Phil Wicks Driving School

There really is only one way to truly test your MINI and fully understand it’s true performance potential, on the track. One of the better opportunities for MINI owners to do this is through the Phil Wicks Driving School. It’s program that is run by some dedicated enthusiasts that travels to some fantastic facilities all across the US. Phil Wicks, the man behind the school, has a long history with MINIs (he stunt drove the red Mini in the original Italian Job) and perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s always plenty of them at the school. You can learn more about Phil and the program at their website minidriving.com.

mini

Saturday was my first experience with the Phil Wicks Driving School and in turn, my first experience with my new MCS on a track. The event is set-up with three classes, novice (where I placed myself), intermediate, and expert. The novices had just as much driving time as everyone else but instead of spending downtime in the paddock area between runs, we were in the classroom going over the finer points of car control and proper techniques.

One thing I should mention about the program, it’s very much a driving school rather than a racing school. Everything that is taught is both applicable on the track as well as the street. And in the end you really do feel more comfortable on the road due to your increased knowledge of the car and how it will react at its limits.

Having been in karts since I was five years old and on the track once before, I probably could have gone into intermediate and not totally embarrassed myself. However choosing novice was probably the wiser choice as I was able to ease into the day’s driving and feel completely comfortable with the track before turning the speed on.

The facility itself was also quite nice. The Autobahn Country Club in Joliet is one of a new breed of racing clubs sprouting up across the country where you can join for a one time fee ($25,000 in this case) and then renew your membership for some low low price ($3,000 at Autobahn). Yeah, a little out of my budget. But what it did mean is that the other track at the club was stock full of some pretty exotic equipment. Porsche GT3 race cars, current and older generation Vipers that you might see at LeMan, and a Ferrari 333SP race car rounded out some of the more interesting machinery at the club Saturday. Then there were also the handful of AC Cobra replicas (all extremely well crafted and very loud) that actually were participating in the driving school. Beautiful cars, but not exactly fast around the track. MINIs, Porsches, A4s and an E30 3 series were doing a good job of eating them up all day.

A great experience and highly recommend, Phil Wicks Driving Schools are easily worth the money and the time.

Observations on the MINI at the Track

I have to admit that I was bit nervous as this was the first time I’d be behind the wheel of my own car at an unfamiliar track. I was mainly concerned about brake performance over an extended track time and extreme tire wear on my new and ridiculously expensive 18″ Dunlop runflats.

I had heard horror stories of friends who ended up with almost no brakes at all after multiple laps, only find out deep into a high speed corner. Sure they all seemed to be shod with the ventilation starving s-lites, but would that be a difference? Would the open design of my R95 JCW wheels be enough to cool the brakes sufficiently?

I’m happy to say that throughout the day and until the final lap I felt little if any brake fade. Whether it was the design of the wheel that spared my brakes or the design of the track, I’m really not sure. however I was continuously impressed by the performance lap after lap. Of course not as impressed as I was when I rode shotgun with a friend who had just upgraded to the JCW brake kit. My definition of braking deep into a corner was made laughable after a shotgun ride with him for 10-15 laps. And I won’t even mention this 996 Porsches with Brembos!

Tire wear was also a nice surprise. My 18″ Dunlop SP Sport 01 DSST held up rather well despite the heat. That said, a rotation might be in order next week. The grip, on the other hand, left a little to be desired.

Finally my Schroth Belts were a God-send. Based on my experience, they are an absolute must have for serious track time. The belts allow you to become truly one with the car as there is none of the typical movement around corners that you would find with the standard belts. They’re also a lot cheaper than springing for new seats.

The Phil Wicks Driving School was a fantastic experience. I received some supurb instruction, got a ton of track time, and met some great people who I’ve known online for years. A big thanks to Phil Wicks, Steve, Phil, Jim and others who gave me pointers throughout the day. I’ve officially been bit by the track bug.

