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Jim Russell Lancer Evolution Experience (photos)

At the Lancer Evolution Experience, amateurs learn to drive at speed around corners, negotiate a slalom, and drift in preparation for dedicated track time at the Infineon Raceway.

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Wayne Cunningham
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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The Jim Russell Racing School offers a variety of programs for drivers of all skill levels. We participated in the Lancer Evolution Experience, a class designed to train beginner drivers how to handle the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X at high speed.
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Both MR and GSR Evo are available, the latter equipped with a manual transmission and slightly softer suspension. The MR uses Mitsubishi's dual-clutch transmission. Both Evos have very advanced all-wheel-drive systems, making them excellent cars for amateur and pro drivers alike.
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During the one-day-long program, we participated in two track sessions. Infineon Raceway is a complex road course involving extreme elevation changes, blind corners, and a section of S curves resembling a slalom. Our main instructor for the day said it is the most technical course in North America.
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After an initial classroom session, we repeated a turn exercise in the paddock. The instructor advised us that the tires should be screaming throughout the corner, which was designated by a series of cones. We practiced trail braking into the turn, then rolling on the gas on the exit.
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In the second exercise, a slalom, we learned how to use the car's balance to throw it back and forth through the cones, while planning how to get around the entire series at speed. As we progressed, our instructor advised us to throw the car through harder to get rotation at each set of cones.
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This maneuver involved breaking the rear wheels loose enough so the front end could point through at a tighter angle.
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The cornering and slalom exercises came together in an autocross course, a cone racetrack set up in the paddock. Unlike traditional autocross courses, this one let us develop higher speed to really test the Evo and our own skills.
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Class attendees participate in a timed run of the autocross course, with the winner getting invited back at the end of the year for a shoot-out among other class winners. The winner of the shoot-out gets a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X for one year.
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Our final exercise of the day did not really relate to track driving, but it was probably the most fun. We learned how to put the Evo into a four-wheel-drift on a cone course.
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Drifting in a rear-wheel-drive car is a tough skill to learn, but in the Evo we were driving sideways within minutes.
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During the two track sessions of the day, the Jim Russell school uses a follow-the-leader approach, with an instructor in the lead car setting the pace. As most of us had not driven this track before, this approach worked well.
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The instructors watch the following cars, determining how fast to drive depending on how well they keep up. After a couple of laps, we were pounding through the course at speed, using the skills we had learned in the paddock exercises to handle the many technical twists of Infineon Raceway.

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