. With that said, there are always things I can learn, plus there’s no such thing as having too much seat time. As an average driver, there were more than enough valuable lessons I took home; however, I will warn you that the school isn’t for everyone.
If you’re an above-average driver or quite familiar with Laguna Seca, this program isn’t. Remember, it’s a school at the end of the day where a class of about 40 drivers with varying skill levels participates to be trained. Not to say there aren’t more tips you can pick up as I sure did, but I also understand once a driver gets to a certain comfort level behind the wheel, he or she simply requires dedicated practice and timed hot laps, which this program does not offer. It’s a crash course for beginners to intermediate drivers.
HOW IT WORKS
The curriculum consists of three drills: skidpad, timed autocross, and lead-follow laps. Before each activity, there’s a brief classroom session to get a quick lay of the land followed by the actual driving. You go through the entire circuit of exercises twice, once in the morning to build your confidence, while the afternoon is when you give it everything you’ve got.
Skid Pad. Sure, it’s easy to do donuts but holding a controlled drift in a circle is still one of the hardest things for me to master. In this exercise, I took control of a 472hp V8-powered, RWD RC F and tried to slide around a cone while the instructor watches outside, relaying his pointers via walkie-talkie giving pointers. It’s an exercise that teaches load transfer, vehicle dynamics and demands a lot of practice and patience. I’ll admit that it’s also one of the more fun workouts of the day as you don’t have to worry about paying to replace those expensive Michelin Sport 4S tires. Burnouts weren’t just acceptable but encouraged!
Timed Autocross. It was pretty exciting to check out a fleet of new IS 350 F Sports used for the autocross. The IS is the latest vehicle in the Lexus lineup (unfortunately, the 2022 IS 500 was not there). Rated at 311hp with a 5.7-second 0-60mph time, the sedan had surprisingly more than enough power to have fun, and it handled exceptionally well around the tight and technical corners of the autocross course. In both morning and afternoon sessions, I was allowed three laps to set my fastest time. I always seem to finish in the middle of the pack at autocross; however, I appreciate it for reminding me to anticipate the next 2-3 turns while also allowing me to step outside my comfort zone and drive extra aggressive. The worst that could happen is destroying a few cones, which Lexus had plenty of.
Lead-Follow. The whole reason I’m there is to drive Laguna Seca, and it doesn’t hurt that a $95K 471hp LC 500 is the weapon of choice for the road course. I’ve had plenty of seat time in an LC on the street but never on a track. I quickly learned the big-bodied, 4,340-pound coupe is more than capable. The morning session goes a tad slow as instruction is broken down into getting accustomed to the car first, testing the limits of the Brembo brakes, then going corner-to-corner behind the instructor as he demonstrates the proper race line. The afternoon session was undoubtedly the highlight of the day as I follow the instructor at speed (in a sense chasing him down) for a total of six hot laps. We’re getting well into the triple-digits on the front straight while hopping over rumble strips to follow the quickest driving line possible. Keeping up with the instructor and knowing I nailed all the apex and braking points is beyond gratifying and made the entire day of drills and coaching worth it.
A DAY TO REMEMBER
If the Lexus Performance Driving School sounds fun, it’s because it is. It’s perhaps the one class in life I wouldn’t mind taking over and over again. I grew up dreaming of maneuvering down the corkscrew of Laguna Seca, and it’s pretty awesome that Lexus makes it possible for anyone to accomplish just that. Personally, I could deal without the autocross and skidpad exercises and spend an entire day bettering myself on the track, but there is a rhyme to the reason as the program is designed for total driver development for all skill levels.
The day concluded with a friendly roundtable that featured the host of the school, Scott Pruett. Unfortunately, ridealongs with Scott were canceled due to COVID-19 precautions; however, it’s still a treat to get to know one of the most winningest racecar drivers in history.
HOW TO SIGN UP
Upcoming classes for the Lexus Performance Driving School are scheduled for June, August, October, and February 2022. Lexus will also be offering the program at Circuit of the Americas in Texas this month and in October.
A special thank you to Lexus USA for loaning me the RX 450H F Sport Black Line for the drive up from Los Angeles to Monterey. Honestly made for one of the smoothest road trips!