Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race - Qualifying Results and What It Takes to Train a Star

The participants in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race are required to train for four days with  Danny McKeever's FAST LANE race school to prepare for the event. Of the 4 days, 2 are mandatory on-track days spent together. The schedule allows plenty of time for publicity as well. TV personality Jillian Barberie Reynolds pictured on the right shows everyone how that's done.

It’s a unique experience where professional athletes and actors, all successful in their own right, are put in a new humbling environment where they need to forget everything they know to be able to learn.

Day 1 starts with a drivers meeting. As is typical for any driving school for newbies, there are many confused looks and blank stares. Much of the feedback starts making more sense only out on track. The celebs start with a very wide 400’ x 400’ skidpad and try to find the limits of the car on both dry and wet pavement. It's all about understanding weight transfer at this early stage in the training process. The skidpad exercise is very common at teen driving schools and other events designed to introduce performance driving. FAST LANE instructors slow everything down, so the drivers would understand better when the car loses traction and how to control it when that happens.
Before you can participate in on-track sessions, Rutledge Wood finds out
you needs to have a racesuit that actually fits.

On Day 2, FAST LANE instructors ride with participants around the track to help them with instructing from the passenger seat.

The track walk is an essential part of training for the real race.
In this frame, left to right, you will find Brody Jenner, Kate del Castillo,
Kim Coates, Hill Harper, Eileen Davidson, and a few more familiar faces  

On Day 3, the media is invited to the track for interviews, photos and footage. It’s basically a big circus and the drivers' time and attention is really split between publicity commitments and focusing on learning at the track.

On Day 4, drivers practice green flag starts and passing exercises. Here is what the track looks like on a practice lap from Adam Carolla's car:

In a typical High Performance Driving School with a good driving club like the BMW CCA, you will be doing all of these in one day. Well, all except for the publicity stunts...

Biggest Challenges for the Celebs

As a new driver, you have to forget everything you know about driving and re-learn it from scratch.

According to FAST LANE, many drivers want to jam on the gas to go really fast, and stand on the brakes to brake hard. Understanding car balance and weight transfer and the required amount of input takes practice.

Passing a slower car is always a challenge in the beginning. Will they see me? What if they drive into me as I pull up next to them?

One of the hardest techniques to understand is braking. FAST LANE says most celebs brake way too hard at first, which is very inefficient on the track. It can also upset the balance of the car and cause you to spin. And spinning in a safe environment is probably not the worst thing that can happen, it shows the driver where the car's limits are and humbles them.

According to FAST LANE, the most consistent problem is looking ahead. This is in line with my observations as an instructor at club driving events. It is hard even for experienced drivers to remember to always look ahead.

What they say is true: Oscar Winners get all the girls!

2012 Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race Qualifying Results

The participants were able to squeeze in only one practice session between rain storms on the day before qualifying. Jerry Westlund hit front fender exiting turn 9 and Biff Gordon stuffed it into the tire barriers in turn 5.

Due to the excessive amount of standing water on the track, the organizers decided to keep all cars behind the pace cars during the qualifying slot and used the practice times to decide the race grid instead. "Sons of Anarchy" star Kim Coates and funny man Adam Carolla make up the front row for today's 36th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro-Celebrity Race. OneHotLap's earlier preditction that Coates will win the race has legs so far!

Formula Drift driver Fredric Aasbo and actor William Fichtner were the fastest of the four professional drivers. All four pro drivers will start 24 seconds behind the celebrities for Saturday's 10-lap sprint around the 1.97-mile, 11-turn course.

Coates, who competed in last year's race, understands the importance of starting on the front row.

"The only way for the amateurs to win this race is for us to have a clean start," he said "If Adam and I mess up the start, the pros will be too close and eventually pass us."

Oscar Winner Adrien Brody during the briefing

Aasbo jokingly said his drifting skills were needed for qualifying on the rain-soaked course. "In the conditions today, we were all drifting whether we needed to or not," he said.

Pole-sitter Adam Carolla and Adrien Brody 

Starting in the second row in the celebrity field will be TV actor Eddie Cibrian (another OneHotLap pick for a podium!) and nightclub owner and four-time charity auction winner Jerry Westlund.

More info on Danny McKeever's FAST LANE race school

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