Learning begins in the classroom
The Mazda Driving School by Skip Barber is a two-day affair and it's held at various race tracks around the U.S. The Team at Skip Barber fully discloses from the get-go that the Mazda Driving School is sponsored by both Mazda and Bridgestone. The cars used in the program are 2013 Mazda3s, 2013 MX-5s, and 2011 RX-8s. Mazda replaces the cars every year with new ones, and Bridgestone delivers tires to Skip Barber Driving Schools by the truckload.
So what do you do for two full days? First, you learn. The instructor spends about 30-45 minutes with you in the classroom going through some slides and drawing demonstrations on the white board. It's classic chalk-talk instruction, where they describe exactly what drivers will experience and what they shoulddo (and not do) in certain situations. One especially valuable thing for new drivers is learning about the driving environment and how a driver should be seated in the car, along with technical terms such as oversteer and understeer.
After a brief in-classroom session, it's time to hit the pavement and put the knowledge to the test.
First up comes the braking exercise with cones and lights. This exercise is meant to let you experience what how a car reacts in an emergency braking situation where the anti-lock brakes and or stability control kick in to help prevent a crash. Many people get frightened in a panic stop when the anti-lock brakes kick in. They aren't sure what that pulsing or noise is, and why it's happening. Sometimes they'll try to pump the brakes, which defeats the purpose of the anti-lock brake system.
To counter that instinct, instructors tell you to speed up and then slam on the brakes to avoid an obstacle. In this case, the obstacles were cones. They have you brake late and hard so that you activate the anti-lock brakes. After each run they coach you on what you did right and wrong, from not pushing on the brake hard enough, to instinctively trying to pump the brakes. They'll tell you how to improve and then send you back to do it again.
On the skidpad, you learn cornering techniques. From load transfer and balance to understeer and oversteer, the skidpad is the place to learn the limit and how to handle a vehicle once you are past it. The skidpad is a wet asphalt surface that is sealed, which makes it quite slick. During our session it was pouring rain so the sprinkler which normally keeps the pad wet wasn't necessary. Two 2011 Mazda RX-8s are used in this exercise, with each sporting a smaller 15-inch wheel and tire setup in the rear. This in combination with unique camber and toe settings will help induce oversteer and understeer faster on the skidpad for the exercise. You're behind the wheel with a Skip Barber instructor riding shotgun. They'll have you go around the skidpad as they coach you on what to do, and what the car is doing. The key concept you learn during this exercise is how to perform CPR--correction, the pause, and the recovery.