Inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s first driving school — with Mini
In its 104-year history, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has never had a licensed driving school – until now. Miles Ahead and its partner Mini have revealed the MINI Performance Motoring School, which takes drivers onto the historic Brickyard aboard racy John Cooper Works hardtops, decked in rally-like decals, and teaches them the skills to drive fast.
And they're crazy enough to let me be an instructor.
Miles Ahead, launched in 2010 by former IndyCar driver Stephan Gregoire and his business partner Ted Woerner, began as a program designed to help teen drivers become safer on the road – an epidemic here in the states where deaths per 100,000 road users rank amongst the highest of any developed nation. With growing success with teens, and the blessing of the Indianapolis Speedway, Miles Ahead and Mini opened the Speedway's first performance school.
I first met the folks at Miles Ahead in 2010, when I was racing in the IndyCar Series and living in Indianapolis. Since then, I’ve helped teen drivers learn car control and taught the importance of driving distraction free. For the new Mini Performance Motoring School, I wanted to come at this from an instructor’s perspective, discerning how Miles Ahead teach drivers, and what makes them stand out from the crowd.
The program takes place on the Formula One road course within the oval. It’s a track with long flowing turns and sizable runoffs, perfect for a 208-hp MINI that weighs just a tick over 2,600 lbs. The school is designed with the novice driver in mind, who simply want to experience a car on a track and learn where their limitations lie.
The day starts with a classroom session, explaining the basic fundamentals to track driving – most importantly, the racing line. The clientele are diverse and eclectic, much like Mini’s buyers. There’s an elderly gentleman and his daughter; a couple of middle-aged women, some young racers with their dads, and a few tire-squealing journalists. I introduce myself, briefly explain my silly British accent, and justify my credibility by offering up my racing accomplishments, such as finishing fourth in the 2010 Indy 500.
I don’t get booed. Always a relief.
From the classroom, the group splits into three: One group heads to a skid control lesson, the other to a braking exercise, and the third venture to the north end of the racetrack for a lapping session with me.