I am being caressed firmly in a fine leather seat while the engine bounces off the rev limiter. The steering wheel snaps back, and I stab at the throttle yet again. Soon I’m squealing tires through a bazillion cones in a huge parking lot. Then, dreams came true. I braked hard up the hill before tossing the nose of the car to the left and dropping into the famous Corkscrew. All this and more is just a typical day at the Lexus Performance Driving School (LPDS) at Laguna Seca.
Forty-seven other students and I rotated through the lessons and experiences in groups of 12 while getting to strap in behind the wheel of a variety of Lexus F Sport vehicles. Needless to say, the day was full of excitement and everyone had a permagrin across their face.
Lexus Performance Driving School
As you might expect, it was a beautiful sunny day in the rolling hills just east of Monterey, California. The famed Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca snakes around the rolling hills, offering up dramatic elevation changes and a fast-flowing 2.2-mile, 11-turn racetrack.
We had the entire facility to ourselves, which not only included the famous race track but also the VIP boxes, garages, and infield parking lot, where the school had set up an autocross course and two skid pads.
All-day long we were treated with top-notch hospitality. Besides the hot breakfast and sandwich lunch, we had a wide variety of snacks on offer in nearly every room. Also, a variety of hot and cold drinks were close at hand, as staying hydrated at the track is super important to keep your mental focus sharp. We were even treated to ice cream between afternoon sessions on the track, which was a great surprise.
I found my day at the LPDS was a lot about providing an experience in the Lexus cars and on the track, with a lesser focus on driving skills improvement. If you have never been through a performance driving program you will no doubt have some solid takeaways, and more advanced drivers can appreciate the reminder to work on the basics while still enjoying the driving experience.
The day was broken up into 45-minute class modules/activities that each group of twelve rotated through. And while there was some healthy competition sprinkled throughout the day, the program focused on working well with others in your group to have the best overall experience.
Here’s what my day at the LPDS looked like:
- Driving Theory / Scott Pruett Q&A (Classroom Session)
- Autocross (Practice in IS350)
- Line Technique / Braking (Classroom Session)
- Lead-Follow (Main Track in LC500)
- Skidpad (in RCF)
- Autocross (Competition)
- Lead-Follow (Main Track in LC500)
- Lead-Follow (Main Track in LC500)
Classroom Session: Driving Theory
Time in the classroom was kept to a minimum, with just two of the eight sessions devoted to the classroom. The main things discussed during the classroom sessions were line choice, car balance, and brake theory. All of these discussions were broken down into easily digestible PowerPoint slides and talking points, that drivers could then transfer directly over to their time behind the wheel.
We not only got expert performance driving instruction from some top driving instructors, but also from famed racing driver Scott Pruett. Besides performance driving technique, Pruett was very open to talking about his career, the current state of racing and the car industry, and also about his winery.
Lexus Performance Driving School: Autocross
The most competitive part of the day was the Autocross. After some time in the classroom, students got to take their new skills directly to a tight and technical autocross course set up with cones on the infield parking lot at the track.
In the first autocross session, we got three timed laps for practice, with some guidance from instructors at the end of each lap. In the afternoon autocross session, times mattered, with the top times of the day and the fastest average time for a team winning some prizes.
While some people had some throw-away runs, most improved every time on the course. Car and track familiarity is crucial to fast times on an autocross course. While I wasn’t the fastest of the day, I had consistent and incrementally faster times every single time out on course.
The key to any school program like this is to compete against yourself and progressively explore the limits of your skills, the vehicle, and the track. You don’t want to step over the limits of those three things, but if you do exceed your limits on an autocross course, the stakes are lower as you’ll just be injuring a few cones and your ego.
For the autocross sessions, I got to strap into the Lexus IS 350 F Sport. These little 4-door sedans offer up a 311 hp V6, adaptive variable suspension, and a Torsen limited-slip rear diff. The IS 350 F is a fun, sporty machine that handles extremely well but could use a bit more power (cue the upcoming IS 500).
At the very end of the timed autocross session, drivers could elect to do a ride-along with Scott Pruett. The guy knows how to drive! With three additional people in the car, he consistently put down lap times 2.5+ seconds faster than the fastest student of the day.
My key takeaways from my ride-along with Pruett were to add quicker steering inputs so I could unwind the wheel earlier to get on throttle faster and to carry more momentum while keeping the car in a higher rev range throughout the track. All easier said than done!
The skidpad session was probably the most smile-inducing activity of all. Drifting the 472 hp Lexus RC F, with traction control off, on a wetted asphalt parking lot is just a ton of fun. The exercise was really great for learning the limits of traction, throttle modulation, and especially car balance.
I was able to get the car sliding and make two full rotations of the skidpad, spin the car around, and then make another rotation or two in the opposite direction. Once I found the balance of the car and how much throttle was needed to keep the rear wheels spinning, I could predict exactly what the car was going to do and keep things flowing.
The RC F is a super precise and agile car with tons of power and a quality performance driving position. It was probably my favorite drive of the day.
“Experience Amazing” at Laguna Seca
Now, for what we all are here for — laps at speed on the famous Laguna Seca raceway.
First up was lead follow sighting laps, with a few braking exercises thrown in the mix. This got everyone familiar with the layout of the track, gave us some basic reference points for quality lines, and helped us gain some familiarity with the Lexus LC 500.
We all quickly learned that the LC 500 is a powerful (471 hp), amazing sounding (5.0L naturally aspirated V8), well-balanced luxury machine with quality brakes. Those big brakes were needed though, as it is a 4,340+ pound car. I did find that the LC 500 was a bit of a snug car for a quality performance driving position, especially with a helmet on, for someone my size (32″ inseam, 6’3″ tall, and size 13 feet).
All in, we got three sessions on the main track — the first sighting/braking session and then two lead-follow sessions. Each session on track gets you almost three laps. Each time out the 12 person group was broken up into three-person groups, with each smaller group following an instructor car.
The key here was to team up in these little groups with people that had similar driving experience, so the instructor could pick up the pace to match the group. I was in a fast group that every time on track caught the groups ahead which did become a bit frustrating, as it interrupted the flow.
Patience is a virtue though, and the instructors were happy to accommodate our requests as much as possible. In the last session of the day, our group left the pits dead last and waited for the first group to complete nearly a full lap. We then got some clean, quick track time, before catching up to the group ahead on the cool-down portion of the last lap.
The very last activity of the day, before a small awards ceremony, was a ride-along hot lap with an instructor, in Lexus GS F luxury sedan. Even with four adults in each vehicle, these cars boogied! It was great to see a smooth quick lap from inside the car, without having to deal with the driving. I already can’t wait to get back to Laguna Seca and take my new knowledge out on track.
Experience LPDS For Yourself
The 2022 Lexus Performance Driving School schedule has already been announced, with dates at three famous tracks.
- WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – February 18, 19 or 20
- Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta – February 25, 26, or 27
- Circuit of the Americas – March 10, 11, 12, or 13
The full-day programs will set you back $995, and you can sign up HERE.
The Lexus Performance Driving School just started its “Masterclass” program. The LPDS Masterclass is only open to alumni of the standard one-day LPDS school and sells out incredibly fast, as the one-day class has just eight students.
Everyone drives their own Lexus RC F Fuji Speedway Edition on track and new LC 500 cars on the Autocross course. Data logging and video replay are a big component of the LPDS Masterclass. The class was hosted by famed racing driver and race commentator Townsend Bell.
Register today to get on the waitlist as dates are still to be determined. The program costs $1,895.