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Ahead Of The Curve

If you ask men about women drivers and vice versa, each will tell you why they are better at it. Tracy Maher took on the challenge and hit the racetrack, literally!

There is something quite primal about engines. They stir the soul in a way that can be envigorating or frightening. I prefer envigorating and to this end, gladly accepted the invitation to attend a day of motoring excellence with the BMW Driving Experience at the Zwartkops racetrack in Centurion. Who could resist?

Along with 20 other women from all walks of life, I eagerly anticipated a day of speed. After a thorough briefing – safety always comes first – we climbed into our M3 performance vehicles and headed to the track with our respective instructors. Another quick briefing, and we were rearing to go. After a few laps by our instructors, who carefully demonstrated the way to move through the bends at great speed, my two co-passengers and myself were allowed our turns at the wheel.


After 22 years of driving, (mostly within the rules of the road!) it can be a bit counterintuitive to let loose and open up the throttle, but a few laps later the cautious 90km/h increased to an easy 140km/h. Not quite Nico Rosberg, but exhilerating nonetheless. It helps when you have the powerful M3 doing most of the thinking for you.

All too soon, our speed laps came to an end and we were directed to a section of the track to observe the dynamics of speed braking. We were encouraged to stand at the point where we thought a car would come to a stop, braking hard at 30km/h. It might surprise you to know that an M3 coming straight towards you at 30km/h seems a little more threatening than your average car!

It took only two metres to stop at that speed, much less than what most of us thought. Moving to our estimates for 60km/h, 90km/h and 120km/h, we were given a very visual lesson of just how far a speeding car travels before stopping completely. Hint: at 100km/h, a vehicle needs much more time and space than you would anticipate. Way more!

We were again set loose on the track and this time it seemed that most of the women were quite happy to press the pedal a little harder, to test their capabilities. All manner of driver, from beginner to experienced, men and women, attend these courses and the resounding feedback from the group of instructors is that women listen better than men – who cannot help get caught up in their machismo.

Our next stop was the skidpan… where we were given a good lesson in what the anti-lock braking function of our vehicles is. You know, the ‘ABS’ that briefly lights up every time you start your engine? Most of us are aware our cars come equipped with ABS, but we are not too sure how we use it. Given the freedom to accelerate fully into a patch of strategically placed cones on wet tar was definitely invigorating. Just don’t hit Eric, we were told! (The three small cones directly ahead of you)

The instruction: drive as fast as you can until you reach point A, hit the brakes HARD, and steer left or right. If we hit the brakes hard enough, the ABS would be employed and we would feel it. Metal on metal. As proof to those watching, our brake lights would flicker a few times.

A great tip we were given for daily driving: when the brake lights of the truck in front of you flicker, it’s because the driver has used his ABS – or hit the brakes hard – and not because they want you to know they are a truck.

And with that, our time in the BM’s came to an end. After a brief certificate ceremony, we were left to our own devices and encouraged to use what we had learned and see what a difference it would make in our daily driving.

So, what did we learn:

  1. The difference between a driver and an advanced driver is: the driver blames the vehicle for the accident (the brakes failed or the wheels got stuck) while the advanced drivesr blames herself (I didn’t brake early enough or I over/understeered).
  2. When approaching a bend or corner, ease off the accelerator and gear down (if manual) first before gently applying the brake. This is safer for you and kinder to you car.
  3. Look ahead of you and not just at the road in front of your car. Your car follows where your eyes go.
  4. Keep a safe following distance of three seconds… if someone slips into the gap, ease up and increase your distance again.
  5. Your ABS is your friend. It communicates with your car’s brakes in the nanoseconds it takes for your brain to send a message to your hands to steer your car out of harm’s way.
  6. Your brakes do not stop your car… they only slow it down!

Yes, a lot of information was relayed that day but these were the highlights – and they are definitely things you can apply every time you get behind the wheel. One message was also very clear: always be aware and in control of yourself and your vehicle. So the next time your man has a fit of road rage or becomes an annoying backseat driver, give him a lesson or two on advanced driving. Better still, show him!

For a truly empowering experience, visit BMW Driving Experience and book your advanced driving course.

George Oosthuizen, Howling Hound Photography.

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