  • petecrosby

    I can only agree wholeheartedly with everything Gabe wrote. I did the Academy at Talladega Gran Prix in Alabama and had a blast. It was a real learning experience.

    Phil and his wife, Noreen, are great folks. We’ve had them come to a local club meet and hosted them at MOTD earlier this year. They have a really knowledgable group of instructors as well.

  • I started my write-up last night, Gabe. Thanks for taking off the pressure. 😉

    It was truly a blast. As tight and technical as the course was on Saturday, I think the other course we used on Sunday was even more challenging, and much faster (with three passing zones, which was nice).

    My moment of enlightenment came in Chris’ Lotus Elise. Wow. I think we passed everyone twice during his session, and caught back up to the pack within a lap of pulling into the pits for someone else’s (!) black flag. He really put that thing through its paces, and I’ll admit to wondering if my life insurance was paid up as we came down into turn 11…

    I was on the verge of plunking down a good chunk of cash for a nav system, and now I can’t even believe I was considering it. I’ve got tires, a harness, wheels and a sway bar to buy!

  • LOL – well said. And the more reviews the better as far as I’m concerned. If you’d like to still write something, let me know!

    And if anyone has photos of the event, send me a note via the contact page and I’ll give you an email address to send them to.

  • RB

    One of theses days I gotta do this, looked like fun. Any video?

    I’m thinking…..I’m putting Cobra stripes in silver on my CR/Blk.

    Got smoked by an Elise a few weeks ago on Angeles Crest Hiway here in LA area. Not even close. Just a blink of the high beams a little beep beep to let me know he was coming and I, gladly, moved outta his way. Tried staying with him but futile with my skill level, these days, and equipment.

    Nice write up.

  • I’ve got some pictures on my Flickr account. Nothing terribly good, however…

  • RB

    blalor….nice pics. Thanx.

    Does Gabe really exist? There never seems to be a pic of him near his or in his car.

  • Yes, he does exist, but he’s surrounded by an SEP field to keep the screaming teenage girls at bay. 🙂

  • RB

    That’s funny. The life of a celeb can be heavy.

  • Paul Flint

    I agree that the long track on Sunday was more challenging and more fun. This was my first time on a track and I had no idea that these little cars were capable of so much.

    Then I had the privalege of riding with Phil during the second Saturday AM session in his works MCS while my son was driving my car. My previous impressions were blown totally out of the water.

  • Gregory

    Gabe,

    Did you have any fears about voiding your factory warranty by tracking your new ride? I hear BMW can be quite strict about this.

  • Did you have any fears about voiding your factory warranty by tracking your new ride? I hear BMW can be quite strict about this.

    Yes. However, from my experience a good relationship with an honest service department should help. Obviously if something was affected on the track you should be expecting some resistance in terms of warranty work. However if it’s a normal wear item that looks unabused by some laps at a track, most dealers will probably give you the benefit of the doubt.

  • Gabe-

    Great meeting you on Saturday — yes, he does exist! I agree that the Schroth Belts are a godsend. Now i just have to go get some! With the OEM belts, i had to brace myself to keep from sliding.

  • dustin

    WOW! Someone else that remembers what a SEP field is! Glad you all had fun at the track.

  • LTL M CPE

    Great write up Gabe. I’m so glad you and all the other MINI owners enjoyed the event so much. It’s always fun to see new folks reactions to such an event. I think we have some new track junkies in the making!

    I’ll be downloading the pics from my camera in a little bit and will send the good ones to you. I do have photos of you in your car, but at speed RB won’t be able to identify you.

    And yes, that Elise with Chris driving was incredibly fast!

    Jim

    02 DS/W MCS Dinan S1

  • Dillon

    …I’m glad you had a chance to meet Phil Wicks,Gabe. I blew my shot(work too much) to meet the MAN on 2-20-’05,in Atlanta,through the MINI Club I belong to(atlantaminis.net). Anybody who chooses to go to the site can see the photos of that day by clicking,”the atlanta minis photo album”;then,clicking,”2005 The Italian Job Night”. P.S.,Gabe: I’m the one with my baby,Sade(pepper white mc) in the,”members directory.” of the website. Keep up the good work,Gabe…

  • I’ve posted some new photos in the article. Thanks Jim for the pics!

