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Can I Take My Prius to the Track?

You’re eager to take the One-Day High Performance Driving Experience. But can your Prius cut it?

If you’ve just scored a new BMW M2 or Alfa Giulia, chances are you’re signing up for ProFormance’s flagship driving course — that’s how to get the most out of the car’s massive horsepower and smooth handling. But some of us are commuters on a budget. And while you cherish your family hybrid for its economy and reliability, you know it’s not exactly conceived with track thrills in mind.

But can you take the One-Day High Performance Driving Experience in a Prius?

Colton Edwards says you absolutely can.

An economy car on the track

“We’ve seen every car under the sun take the HPDE and get around the racing circuit in a manageable way,” says Edwards, race driver and ProFormance instructor. “Obviously you’re going to be somewhat limited by what the car is capable of, compared with a Porsche or Corvette; the Prius was not designed with performance driving in mind.

“That said, there are ways you can approach the HPDE to save your tires, save your brakes, and not beat up on the car, but still learn the fundamentals of sport driving. You can get a feel for what it’s like to be out there on the racing circuit with other cars passing you and passing other cars. That’s all very possible in a Prius.”

Learning the basics, Prius-style

The morning exercises for the HPDE are perfect for the Prius, Edwards notes. “They’re street survival situations at speeds you’d be doing on the highway or around your neighborhood.” As such, they’re well suited to daily drivers like Subarus and Priuses. “We see young drivers come out in their family cars and have a great time in the morning exercise.”

Some of the Prius drivers who pull the trigger on the ProFormance entry-level course are destined to return, and some of those will return with a speedier ride, owned or rented. Those drivers will be better prepared than most, Edwards knows. “I always tell students who come out in a non-sporty car, ‘Hey, if you can hustle this thing around a racetrack on your very first day, if we threw you into a Porsche or one of our school GT86’s, you’d have a blast – you’d do great!’”

Adapting the course to the car

1995 Chevy Tahoe: yes you can!

Priests in the confessional are known to have heard everything. Similarly, ProFormance instructors have seen everything, so no one needs to fear that their non-sexy transport will put anyone off. Colton Edwards has coached people in BMW X5s and even a 1995 Chevy Tahoe. “And a 90’s Tahoe is not designed for performance driving in the slightest! The brakes aren’t meant to hold up to that kind of heat over the course of a day, and the car is not meant to bear that much g-force in a corner.” The solution, he says, is to modify the way you drive the car, so you still get the fundamentals of smooth input, good control, and good use of your vision.

Of course, the car’s nature will still limit the speeds and lap times you can achieve. “But we’re not looking for speed or lap times in a one-day class. We’re trying to set a foundation for a driver to build upon as they progress in their career.”

Another strategy: choose your day

Veteran ProFormance instructor Dave Conover adds that the morning exercises are particularly valuable for Prius drivers and others in commuter cars. And for the afternoon track session, he suggests planning the HPDE during the region’s long rainy season. “On a rainy day, speeds aren’t up. Also, we live in a rainy area, and there’s a huge value in learning to drive well in the rain.”

Upshot: bring your Prius to the track

“It’s absolutely possible for a driver in a Prius, a Subaru, any car to get through the One-Day HPDE, learn the basics, and really get a lot out of what we’re trying to teach. So if you’re on the fence – asking, “Can my car handle it or not?” – bring it out, and we’ll get the most out of the day with whatever car you bring.”

Posted in The Cars