Wait a second, this isn't the normal EVO tech article that you're used to seeing here. That's because no parts are being installed on our EVO X project car. This is a different kind of modification being performed: one to the driver. Much like hard parts, it will improve the driving experience and lead to lower lap times.
If you own an EVO X - or any car, for that matter - and want to learn to push it to the limits (and beyond), then the Jim Russell Lancer Evolution Experience is for you. Don't let the one-day program's price tag scare you - at $995 it may seem steep, but when you consider how much driving you do, the tires that you'll burn (you'll smoke through at least one set of Continentals), the abuse the EVOs take and what you'll learn, it's actually very reasonably priced.
Also take into consideration that there's very little class time (approximately an hour going over the basic ground rules, techniques and safety) and lots of driving - hard driving. The Lancer EVO Experience isn't about tip-toeing around pylons or sissy-footing the brake pedal, it's meant to push your comfort level as a driver in a car built to do exactly that. The people who teach this program, like Paul Gerrard, director of Global Training for Jim Russell, know a thing or two about EVOs; Paul has raced the AMS Performance unlimited time attack Evolution to many championships over the past several years and has many other racing accomplishments under his belt. His partner in crime, Nico Rondet, chief instructor of the FJR-50 open-wheel race car program, has also driven an EVO race car in years past and is an extremely talented and gifted driver whose ability to communicate driving instructions is about as good as it gets.
I can honestly say that, thanks to Nico, I learned as much - if not more - about driving technique and car control at this one-day program than I have at any of the two- to three-day courses I've taken in the past. If you're willing to listen and learn, then Nico or Paul will provide you with as much knowledge as you can handle in a day.
One can't forget the actual curriculum that gradually builds up your skills and tests them. The first task you're beckoned with seems like a simple trail braking procedure, but proves difficult to execute and master flawlessly. As the morning progresses, the cone-dodging intensifies and you quickly start to appreciate the EVO's amazing handling characteristics - its AWD and torque-vectoring differential defy the senses. Just when you think there's no possible way the EVO will make a turn at this speed, Nico calmly explains exactly what to do, and through what seems like voodoo magic, the EVO grips and sticks, maneuvering much faster than you would've ever thought possible.
While most of the course teaches you how to maximize the EVO's traction, arguably the most fun and rewarding lesson is what the instructors call "the hourglass" exercise, or what I call "the smokey, burn 'em up, all-wheel-drive drift" lesson. Technically speaking, it's a Scandinavian Flick you're learning here, and with the right speed and throttle input, the EVO slides effortlessly around the pylons, smoking all four tires in the process. If you're good enough, you can link the hourglass-shaped course and maintain a perfect drift throughout with plenty of pluming smoke to confirm your victory. Even if you don't succeed, the sheer exhilaration of sliding an EVO sideways will put a big smile on your face.
And so will the lead-and-follow exercise on Infineon's challenging 2.5-mile road course that offers more than 160 feet of dramatic elevation changes and plenty of technical sections that test a driver's ability to their limits. At first, the pace is anemic; Nico warms us up by showing the proper lines and braking zones. Then it slowly picks up and gets as fast as you can handle. Soon we're driving at ten-tenths, balancing and power-sliding the EVO through the corners using every skill I've learned earlier in the day. You quickly develop a lot of respect for Infineon, as it proves to be a course that's not easily conquered, yet it's a walk in the park for Nico. I push as hard as I can to keep up with him, but somehow he manages to stay ahead, pushing me to drive smarter, better and ultimately faster. What's more astounding is that while Nico is driving, he's constantly providing advice and feedback, watching me in his rearview mirror and communicating through a two-way radio system.
At every aspect of the Jim Russell EVO Experience, an instructor is either right beside you or talking to you through two-way radios. You're never left wondering what to do or how to correct your mistake. That's why this program gets such praise from me - the instructors' ability to communicate the necessary actions to help you improve your driving is top notch. Paul and Nico break it down in simple terms, and by doing so, make it easy and fun to learn.
The Jim Russell Lancer Evolution Experience brings out the hardcore racer in anyone and explores the limits of one of the best-handling cars ever made while providing world-class professional driving instruction. You could spend thousands on power modifications trying to go faster, or you could take this course and be guaranteed to cut faster lap times than you have before.