Jim Russell's FJR-50s are...
Jim Russell's FJR-50s are powered by this four-cylinder, 2.0-liter turbocharged Mitsubishi IX spec motor. It pushes 300 hp at 7,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque in race mode. Additionally, it has MIVEC double overhead camshafts and a Haltech E8 with Vishnu bespoke mapping.
Now, on to Jim Russell in Sonoma, California-smack in the middle of California's beautiful Napa Valley. Infineon Raceway is home to everything from Open Wheel to American Le Mans to NASCAR, which just completed its twenty-first year there. The track is a 2.52-mile road course with 12 turns-the NASCAR course has 10 turns at 1.99 miles. Infineon features more than 160 feet of elevation change from its highest to lowest points. And it has Turn 6-the famous Carousel, which at more than 180-degrees, is a sweeping, downhill lefthander that seems to go on forever.
"This track is probably the most challenging track in the world, definitely the United States," said senior instructor Rick McCormick. "If you look at the professional drivers from Indy, NASCAR, Le Mans, they'll tell you that this track hones your skills. If you can drive here you can drive anywhere."
Arriving that first morning, Scott had one thing on his mind-the FJR-50 race car he was about to drive. It's the most intimidating vehicle Scott had ever sat in: A single-seater Formula 3 with a four-cylinder, turbo-charged Mitsubishi IX spec motor, which puts out 300 hp at 7,500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque in race mode-although the school trim is 225 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque.
Rick McCormick is a force...
Rick McCormick is a force to be reckoned with as he gives feedback to the group after a braking exercise. Dan Cass (black shirt) says he came to the three-day class because, "I did the karting school and Rick said he'd beat me to death until I signed up for the three-day school." Hey, whatever it takes.
It sports a Hewland sequential five-speed gearbox in a Lola-designed chassis and wears Yokohama F3 spec racing slicks on all four corners. And they stuff all of this into a neat and tidy package weighing less than 1,300 pounds with driver.
"This is the best car in the industry for a school," said McCormick. "Nobody has a car like this."
Class participant Dan Cass had a keen respect for these cars: "I was more intimated to get into these cars than I was to get into an aircraft to do acrobatics at 10,000 feet," he said. He was referring to the fact that he had just completed an aerial combat exercise in a military plane two days prior.
"I knew this was serious," said Scott. "This car means business." And they didn't waste any time getting down to business. After 30 minutes of introductions in the classroom, they shifted outside where students quickly topped 100 mph in braking exercises. This is where Scott's problem started.
Scott gets into the two-seater...
Scott gets into the two-seater instructional car for a lap with Rick McCormick. "Make sure you get taught the proper way of driving," says Rick. "There are a lot clubs out there where you're basically being taught by a volunteer. Do your research. Here we've got professional instructors and people who do this for a living."
Let me explain: The day before traveling up to Sonoma, Scott fell and injured his tailbone. "When I first sat in the car, I didn't know if this was going to work," said Scott. And his fears were confirmed during that first braking exercise. "The pressure on my tailbone was so intense during shifting and braking that I couldn't concentrate because of the pain. I thought I was done." But the Jim Russell crew worked like a finely tuned pit crew to ensure Scott's comfort.
The Jim Russell school claims to have one goal in mind: To offer drivers the most authentic and complete driving experience possible. So how does it do this?
Day One: Classroom instruction paled in comparison to actually getting into the cars-those incredibly powerful yet agile cars-and blasting through a high-speed braking exercise on the dragstrip. Students hammered through five gears of clutchless up-shifting to more than 100 mph then broke hard while heel-toe downshifting. Then again. And again. Until it became second nature.
The afternoon saw slalom exercises designed to help drivers better understand how to rotate the car between cones, then lead-follow track sessions to learn the racing line.