Bob Bondurant – Interview and Profile Page Eight
SCD: Am I correct in understanding that you laid out the Firebird track where your school is now based with signature turns from European tracks?
BB: What I did is I came down here and looked at the area when it was just all dirt. There had been a motocross circuit, but then people were having a lot of accidents so he just leveled it and it sat for quite a while. I was looking at the area, so I laid out five different layouts thinking about the corners at Monaco and the Nürburgring; one corner in the last straightaway coming out onto the front straightaway at Reims; from Spa there were a couple of different corners I was thinking about. What I need to do, and we have been talking about it for ages, is name all 14 corners. We have labeled them 1-2-3-4 but I was thinking of naming different corners after different circuits, but we haven’t sat down long enough to go and do it. I designed the track so it is demanding, but we don’t have a long straightaway because of the length of the area. When I first came here I was with Ford, so we also designed it around Mustangs. Then we had Corvettes, which are a lot quicker, so on Turn 1 we needed a chicane, and we made it smoother. We also needed a runoff area for students, it makes them learn. Maricopa Turn it is down by Maricopa Highway. What I did first was evidence of Le Mans. At the end of the straightway you come down from 200mph to 35mph, and I put a sandbag down there at first. That worked great at first, except the wind blows down here and it blows sand on the track, so I had to stop that. Then I dug down about two feet and put gravel down there. That is what we use today. We have it real deep now, and if someone goes off into the gravel it will stop you. We had a situation where it rains and then the gravel gets too hard and doesn’t do such a good job. What I did is dig it down much deeper, about 18 inches deep now, and that works very well.
SCB: Could you verbally “drive” me around the track on the fastest line and explain your insight, your technique?
BB: We have flat curbs. We had higher curbs, but it was hard on the suspension so we flattened them all out. Come out of the pits—I have designed the pits like you would have at any other racetrack—and it brings you out into Turn 1. Then you are in 2nd gear and you’re in Turn 2, going over the hill to Turn 3 you’re coming downhill and you’re in third gear, down around Maricopa now in second gear, I have shutoff markers, and they number 4, 3, 2, 1; Maricopa is 2nd gear late apex, then I have a handling section there, a little bit you can take two different ways, we do it both ways. Come out of Maricopa go straight make a fast right corner over the hill, coming down the hill into Turn 7, go wide, two different lines, and into Turn 8. A quick line and then there is a front line for hot laps, let the car slide a little bit. You are in third gear, and you go through Turn 9, it’s a left-hander, a little curbing and sets you up for Turn 10 a right-hander. You come in there pretty quick, leave it in third, come out of there in third, come on down for Turn 11 slow down to Turn 11 sharp left turn, sharp right turn, Turn 12 you come out of there in second, grab third gear and go into Carousel, and I don’t go out as wide as everybody else, I take a shallow, smooth entry, come out of the Carousel in third gear, stay on it down to Turn 13, fairly quick long, long, apex and then Turn 14, onto the straightway, a fast corner on down there. I run either third or fourth gear. Students have to use fourth gear. There is another shift, and to go quickest you don’t go to the rpm redline. Then you come down to the chicane, shut off markers 4, 3, 2, 1. Chicane is a tight right, tight left, both short apex, brings you out over the hill again. I laid the track out and different ways you can do it. Turn 3a, you go left a bit wide and slightly downhill and into there in second and grab third puts you in Turn 7 to Turn 8 and all through the same circuit. We also have a drag strip here so I designed Turn 11 so that you come out and you don’t go right out of the Carousel. You stay in third gear, come out of there in second, then go into third to the shorter track.
I can run it in different sections. We have four-day students, and they will all be out on the paddock area first, learning heel-toe downshifting; learning basic emergency maneuvers, learning to look ahead, where you want to be. Emergency evasive maneuvers. We teach them about controlling weight transfer; braking brings weight transfer forward, a right turn transfers weight to the left side, stepping on the gas transfers weight to the rear. We teach them how to do that. Then we have three lanes. Three lights at the far end and they are all green. Two lights will turn red and the instructor controls that. We start out at about 30mph and go to about 50mph. And teaches them emergency evasive maneuvers. We also teach them ABS braking. A dealer came through years ago when ABS first came out and he had just totaled his new Lincoln. I said what happened? He said, “I got on the brakes in a puddle and the car started jumping all over the place.” I said, “Yeah, what did you do?” He said, “I got off the brakes and I crashed.” When they buy the car they don’t have a clue. So, from that day on I started doing the ABS training. And I do that with every single student.
SCD: Your Corvettes, what speed do they reach?
BB: With our straightaway the fastest you can go is about 120mph; maybe 125 in the Z01s. Then we have the West track over here and it is all on private property. Then we have the East track along the freeway, those have longer straightaways so you can go a lot quicker with that. This main track is demanding and makes you concentrate and really work hard; then we’ll move you to the West track or the East track. Like we do in the advanced racing. We’ll advance you. If you are racing or have been racing we will teach you how to go quicker. We have done a lot of the vintage guys over time. We have been teaching vintage, but we really haven’t called it vintage, just advanced racing.
SCD: When someone is taking one of your Corvettes around, how many times do they shift?
