Regardless if you spend most of your time on the road commuting or driving supercars for a magazine, it’s easy for all of us to create a false sense that our driving skills are much higher than they truly are. In my case, driving six-figure rocket ships weekly certainly creates that feeling. However, we seldom have a place to put those skills to the test and learn from the pros on how to become that driver we imagine ourselves to be.
Enter the Lexus Performance Driving School. When the representatives from the Japanese carmaker reached out for me to attend their school hosted at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, I jumped at the chance. The idea is simple, for a fee of $995, you get a day at the track running through various driving exercises and classroom time with professional instructors. After a day driving the best parts of Lexus’ current lineup at speed, it’s clear that this school is a proper quick path to better driving.
My time with Lexus began well before I ever reached the track. Instead of flying, I drove a 2022 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance from Los Angeles to Monterey. With five hours on the road to get there, I got an excellent chance to get familiar with the platform, and its incredible 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8. Once at the track, I checked in and went straight into a room with breakfast and refreshments on offer ahead of the first briefing.
Part 1: Autocross
After a quick introduction to the program and a brief discussion about safety, my group went into the first classroom. While our first exercise of the day would be the autocross course, the folks at Lexus took the time to give us a quick overview of some fundamentals of fast driving. From weight transfer to optimal braking points, this brief chat with our instructors set up the group nicely before getting in the cars.
Once out on the autocross course, I was surprised to learn that Lexus upgraded last year’s group of IS 350s to the brand-new IS 500. These cars were so new that the one I drove had just three miles on the odometer when I got behind the wheel. The course was short, simple, and tons of fun. Each driver gets three runs through the timed autocross course. Thankfully, we revisited this exercise after lunch, where we got three timed runs.
Since all of the driving took place in a controlled environment, all of the drivers in my group truly began to push the IS 500. While knocking over cones added precious seconds to our runs, figuring out how close you could get to them at speed was a rewarding experience. After many attempts, I managed to snag the quickest time in my group. However, before we finished with the autocross course, professional racing driver Scott Pruett took me for a spin around the course, dropping valuable bits of driving knowledge along the way.
Part 2: Skidpad
After completing our run through the tight and technical autocross course, it was time to test our car control skills with the skidpad. As its name suggests, the skidpad is a flat open section of asphalt coated with water, allowing a rear-drive car to slide effortlessly. The Lexus RC F stepped into the ring for this second and perhaps most rewarding exercise.
Like with the autocross exercise, our team got more classroom time going over the fundamentals of drifting and how to initiate and maintain a slide. However, this time we had radios in the car so instructors could watch from afar and give us tips. Despite how difficult it seems on paper, sliding the RC F on the skidpad was surprisingly simple, simultaneously teaching us proper steering wheel and throttle manipulation. It’s one thing to slide a car briefly, but maintaining a slide as you go in circles indeed requires focus.
As I bounced off the rev limiter for minutes at a time, I wondered how these RC Fs survived this type of abuse and whether they needed particular maintenance schedules. To my surprise, my instructor confirmed that despite running the program for multiple years, they had never lost a car due to a mechanical fault.
Unlike the autocross exercise, we didn’t get a second go at the skidpad. However, the day was flying by in all fairness, and there genuinely wasn’t enough time for another round. Regardless, learning to control a slide consistently can have serious real-world benefits, especially in case of a loss of control due to rain or snow.
Part 3: Track Driving
The best part of the day was the on-track driving across two sessions. This meant taking the stunning Lexus LC 500 through various laps around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Thankfully, this was the bulk of the day. However, as with the other exercises, we got plenty of classroom time. There was even a representative from Michelin to walk us through the tire tech and their limitations.
Our first time on track saw the group practicing lead/follow driving and hard braking scenarios. Since the program’s coordinators kept track of who the fastest drivers were, they split the group based on speed. This meant going out on the track with one instructor per three attendees. Given my performance on the autocross course, I ended up in the fastest group, which allowed us to get on the track and get some fast laps in.
As my instructor in the Lexus GS F in front noticed I was still on his back bumper, he kept pushing harder. This is a great setup because the instructor can tailor the experience based on your driving level. These LC 500’s never missed a beat like the RC F. Even after multiple hot laps, their brakes retained most of their performance, despite getting a bit smokey.
On paper, $995 may seem like a lot for a day of fun. However, given all of the exercises we had a chance to experience combined with the excellent hospitality and knowledge on offer, that price is a bit of a steal. The best way to do this program is with close friends. That way, you can race against one another and even go on track together. However, going by yourself has its benefits. I managed to connect with various Lexus owners and get a sense of the ownership experience.
After completing driving school, the fun doesn’t stop. Lexus also offers an elevated driving program called Master Class. This second program is only available after completing the first and dives much deeper into handling dynamics while spending more time at the track. As a result, there’s something for everyone at the driving school, regardless of skill level. Given the chance, I would do it again in a heartbeat.