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Why is there a such a big difference between 4WD club training and sports car club training?

Ever thought about why driver training exists? There’s just one reason, and that’s to reduce the risk of incidents, damage and problems. You look at what’s likely to go wrong, and you train accordingly.

I’m involved with both 4WDs and sports cars, and the difference between the two cultures endlessly fascinates me, but that’s for another time. What I want to focus on here is the stark difference in attitude to and investment in training.

Every 4WD club I’ve been involved with or seen has at the very least an introductory offroad driving course, and many go as far as intermediate and advanced courses as well as first aid, chainsaw, trip leading and the like.  Some even mandate the training before attending any trip beyond one rated Easy.  It’s almost like offroading is a difficult, dangerous activity that requires skills you’re not born with so you need training.  There’s not a lot of focus on the vehicle’s offroad-worthiness, just a quick check for suitability, because we all know the risk is the driver not some minor technical point on the car. I can’t think of a 4WD club that doesn’t have a driver training officer, and often a squadron of qualified instructors delivering courses.

Sports car clubs, on the other hand, do very little, if any training. Generally there will be a competition or motorsports position on committee, but very, very rarely a training officer.  There will be a track day and the regulations will often be quite strict for vehicle condition. The driver on the other hand?  No worries, go for your life, you’ll be right at Turn 1 at 200km/h.  At best, there might be some on-track coaching for a few laps but in Australia we have no system of instructor training – again I compare that with 4WD clubs, I spent years developing offroad driving materials, instructor standards and assessments, plus annual refresh training and I wasn’t the first or the last.

I find this lack of interest in track driver training utterly bizarre.  Track driving demands skills road drivers simply do not possess, so why not offer, even mandate training?  In all my years on track I can’t ever recall a single crash that was caused by mechanical problems – they do happen of course, but usually the car coasts to a halt. Generally, it’s driver error that means the ambulances are deployed. So why not fix that risk with training the driver?  Instead, the pieces are swept up, sympathies extended, someone mutters “people can’t drive” and we carry on as before, waiting for the next shunt into the wall as the driver flails their arms wondering why ‘power out’ hasn’t worked or whatever OldMate58 advice was overheard in the pits.

Furthermore, maybe I’ve been lucky, but never in my 4WD experience, even in competition, has anyone needed a trip to hospital, local medics at best.  Yet I’ve seen that many times at a racetrack, the chilling site of the ambulance speeding out of pitlane, and the wait whilst it stops on track…you know it’s bad when other ambulances arrive.  Finally, if you roll your car offroad you can claim on insurance, if you haven’t been an idiot and have proper 4×4 insurance. On a racetrack…you self-insure.   

It’s just absolutely weird to me that the risks are so much higher on racetracks yet the risk management is directed towards the car, not the driver, and the 4WD clubs have lower risk but manage it much better.  I think it’s a culture thing, maybe even an ego thing of “yeah I can drive who needs training”. 

But what about the OLT, or Observed Licence Test for a race licence? With all due respect, I’ve done that, got the ticket and it doesn’t go anywhere near as far as it should to give people the skills required to drive at speed on a track let alone race wheel-to-wheel. And the more basic licences are just fill out a form and pay.

Anyway, I never like to be one to complain and not do something about it, so I created a Car Control course for track drivers which is aimed at developing the skills needed to be safe on track which is at the same sort of level as a 4WD club basic/intermediate course.  I’m happy with the results thus far:

“The theory night was great. Even though a few technical issues. The practical track work was fantastic. The only negative being the distance from Melbourne. This really limits the course being run in connection with another event. I think the event should be a necessity prior to a Motorsport license being granted.”

The video linked below is part of it; recognising and dealing with oversteer and understeer is a critical part of track driving, and it’s also fun!

What are your thoughts on driver training for sports car clubs?

And you don’t need to lose control, you can just be inconsiderate (and maybe not even know it?)

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