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Skating at Steamboat (long)

Grip limits, oversteer, understeer, countersteer, left foot braking,
hand brake turns, ... Yup, we learned it all and put it to good use
at the Winter Driving School in Steamboat, CO. And what a good
time it was! People came from all over, IL, IN, WA and CA to join
the local CO folks in the white stuff.

Saturday dawned a beautiful day, -18F. I was enrolled in the
morning session of the driving school, so I headed up to the
office at the meeting time. There were 11 of us in this session.
We watched an introductory video and then discussed vehicle
dynamics with one of our intsructors. Some of the topics we covered
included tires, grip, steering, throttle application, hand position
and braking. Then it was off to the ice course driving vehicles
supplied by the school. There were 6 cars and trucks, all fitted
with Bridgestone Blizzaks, for us to choose from. Two people to a
car. My co-driver and I choose the 4wd Ford extended cab pickemup
truck. These types of vehicles are always fun in 2wd on glare ice.
The school has all the cars fitted with CB radios for communication
and has set up ABS on/off switches in all the cars with ABS.

They lay out the course in an empty field near the base of the ski
area. They build the course from snow and water. After enough snow
has fallen they start compacting the track by driving trucks over the
course. When they have 12 inches of compacted snow, they dump
30000 gallons of water on the track. Then they compact another
12 inches of snow down. Then add another 50000 gallons of water.
Throw in some grading with a road grader and you have a winter
driving track.  The track was narrower this year than in the past, 3
to 4 car widths,  due to the massive amount of snow Steamboat has
received, some 17 feet during the month of January. The banks were
6 - 8 feet high on both side of the track, so it was kinda like driving
through a tunnel.

First up was some introductory laps of the track, then off to the different
sessions. First up for us was the skid pad on a hill with off camber turns.
The 2 Ford Explorers and the pickup did this one first. We started at
the top of the circle and drove around gaining as much speed as
possible, then lift off the throttle abruptly, and watch/feel the back
end of your car come around, and learn to regain control of this
lift-throttle-oversteer situation. After running around the circle in the
SUVs for a while we switched cars and proceeded to the modulated
threshold braking excersie. We jumped into a Ford Probe GT and
got in line. In this excercise you accelerate down the front straight to
30 mph and attempt to stop the car when the command of the instructor
comes in over the radio. We did this with the ABS off and learned to feel
the wheel lockup and modulate it. After a few runs we turned on the ABS.
It was interesting to see that I could stop in a shorter distance on glare
ice using proper manual braking, than with ABS. After this we changed
cars, got the pickup again, and did some lapping. It was fun to play with
the 2wd/4wd of the truck and how it affected your driving. After the track
time ended it was back to the classroom for some Q&A.

We were scheduled to meet at the track on Sunday at 8AM. It was another
beautiful mountain morning, not a cloud in the sky, and I went out and fired 

up the coupe GT around 7:30 to warm it up. On the 2nd try the car started.
I was one of the lucky ones. Seven cars made it on time. It seems that many
of the participants rides didn't like the -25F environment. As the morning
progressed, people and cars started to trickle in.

We with a couple of introductory laps and I went out with a group to the
skid pad to do some laps. This skid pad was a good time as you can
get oversteer and understeer situations on the same lap. After this we
went off to do laps of a mini track to try and get used to the surface in 
own cars. On one of my laps, I embedded the GT into the snow bank, it
wasn't oversteer(rear bumper) or understeer(front bumper), but I went in
directly sideways. Just too much speed. With the help of a few people, I
was pushed free.  No damage done, just a few good laughs.

After this we started lapping the track, but with a braking excercise on
the front straight and a slalom on the back straight. Once we started to
put it together,  we picked up the cones and started the run groups. For
the next 5 hours,  we played in the snow. I was in the same run group
as the PDQSHIP, so I didn't have the pleasure of a sideways ride, but I
 was good and yielded right of way when he filled my rearview. By the
end of the day I was having a ball, precisely executing those handbrake
turns and getting the hang of left foot braking.

One fact that became very clear as drove on the ice, is everyone must
go the same speed around the real icy corners. Too much speed and
you slide right off. Another point which came across, was you must have
good snow tires to even have a prayer of driving in conditions like this.
I had almost new Gislaved Nordfrost IIs on the GT and these performed
great. The majority of the people had Blizzaks which are a great tire for
these conditions.

There was a good showing of q-netters, 7 or 8, I think and a nice selection
of Audis. The list included an S4, a couple of 5000TQs, 5 4000Qs, 6
TQCs(2 with 20V turbo engines), 1 A4Q, and 2 90Qs. I was quite suprised
to only see 1 new Audi here, we need to spread the word and get these
new car owners more involved. I got to ride in 1 lapping session in the
A4Q. A very nice pearl white example. It is so quiet that we had to open
the windows to keep tabs on the engine. The car handled great and the
owner was hanging the back end out in the corners.

For all netters into the SUV discussion(please take it off line), a Ford
explorer is MUCH more difficult to drive under these conditions than any
quattro. A first hand account from a quattro owner who brought his explorer
out for the fun. He retired it after a couple of encounters with the 
 and then stuck to the quattro.

All in all, a great time.  It is amazing how much you learn about vehicle
control under these conditions. I will be there again, next time in my
quattro. Oh yea, according to my wife, the skiing was awsome. Next
time I will bring the skis too.
Dave Lawson  dlawson@ball.com
86 gt
83 tqc