Performance driving can seem overwhelming at first. Which car? Which tires? Suspension packages? Driving gear? Often overlooked is investing the time into developing the knowledge about how car control is accomplished. Usually crammed into a 15-minute pep talk in a classroom at your first track day, this chalk talk on car control is generally overwhelmed by our eagerness to strap in and show the paddock how talented we really are.
At your next, or first, track day, I’m going to ask you to do three simple things: Accelerate, Brake, and Corner. Simple right? Accelerate, Brake & Corner pick any two and blend them together. A simple ethos spawns a lifetime of practice in pursuit of perfection.
Pedal to the metal; Clank it; Let it eat. Whatever you like, point the car straight and get it up to speed. In a manual car, periodically shift it. Try to be precise with whatever RPM you pick for a shift point; it will give you immediate feedback on how you got through the last corner. In an automatic, you can do the same by noticing where it shifts.
For both types of transmissions, use the periods between shifts to relax, unclench your hands, take some deeper breaths, and check through the gauges as much as you can.
I’ve saved some expensive repair bills noticing oil pressure fluctuations, an early end to the track time but a much happier outcome.
The gauges should be checked early on the straights, get your eyes back outside the vehicle and start thinking about your braking point.
In my time coaching, it is incredible how much time is spent working on brake pedal pressure. The first thing to learn on the track is just how much brake pedal pressure to use. You will be using more pedal pressure on the track than typically used on the street and how we use that pressure is important. I like to coach “mirroring” of the pedals; on the street, you might use 30% throttle and 30% brake, and by the time you are up to speed on the circuit, 100% throttle will be mirrored by 100% brake.
How to use that pressure is equally important. New drivers typically use a progressive brake pedal, meaning they will hit the brake around the correct spot, but don’t use enough pressure early in the brake zone, leading to a gradual build-up in pressure until it is time to turn in, the car isn’t slow enough yet and the front tires take a beating when they are overstressed trying to brake and corner. Not blended together well!
Instead, slow the car down early in the brake zone, it might feel funky initially and feel like the dreaded “S” word, slow, but I promise it has benefits. By using a digressive brake pedal, we hit the brakes at the correct spot, loading the front tires quite heavily, and when it comes time to turn in, we can slowly release that pressure. This ensures we can modulate our corner entry speed more effectively and prep our front tires for cornering.
Blending the brake release into the corner entry results in the ultimate blend of B and C, trail braking.
A smooth release of the brake pedal as we turn in accomplishes this goal.
An often overlooked component to driving is interpreting feedback the car is transmitting. In coaching, I find corner entry to be one of those areas people tend to neglect the feedback of the car and impose their will on the car. This usually comes from forcing the car into the corner, trying to find the last bit of speed. This usually pushes the car offline and leads to a cascading set of issues.
Sometimes the car needs to be in a slightly different place than an ideal arc would define but let the feedback determine that. If the car feels bound up, it should be your first clue. Typically this is a self-induced situation. Turning twice in one corner or running out of room on the exit? Time to adjust your turn in. In the middle of the track at the exit with sluggish speed? The car is telling you there is more room to play in.
Balancing the car mid-corner necessitates the application of maintenance throttle. Exactly how it sounds, just maintain speed through the corner, especially important the longer the corner is.
Now comes the fun part, getting back on the throttle. Corner exit is an important area for developing speed.
Our eyes are searching for the corner exit, and as we see, the exit developing start squeezing on the throttle.
How to blend together A and C depends on power, suspension, and corner characteristics.
String theory is a popular teaching point to review here. Forget quantum physics and imagine a string tied between your right foot and hands. As your foot depresses the accelerator, the string pulls your hands, straightening up the steering wheel. Ideally, the throttle will be fully applied as your hands straighten up.
If the car starts to cross up, you’ve misjudged the blending, a little less A next time. If you have more room on the exit, try a little bit more A. Sneak upon it. Small corrections will allow you to be more sensitive to the message the car is sending, and you’ll be able to blend C and A so smoothly you shouldn’t be able to tell where one truly begins and the other ends.
Blending A, B, and C together is a simple concept but requires practice. The good news is you can practice anywhere and even before your first track day. Driving to work? Practice. Driving to yoga? Practice. Driving? Practice, work on being smooth, and the speed will come. It is the art of driving and why we love doing what we do.