    BTW RB – there you go, pictures of me in the car.

  • Doug Travis

    I did the Phil Wicks Driving School over a year ago at Gateway, what a fun day, and do you learn a lot, that you use every time you get in your car.Phil has set up an outstanding school. MINI USA should get behind his program.

  • You in the car Ha! Nice helmet. Or is that Phil Wicks your stunt double?

  • db

    Awesome right up Gabe! For those of you that haven’t done this yet, Phil Wicks is a great guy and his school is top notch!

    Did you have any fears about voiding your factory warranty by tracking your new ride? I hear BMW can be quite strict about this.

    I’ve had my MINI on the track a total of 7 days (over 40 hours!) and never once did I have a problem with the dealer. I even let them know. The only problem I had was warped rotors, but I upgraded instead to powerslots. MUCH BETTER!

  • petecrosby

    In reply to Doug, MINIUSA actually is involved with Phil’s operation. Ask Phil and he will, I’m sure, be happy to tell you about it.

    As for warranty fears, you really should have none. Phil’s school is just that, a school and not a track event. In fact, some insurance companies will discount your insurance after you take the school.

  • i agree with petecrosby. no warranty concerns. the car is built to drive and the class is a driver enahancement course not a racing course. no times, no competition, just driving. this class is a great chance to get to know your car in a controlled environment. my wife’s MCc should be here in late aug and i hope to get her to take the class at gateway in st. louis in sept.

    i’m an instructor for phil and it seems like every track day there’s someone there who doesn’t get that it’s not racing even though in the driver’s meeting in the morning that fact is covered and covered and covered.

    now, brakes. i boiled my brake fluid late in the day on saturday (while driving my student around the track, no less). we exited the track. the next morning I changed my brake pads, rotate my tires and bled my brakes (along with the help from a couple st. louis mini club members.) i was back on the track by the second session on sunday.

    on my way home sunday, i realized that my rear right brake and rotor was toast also and that was the cause of the brake fluid boiling in the first place. now before anyone starts saying that autobahn eat’s your brakes you have to realize that all track days are hard on your brakes and honestly, i didn’t look at my brakes before i left st. louis. i should have inspected my brakes a week before the track day and will do so for future track days to allow for new pads if necessary.

    i will be upgrading to super blue racing brake fluid. finally, i will be getting race pads for the track when i get my new MINI so my street pads will last longer. you use your brakes on the track thus your brakes pads are going to wear. one novice course isn’t gonna kill your brakes but i’m at the track as often as i can get there.

  • Hey,

    here in the land of the Autobahn there only one thing even better: The Nürburgring Nordschleife.

    Last weekend we participated again in an “GLP” event – the first step of serious motorsports.

    It’s not a race. The focus is on driving consistent lap time on the over 16 miles long track through “the green hell”.

    This time a special MINI class had been organized with the support of Pirelli. Here are some pictures MINI GLP

    Philip

  • RB

    So your kinda like a red head version of the Jack in the Box guy. Must be some inconveniences with a head that size?

    Philip, thanks for the help with the Dutch Mini site.

    On my last cross US drive I went through some place called Joliet, Il. Same place? Kinda nasty as far as the hiway. Looked for Jake & Elwood and the cruiser.

  • here in the land of the Autobahn there only one thing even better: The Nürburgring Nordschleife.

    Ah yes… it’s my dream someday to swing down there during a BMW European purchase and properly discover the dynamics of the chassis.

    So your kinda like a red head version of the Jack in the Box guy. Must be some inconveniences with a head that size?

    Huh?

  • Mike, were you in the silver MINI that contacted the tire barrier? What’d the track charge you for that? (Autobahn is very strict about charging the perpetrator for repairs for damages to barriers and asphalt, in order to keep the facility as nice as it is.) Hopefully (if that was you) you won’t have any problems getting it repaired. It’d be interesting how that pans out with your insurance company.