BB: They run mainly in second and third; coming down the straightaway mainly in third or fourth, mainly in third. Down to second, then after third three times down to Maricopa you’re down to second. Coming out of Maricopa you’re in third gear up over the hill down the hill and Turn 7, Turn 8. I have students stay in third, but I’ll come down to second, you’ll get a quicker exit out of the corner, then you’re in Turn 11 and 12 in second. Come out of that and you’re in second and shift to third, and through the Carousel you’re in third shift down to second, take a left hander and back up to third gear. Then we come down the straightaway and you are downshifting and you are in Turn 1 to second. Now you can run the students in third gear all the way around. For our purposes the first thing we teach them is heel-and-toe downshifting, the most difficult thing for most drivers. Even guys who have been racing, their heel-and-toe shifting is not real smooth, so we straighten that out. Then the next thing we work on is braking and weight transfer, controlling the car with brakes and the accelerator,. One of the first things I teach them is to sit up straighter so they can feel the car better, and I have everyone sit up and take a 3-9 hammer and tighten your fist as tight as you can, your shoulders, and steer with me. Feel the way, now take a deep breath and now turn. It’s smoother. So what happens is everyone is driving fast, and they want to do the best job they can do. Somewhere in the course, if you find it too hard, the corners are real jerky, or if you are scaring the shit out of yourself, take a deep breath, relax, take your feet off the 10 percent and now you’ll be feeling better. When you’re going fast you don’t want to be gripping the wheel. When I am driving I want you to watch my hands and feet work and you can see where I am looking because you want to look where you want to go. Ken Miles was a fantastic driver. At Sebring a few years back he was coming through a fairly fast corner, there was only one little tree, he started losing it he was heading for the tree, and he wasn’t looking at the tree. You go where you look. Your hands take you there. He hit the tree. It was really embarrassing. He didn’t hurt the car too bad. You get fixated if you’re coming off the track. Take Maricopa, if you’re too deep and it’s too late to brake and you’re braking and you’re not going to make it, if you’re looking at the wall, you’ll drive to the wall. If I can get you to look further left at Maricopa, even though you’re all out of shape you won’t hit the wall. You might go through some of the sand trap, but you won’t get into the wall. Students panic, so we start them out slower, do all the basics out here in the paddock. A very important area. We have handling over there, and explain what we are doing, because that is how you teach people to drive fast, you don’t just stay on the gas and hopefully make the right apex entry and exit.
SCD: That’s the first and second day, what happens the third day?
BB: We get things going much quicker. We still ride with them and they still ride with us. And all the time I’m doing that I’m watching their hands and feet, where they are looking. Not driving into the corner too hard. When we get them quicker and smoother they settle down and they like that. It’s interesting, every time I set a good lap speed somewhere, I felt I was too slow, I was so smooth. And then I would try harder the next lap. We used to give the pit signals in the old days: “I went quick, I can go quicker,” but then I went slower. And we explain that, too.
SCD: For the first day students are in a Corvette, second day in a Corvette, third day half a day in a Corvette and finish up in a Mazda?
BB: We try to do that. Then we want to put him in his own car. Actually anyone going through the four-day Grand Prix course, for the last day and a half you can go through in your own car. And this year the same thing with the Colorado Vintage.
SCD: First day in their own car or Corvette, and you would prefer them to be in the Corvette? Second day in Corvette, three-day course, last day in a Corvette for the morning and afternoon in their own car?
BB: Third day you can run in your own car, but most everyone doesn’t want to wear out their tires and brakes. They want to spend your money. In the four-day Grand Prix course you go through a set of tires in three days.
SCD: So the third day is an option. They can run your cars or their car. But you think it is better running the Corvettes all three days because it is constant?
BB: Well If they race a single-seater, the third day they will be in our Mazda single-seater all day, might be in there—it depends how they do—all afternoon.
SCD: If somebody races a Formula 5000 they come down here to you and they spend two days in the Corvettes and you put them in the Mazdas because that is what they race, open wheels.
BB: If they race a Formula 5000 car, I would try and have them bring it out here, and then the last part of the last day I would have them run their Formula 5000. We can balance that pretty well.
SCD: The course is highly structured, but it is also highly adaptable for the vintage guys if they want to bring their own car or not. Right?
BB: Yes. I’ll always run our cars first. I’ll always drive their cars first so I know what it does and doesn’t do. And mechanically, they should really bring their mechanic, to try to sort it out. Our guys, while beautiful on any vintage car and their buddy works on it, but you don’t know what has been and not been. Like when we ran Can-Am. After every race, we would pull the car down, take all the suspension off, have a Magnaflux and Zyglo. Ironically, when I had my crash, they found the steering arm had a crack in it but you couldn’t see it, it was cracked internally. The only way I found out is I was talking to the Magnaflux and Zyglo guys who said, “We are curious to see what happened in your crash.” I asked why? They said, “We had one steering arm that had an internal crack, and we circled it in red. Did they ever replace that?” I researched it. No. And that is what broke. So that is important too.
SCD: So the guys come down here. Can you describe to me how they are going to leave?
BB: When they leave they will have learned a lot! They will always be quicker, at least two seconds a lap. Definitely three seconds quicker on our track. And they feel more comfortable and they are amazed they go quicker and they feel a lot more comfortable going quicker. With something like a Can-Am car, I need to make sure the car has been checked over thoroughly. Because it’s like my car that broke, I did not know it had a crack in it. I would say on our track the first day, all day, possibly the second day, the third day possibly the West track or the East track.
Today, Bondurant continues to teach daily at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix, Arizona. The school maintains over 200 race-prepared vehicles, sedans and open wheel cars, making it the largest facility of its kind in North America. The heart of the school is the 1.6-mile, 15-turn multi-configuration track that was designed by Bondurant to challenge and reward first-timers and pros alike.
For more information, visit Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.
[Source: Dennis Gray]