The Lancer Evolution Experience starts off like most driving schools: You are plopped in front of a chalkboard and lectured to. After that, you're sent out and made to get wicked sideways. And that's when you wake the hell up.
Full Disclosure: Mitsubishi paid for our entry to the Russell Lancer Experience and offered to put us up in a nearby hotel for the night. Because we don't always swing that way (multinational corporations usually hog the bed) and because we live twelve miles from Jim Russell's Infineon Raceway facility, we graciously passed on the latter. Sadly, our home minibar was not restocked in the morning.
Before we go any further, let's make one thing clear: When I say "sideways," I mean sideways. What we have here is some unhinged, prescription-strength, industrial-grade madness. And the cars—bone-stock Evolution Xs—do it happily, and they ask (beg, plead, pray) for you to keep it up, and all four tires burn like the Cuyahoga while you dance the dance of a thousand rally stars. If you listen closely, you can hear Tommi Mäkinen laughing.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
For the most part, one-day driving schools are not the stuff of legend. You show up, you take a class, you play on a skid pad, and you go home. This is not what happens at the one-day Evolution Experience. Mitsubishi Motors and Russell are well aware of the Evo X's strengths, and as such, the Evo school's curriculum was designed to highlight the car's killer chassis and all-wheel-drive system. Over the course of eight hours, you become intimately familiar with both the laws of physics and the Evo's staggeringly talented rear differential. You also spend most of your time leading with your taillights.
If the whole process sounds boring, then you're either the type of person who gets carsick in the parking lot at church or you have no soul. The school's exercises are spread across two large skid pads and all of Infineon Raceway's 2.5-mile track; the program is aimed at drivers of modest skill, but the ass-out exposure to one of the best all-wheel-drive production cars on the planet should be enough to draw more experienced 'shoes. As with most Russell programs, the emphasis is on tailored instruction and at-your-own-pace improvement; the school's instructors are happy to vary their teaching style based on student skill and need. Counterintuitive lessons abound—the Evo's unique all-wheel-drive system and active rear diff ensure that a lot of old-school techniques don't apply, and you can find yourself at minimum yaw if you try and go with your instincts. (A tip: Countersteer less, throw the car around more. And don't be afraid to throw it hard.)
All told, the Russell program isn't so much driving school as treatise on the Evo's genius—by showing ordinary folk the ins and outs of sliding a rally rocket on dry pavement, it merely reinforces the Lancer's formidable legend. At $1000 tuition, is it a bit too expensive for what you get? Probably. Is the whole production simply an elaborate advertisement for the most capable Mitsubishi ever built? Of course. Does that make it any less worthwhile? Not in the slightest.
The details: Jim Russell Racing Driver's School. Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, California. One thousand ($1000) dollars tuition per driver. www.jimrussellusa.com.