Learning car control in less than perfect circumstances is available to all who have $795 . . . it’s money extremely well spent…

The BMw Winter Driver Training course.
The BMw Winter Driver Training course.
The BMw Winter Driver Training course.

The man from BMW once called me a hooker.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t that offended. I actually laughed at such a descriptor, as did everyone else around me.

I didn’t feel so bad because I wasn’t the only one in the group labelled thusly at the brand’s Driver Training; a full day of driving 3 Series sedans (back then) to improve our own car control. I didn’t have too many years of driving experience back then but I unfortunately had picked up a few bad habits on the road.

What’s a hooker, according to the instructors at the German automaker’s training?

Someone who hooks his or her hand into the steering wheel when making a turn. It’s a big boo-boo and not an effective way to drive. It’s also totally unsafe, should an accident occur in the process. Needless to say, pointing out the hooker in me caused me to change my habits for the better.

And in the most recent installment of learning car control with BMW, no such noun was used when relating to my technique. Thank goodness.

It’s minus 15 degrees at the ICAR track in Mirabel, Quebec. The sun is out and there’s a lineup of all-new 435i coupes just begging to be driven.

Some are equipped with the brand’s all-wheel drive system. Some are rear-wheel drive. Regardless, I’ll have my way with both configurations by the end of the day, so to speak.

The adventure is better known as the Winter Driver Training program, offered exclusively at the ICAR location. That said, you don’t need to own a BMW to participate. Learning car control in less than perfect circumstances is available to all who have $795. In my opinion, it’s money extremely well spent.

The day starts out with an in-class session that goes over theory and what will be executed throughout the various exercises. It’s kept relatively short so we have more drive time.

It’s mentioned that we’ll be practicing manouevres with and without electronic help, to put both power and performance to the test. Oh yeah.

Proper seating position is outlined when we initially get behind the wheel. Then we’re off.

You might ask what is the point behind putting one of BMW’s latest products sideways on an ice track in subzero temperatures. My initial answer is only three letters long and to the point: fun. But that’s only a byproduct of what the impetus behind the program is; a program that started back in 1977 and is now offered in 35 countries.

The main goal is safety. It’s designed to introduce drivers to techniques that might help correct the car if it is not doing what you want it to for whatever reason.

For example, if your wheels are pointed in one direction, but your car is going straight ahead, what should you do? That’s called understeer. The instinctual thing to do is keep adding more steering, but that won’t help. Ease off the throttle and try to straighten your wheel so your tires can regain grip.

Or, if you feel the back end of the car breaking loose, how do you wrangle it in? You countersteer and don’t lift off the throttle. It sounds easier said than done, but the techniques do work!

Putting yourself and the 435i through the paces in a safe and controlled environment is the best place to learn. If you spin out, you’re not going to go into oncoming traffic. You just stop, turn the car around, and keep going. You’ll probably giggle a little in the process and tell yourself you’ll “get it next time.”

Heck, if you knock over a few cones, no one will judge you either. It’s all part of the process.

There are also dynamic braking exercises that teach you how the car reacts when you have ABS, and what you can do in these conditions. You’ll even learn reverse 180s.

Philippe Létourneau is the head instructor of the program and says, “People learn a lot more when they’re having fun.”

I agree.

He also mentions that if people walk away from the course with a couple of newly established driving habits that make them overall a safe driver, that’s ideal.

However, if your face doesn’t feel stiff from smiling, or your abs don’t hurt from laughing, perhaps you weren’t trying hard enough. What’s not to like about that?

Contact: alexandra [dot] straub [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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