    How about telling us a little more about what it takes to be an instructor? I’m seriously considering this now, although the actual feasibility remains to be examined. 🙂

    This is a rendering of the tracklog I captured on both days with my GPS. I wedged it in the rear sunroof. The colors represent the speed, and you can clearly see how I was slower in the corners than on the straights (duh!).

    Autobahn GPS track map

    Philip, I dream about the Nürburgring. 🙂

    Josh, I forget already (I’m 29; I can only imagine what my memory will be like at 60…), but was that autographed picture we got from Phil Wicks at Nürburgring?

  • So you’re kinda like a red head version of the Jack in the Box guy. Must be some inconveniences with a head that size?

    Huh?

    Sure, they’re pictures of you, but your head’s kinda obscured by the helmet. 🙂

  • Ken

    “On my last cross US drive I went through some place called Joliet, Il. Same place? Kinda nasty as far as the hiway. Looked for Jake & Elwood and the cruiser.”

    RB, Yes it’s the same place. Joliet is nothing special. I worked there and lived near there for a few years and I have to say I have little reason to go back. Dan’s Candies (Great caramel apples and candy filled eggs) is the only reason I go back. The track is really out side of town in the unincorporated area.

  • “On my last cross US drive I went through some place called Joliet, Il. Same place? Kinda nasty as far as the hiway. Looked for Jake & Elwood and the cruiser.”

    Yeah, Joliet isn’t exactly a tourist destination. It’s actually a pretty nasty dirty place for the most part. The track is quite a ways south of the city in some open farm field. The kind of open farm field that looks perfect to Chicago investers for a huge track complex 😉

  • Siddhartha

    “Great meeting you on Saturday — yes, he does exist! I agree that the Schroth Belts are a godsend. Now i just have to go get some! With the OEM belts, i had to brace myself to keep from sliding.”

    Here’s a hint gleaned from SPORTS CAR that may help your OEM belts perform better in the meantime:

    To lock your three point seatbelt in racing position:

    1. Fasten your seatbelt.
    2. Release the seat slider lever and slide your seat back all the way.
    3. Slip your thumb behind the belt chest high and zip it forward quickly, engaging the lock.
    4. Lean forward into the belt maintaining tension and grab the steering wheel.
    5. Release the seat slide lever and using your legs and arm, slide the seat forward until the belt is VERY TIGHT across your chest and lap in your preferred driving position.

    This worked well for us MINIacs at Thunderhill Raceway last week.

  • Actually that method was also suggested by Phil Wicks as a way for those without belts to secure themselves a bit better.

  • RB

    You know….big red head, Jack guy has a big white head………just passing the time waiting for a design approval this morning.

  • Blalor, no i wasn’t in the silver mini. I drive the yellow MC that was getting the heck out of the way of all the experts in their MCSs, Audis, Lotus, and the like.

    The car that went off was a MCS (instructor) and I’m not exactly sure what caused that mini to go off. My brakes got soft on turn 6 but I was able to keep it on the track without the corner workers even noticing.

    As far as becoming an instructor, talk to Phil. I had done a number of his classes before I was able to instruct and still only instruct novices.

    I’m on my way after I type this to go over to MINI of St. Louis to look at the new colors. I’ll be ordering a MCS JCW towards the end of this year (hopefully sooner).

  • Yes, I remember Phil et al telling us about how to lock our seatbelts, but it just wasn’t working for me. must not have tugged it hard enough to engage the lock.

    Brian, i’m pretty sure that pic of Phil is at Nürburgring, although i’m too lazy to go check.

