You enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway through a tunnel on 16th street with little pomp or circumstance. You exit into the infield with awe. Such is the scale of the place that there’s a golf course in the infield. And it only takes up a 1/3rd of the infield.
These are hallowed grounds for the Motorsport obsessed and it’s a treat to simply be allowed inside. But today is special. Today I will be one of the first civilians to drive the road course at IMS in anger. And my ride couldn’t be better – a 2014 Mini Cooper S.
The program I’m here for is Miles Ahead and its Performance Driving school. All sponsored by MINIUSA, there are several schools offered that range in focus from teen drivers to other various specialities. But the performance driving school is the crown jewel of the program. The half day course (you get a full day of the full course isn’t available) focuses on teaching drivers of all skill levels how to not just drive quickly but be aware of the limits of the car you’re driving. The thought being that understanding these limits makes you a better driver.
Having done plenty of these type of programs, track days and even a few races I would heartily agree. Knowing what a car will do in the case of a sudden evasive maneuver makes you much more comfortable and confident behind the wheel. It also teaches you how to apply active safety – the act of avoiding an accident before it begins.
Typically Miles Ahead uses various bits of the infield road course for instruction. However my visit happened to coincide with the first ever class to make use the entire road course (look for more next year). The program started as they typically all do, in the classroom. Understanding vehicle dynamics and best practices was the first lesson of the day as we prepared to get behind the wheel. It also gave us a chance to meet the instructors and get a better feel for the track.
After the first session we headed to the cars to do some lapping of the full course at moderate speeds. While typically all of the Cooper S at Miles Ahead are automatics (the best choice the vast majority – even most enthusiasts). That said I was lucky enough to be handed the key to the one manual on hand. Given my affiliation with MotoringFile and my previous track experience they wanted to give me an extra challenge in the form of a third pedal. It was welcome.
Pulling out of the garage and into pits for the first time you’re once again struck by the scale of the place. IMS isn’t as large as a track like Talladega but due to its design and layout it feels infinitely more impressive and almost majestic.
The revised IMS road course is the same one that Moto GP and Sports Cars use. The improvements seen since the departure of F1 allow for a tighter more challenging course.
We’ll cover the Cooper S itself tomorrow but suffice to say it performed excellent as expected. As the instructors told me throughout the day, it’s the perfect car for events like this. It provides excellent feedback and is plenty quick without the danger that comes with high powered rear wheel drive cars (ask them about a recent F Type event at IMS).
There are three things that makes Miles Ahead the best driving instruction program I’ve attended at this price point ($995) and at this level. The first of course is IMS itself. Having access to one of the single best racing facilities in the world makes for a day that you will never forget. For enthusiasts it also immediately makes it worth the money. The feeling you get exiting the infield road course and entering the front stretch is unlike anything. The day I was there we ran the course backwards in “F1” configuration. Having driven that same direction on the first iteration of the infield road course in an R53 I can attest the changes that were made as very positive. Where the course felt slightly plodding before the revised design allows the MINI to really shine. The scale and the angle of the corners allow for a much more challenging and exciting lap.
Secondly there are the instructors. Miles Ahead is rich with current and former racers from around the world who also happen to be incredibly humble and helpful. To that point my first instructor of the day was Pippa Mann, the fastest women ever around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She also happens to be the most encouraging and patient instructor I’ve ever seen. Her voice and disposition would calm anyone into thinking that hurtling a MINI down the front stretch at 120 mph is a relaxing exercise. If Siri was a racing instructor, she’d be Pippa Mann.
Then there’s Stephan Gregoire who I was lucky enough to have in my last two sessions of the day. Stephan has raced in both open wheel and sports car for over two decades yet presents himself as humble, helpful and truly interested in making you a better driver.
Finally there are the MINIs themselves. As some of you likely know the MINI has always been a respectable track car out if the box. And in these surroundings with these instructors it proves itself to be the perfect companion.
If you’re an automotive enthusiast, MINI fan, motorsports nut or simply a driver who wants to be better, Miles Ahead has to be on your bucket list. While it’s not cheap, the value is in an experience that will not only make you a better driver but also give something truly lasting to remember for years to come.