Driving coach checks new tech 

Professional driver gets behind the wheels of hybrid and electric vehicles and puts them to the test

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MICHELLE SIU FOR AJAC - ELECTRIC AVENUE Whistler advanced driving instructor Alan Sidorov participated this week in the Eco-Run bewteen Ottawa and Montreal.
  • Photo By Michelle Siu For AJAC
  • ELECTRIC AVENUE Whistler advanced driving instructor Alan Sidorov participated this week in the Eco-Run bewteen Ottawa and Montreal.

Automotive journalists from across Canada were in Ontario this week taking the auto industry's latest products on a three-day test drive, including Whistler's Alan Sidorov.

In addition to writing about vehicles, Sidorov runs an advanced driver training school based on his previous experience as a racecar driver.

He joined several other automotive journalists, members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), to take 22 new hybrids, electrics and high efficiency fossil fuel vehicles from Ottawa to Montreal to assess the vehicles. The journey, called Eco-Run, started on Tuesday, June 4 and ends today, June 6.

The fleet of vehicles being driven by the journalists includes the Ram 1500 HFE pickup truck to a trio of Ford vehicles, a pair of cars from Chevrolet, hybrids from Honda, Hyundai and Infiniti along with three makes each from Mazda and Mercedes-Benz, the Mitsubishi I-MiEV, a Porsche Cayenne and hybrids from Lexus, Toyota and Volkswagen.

Ahead of his departure, Sidorov explained that the event did have a competitive aspect.

"There is an element of competition between drivers," said Sidorov. "A green jersey will be awarded every day for whoever gets the best economy."

The goal of the event was to, in the face of rising prices at the pump, demonstrate both efficient vehicles and fuel-saving driving tactics.

With his experience as a former racer and the owner of Sidorov Advanced Driver Training, the Whistler resident brings a unique perspective to the group of journalists putting the new vehicles through the test drive. He noted that most of the other writers are journalists who have been writing about vehicles for many years. While he contributes to news outlets he noted that his work as a writer came after he established himself as a professional driver.

Five press conferences took place over the course of the driving event and representatives of the vehicle manufacturing companies went along to answer questions related to their vehicles.

"We just go in sequence rotating through the various vehicles we'll be driving and essentially trying to get a better feel for how good these various technologies are, how practical they are for every-day motoring," said Sidorov.

He said he was looking forward to seeing how the various vehicles perform.

"We have a Dodge pickup truck in the mix and a Smart pure electric so you can see right there we will be addressing concerns with range," Sidorov said. "We've got several hundred kilometres to cover between some of these stops. Is it actually possible to use an electric vehicle for that kind of thing?

"Manufacturers can, in advertising, claim anything."

The gathering of automotive writers is an opportunity for objective observers of the new technologies to sort through the differences and similarities of the new vehicles while also promoting the concept of "eco driving."

"By the time we're done with this the consumers can look (at articles writen from the Eco-Run), rather than just looking at Transport Canada numbers, and say, 'Ah hah, this vehicle fits my driving pattern therefore, I'll go check this one out,'" said Sidorov.

While the new vehicles with the latest technology to reduce fuel consumption can make a difference, Sidorov said drivers who are mindful of how they are driving could reduce their fuel costs as well.

"By driving smart you're saving 25 per cent fuel," he said.

"Usually with people I work with — if they've got half a clue — their savings might be 10 or 15 per cent, (but) if they've been driving like an axe murderer their savings will be huge (if they change their patterns).

"The bottom line is that every little percentage (we drop means) we're reducing carbon dioxide going into the air."

According to Sidorov, these three tips can help to improve fuel economy: "Leave your emotions at home when you get behind the wheel," he offered as his first tip. Second, "look and scan further ahead."

The third tip Sidorov borrowed from German racing driver Hans Stuck.

"When you're driving, drive," Sidorov said. "When people drive with me for long periods they're amazed at how I keep my hands at nine and three on the wheel, I don't turn to look to make eye contact with passengers — I'm never out of the game."

The professional driver said driving with one hand at the top of the steering wheel leaves drivers with minimal control over the vehicle. He described that hand positioning as a sloppy habit that can cost drivers money, their health and possibly their lives.


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