  • Aaron

    Like Mike, I’m an instructor for Phil. Autobahn was the best track weekend I have ever had. Both tracks were great and the weather was hot but clear skies. The south course was more suited to higher HP cars, but all of the long sweepers were really fun in the MINIs. My track pads (Pagid Blues) performed flawlessly and I had zero fade all day. For anyone looking to upgrade their MINI for track days, do this: 1. Schroth Harness 2. Race fluid (Super Blue, Motul, etc.) 3. Harder front pads (Hawk HP Plus are supposed to be great for track and street) 4. Stiffer rear swaybar, will dial out some understeer built into the setup.

    The schroth harness is the best money you will ever spend for the track. It holds you in like a vise so you can feel the car move around and also not get thrown around in the car.

    My MCS is stock except for the Rspeed rear swaybar, race fluid, and race pads for the track only. Spend your $ on brakes and suspension and not HP, going fast down the straight is too easy. Taking a long sweeper at 80-90mph is fun!

    Anyone that does a track day has already greatly improved their car control and safety on the street. You’ll have more tools to use to get out of the way of idiots.

    Aaron

  • Aaron

    Oh yeah, I also have Yoko AVS 100 205/50/16’s for the track/summer on ASA JS1 wheels.

  • LTL M CPE

    I couldn’t agree more with Aaron’s comments. I boiled my stock brake fluid at Blackhawk last hear at the Mini Meet event so replaced with ATE Super Blue this February. This past week I finally ordered better pads. I had Carbotech Panther Plus pads in the front and they worked great. Two hot days and my first days at the track with the MINI with no brake issues at all. I had seen several BMWCCA folks using Carbotech pads with success so that’s why I gave them a try. They dusted bad the first session when they were still being fully broken in and releasing the surface agents, but were better than stock after that.

    Happy Motoring all!

    Jim

    02 DS/W MCS, Dinan S1, Schroth harness, ATE Super Blue, Carbotech Panther Plus front pads

  • markbradford

    Glad to meet several of you last weekend at the Phil Wicks school. It seems as if there are a few of you I didn’t have a chance to meet – oh well, next time!

    Here’s a video I took of a lap of the North Track: http://homepage.mac.com/raudi77/iMovieTheater10.html

    Unfortunately it was so hot on Sunday that I got brainfade and forgot to shoot any sessions on the South track. I will try to grab a lap in October at our Audi club event.

  • markbradford

    Oops forgot to HTML link it:

    CLICK!!!>

  • RB

    Thanx for the video……..fun stuff.

  • Sweet vid. I fixed the original link for you.

  • Ralph

    Last year August (2004) I did the Russell Racing Highway Survival Driving course at Russell Racing School at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. (The old Sears Point Raceway)

    The course included; Threshold Braking, Skid Control, Accident Avoidance (techniques for steering around emergencies.),High-Speed Handling and Control Exercises (Autocross)

    The course I took we used a car they provided (Ford Focus) but you could use your own car via prior arrangement.

    I personally would not use my new Mini (new at that time). I have no desire to quickly wear out my tires, brakes, etc. While it would be nice to see what the Mini could do, I rather use someone else’s, i.e. a driving schools Mini. 🙂

    I learned a lot from the course and I would recommend such a driving course for everyone, especially to those that have teenagers.

  • that does sound cool Ralph. BUT the great thing about the PWDA is that you do the entire day in your own car and you learn how the car you drive every day will react in certain situations. it’s great to be able to put the wear on a car other than your own, it’s just not as valuable an experience.

  • Sure, they’re pictures of you, but your head’s kinda obscured by the helmet. 🙂

    Okay okay… here you go

  • Longo

    Gabe,

    Finally had two minutes to catch up with you. Great meeting you as well. I had a blast at the Autobahn. Screaming down the track at 90, stomping on the breaks and throwing my Mini into a turn at 30 was totally awesome.

    I think I have the bug….

    BTW.. mine was the 2003 Black on black, lowered, 18″ OZ’s.

  • Hey Jim – good to meet you as well! Hope your new ’03 is treating you well. It was definitely the meanest looking MINI there.

  • andreja petrovic

    i love your show,i would like to race with you. what should i need to come to your qulification?

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