It's what driver's education would be like if your instructor was James Bond.
Tire-screeching, rubber-burning, stomach-churning turns at 50 mph. Backing up at 25 mph, spinning 180 degrees, then speeding forward. Veering away from criminals shooting at your car.Crime is rising in Mexico and business is thriving for companies that teach executives, their families and chauffeurs how to elude kidnappers, robbers and other criminals.
In the past 1 1/2 years, about 1,000 students have taken the course offered by O'Gara Services - three or four times the number in the first 3 1/2 years it was offered, said Jorge Navarro, the training director.
No school can guarantee its students will not become victims. Instead O'Gara and its competitors strive to teach clients to become tough targets so criminals will pick on someone else.
"There are many more easy victims than difficult ones," Navarro said. "Once you decide to become a difficult victim, it's impressive how your risks are reduced."
The price of becoming a "difficult victim" is steep. O'Gara, a division of Kroll-O'Gara Co. of Fairfield, Ohio, charges $900 a person for a one-day course for executives and their relatives and $1,400 for a two-day course for chauffeurs.
Other companies offer similar courses, and prices tend to fluctuate with the level of training. Security consultant Richard P. Wright holds extensive training courses near Tucson, Ariz., that includes actual crashes. "We destroy two or three vehicles per course," he said.
The three-day class for executives costs $3,500; the six-day course for chauffeurs costs $5,500.
"Our philosophy is a little knowledge is dangerous," he said. "People learn a little bit, but not enough, and they get themselves into trouble."
Wright said his clients are mostly Mexicans, but other companies train a large number of foreigners based in Mexico. Most participants in O'Gara's course work for multinational corporations, and about 40 percent of the executives are foreigners, Navarro said.
O'Gara officials declined to identify its clients or their companies, citing security concerns. They also asked that students interviewed not be identified by name or employer.
The O'Gara course begins in a hotel in Pachuca, 60 miles northeast of Mexico City where students are taught to identify dangerous situations and get out of them.
"Simply, we put order to the common sense that everyone already has," Navarro said.
That means learning to identify suspicious people or situations when a driver might be vulnerable - approaching a narrow bridge, for example, when there is no room to maneuver.
Avoiding problems can be as simple as pretending to talk to police by cellular phone or slowly approaching traffic lights instead of coming to a complete stop.
When the threat is more imminent, it could be as extreme as backing up suddenly, spinning around and speeding off.
That's where the main part of the training kicks in. It takes place on a sun-beaten auto racetrack a few miles away. Drivers learn what to do if precautions fail and they have just moments to react to danger.
The first exercises include weaving through highway cones and learning to stop suddenly and swerve to avoid obstacles.
By day's end, the exercises become more difficult. In one, the drivers' vision is obscured by a companion holding a plastic plate. The driver moves forward at about 30 mph while the companion holds the steering wheel, keeping the car straight.
When instructors wave a flag, the plate is yanked away and the driver suddenly sees road cones immediately ahead. In a split second, the driver must decide whether to swerve right or left or stop and back up. Meanwhile, O'Gara staffers pretending to be assassins fire away with paint pellets.
On a recent afternoon, Roberto, a bodyguard-chauffeur working for a large Mexican company, nervously awaited his first exercise. Like some of the other 10 participants that day, he was driving a rental car. His boss didn't want to damage a company car.
As he waited for the flag, he squeezed the steering wheel with both hands and quickly turned it side to side.
He continued from one exercise to the next, his speed and confidence growing with each lap. Soon it was a game.