A Wicked Driver’s Ed

At the LFA Driver Development school, new LFA owners learn how to control—and have a blast in—their V10 supercars.

Editor’s note: With the Lexus LFA now in production and being delivered to buyers around the world, Lexus created the LFA Driver Development program at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California to help train new owners of this 552 hp, carbon fiber supercar. We had to know more, so Kevin Watts from The Lexus Enthusiast weblog enthusiastically agreed to be our embedded student/reporter. (All opinions expressed are those of Mr. Watts of The Lexus Enthusiast, a valued independent contributor not employed by Lexus.)

FROM ITS VERY concept right through to production, the Lexus LFA has been almost completely unlike other cars—and this holds true even when it comes to driver training. Where most vehicles can be sent home with an owner’s manual in the glovebox, Lexus decided to create a special Driver Development program as a way to teach new owners about the LFA’s full capabilities.

While no LFA owner myself, I did get the opportunity to attend this full-day driving school at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California—which would explain how I found myself strapped into an LFA prototype on an overcast Monday in March, set to see just what speed I could hit in a quarter mile before it was time to apply maximum brake pressure.

Fortunately, my instructor for the day, Tim Moser, sits beside me, ready to tell me exactly when to upshift and when to slam on those carbon ceramic brakes. Blasting off the line, it’s not just the speed that hits me—mashing that accelerator pedal to the ground brings this sonic wave of pure unseen force, a wall of noise and gravity that has to be similar to sitting inside a jet turbine.

The exhaust note, which was so important to the overall LFA experience that Lexus had Yamaha’s music division fine-tune its tone, breaks into the interior cabin through three sound channels and has so much weight, it’s practically an additional passenger in the car with you.

We end our run with a top speed of 118 mph—the fastest I’ve ever driven in my life. With my adrenaline firing on all cylinders, we next set off to practice some high-speed driving techniques with IS Fs out in the Infineon parking lot.

For the first exercise, we pilot through a slalom course, and although it does show the effects of balance and rapid weight transfer in fast turns, I’m discouraged by my tendency to run over pylons rather than drive around them.

The second exercise proves even more challenging than the first, with the object to take a 180 degree turn using a technique called “trail braking”—that is, continuing to apply brake pressure while turning into a corner in order to increase traction and maximize speed when exiting the turn. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but once I get it right a couple of times, it clicks immediately.

From there, we move on to the track portion of the day, with Tim driving ahead in an IS F and me in the yellow LFA behind him. This is a setup that perfectly illustrates the wide gulf between teacher and student—while I’ll be pushing myself to the limit of my driving ability, my instructor is able to drive ahead of me, watch my every move through his rearview mirrors, and give feedback through a walkie-talkie.

While this may be the easiest way to learn the course ahead, it doesn’t prevent me from an early mishap—Infineon Raceway is a complex track with plenty of elevation over its 2.52 miles, and on one of its several crests (the top most point of a hill), I lose sight of Tim and end up taking a wrong turn down the run-off road at corner 8a, startling the both of us and providing plenty of laughs over the lunch break.

Getting back on the track for our second session, the LFA’s personality starts coming through, and its most dominant trait is confidence. With Tim’s encouragement and expertise coming in over the walkie-talkie, I zone in on his IS F wheels and try to picture the two of us leaving only one set of tire tracks, pushing myself through the rhythm of Infineon’s twists and turns. It’s then that I feel that special connection between car and driver, with the LFA amplifying my abilities and giving me the nerve to go all out.

The real moment of truth comes when I switch from driver to passenger and Tim takes the wheel to show me firsthand how a professional race car driver handles the LFA on the track—as it turns out, this means essentially doubling my top speed and powersliding through every turn, all while I hold on for dear life.

The most obvious difference I notice is how Tim balances the LFA’s weight in the corners—while I fought through every turn on the track, he simply rotates around them with little visible effort. I get this sense that the LFA is a fine instrument, and Tim is playing the track like a song.

Too bad that the musical metaphor does little to counter my growing awareness of just how late we brake into the corners and just how close we get to the walls—in the right hands, it’s possible to touch the outer limits of the LFA’s capabilities and see that thin line between control and chaos. It’s a humbling and altogether exhilarating experience.

As the day wraps up and Tim and I pull off the Infineon Raceway for the final time, it strikes me that there’s no easy way to explain how the LFA feels on a track. I can safely say that the experience has made me a better driver—too bad I've developed a taste for driving fast that’s sure to cause me trouble somewhere down the line.

(Special thanks to Tim Moser & everyone at the Jim Russell Driving School for providing such world-class driving instruction.)