Driving Technique
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"If you ever find yourself pulsing on and off the brake pedal, work on making it one efficient motion: Make the first hit as hard as you can (without locking the tires) and smoothly taper off as you approach the turn-in."

Reading The Car Through Your Hands And Feet

by Ashley Freiberg, Roundel Weekly

 

freiberg300pxWhen you are driving through a corner on a race track, there is a tremendous amount of interaction between you, the car, the tires, and the surface of the track—and therefore also a lot of information to absorb within a short period of time, because you are covering a lot of ground very quickly. It is important, as you are driving, that you are calm enough to leave some space in your mind for thinking, and for interpreting all the information coming toward you, instead of just reacting to everything that happens.

While you’re using some brain space to think about what you are doing while on track, you also have to keep your hands and feet working together to drive a race car well—and you have to know how to read the information that your hands and feet are providing.

When you drive on the street at a normal commuting-to-work pace, it’s simple: You turn the steering wheel and press the pedals and you get to where you want to go without an issue. When you are on a race track, driving fast and at the absolute limit of the tires, your hands and feet become crucial to driving a car well, because every adjustment or input you put into the chassis and tires will produce a much bigger reaction.

But how can you tell exactly what your hands and feet are doing? In-car video can be very useful. Ever notice the yellow stripe at the top of a race car’s steering wheel? It’s there so you can keep track of the wheel position—and see where your hands are, and what they’re doing. It’s also another source of clues when I’m looking at in-car videos when coaching other drivers, or even looking back at my own videos.

For example, when I reach my braking reference point, I go to the brake pedal as hard and efficiently as I can with a single movement. As I approach the turn-in reference point, I smoothly taper off the brake pedal with one movement of my foot as well.

There are a few clues to look for to find out whether this portion of a corner is going well or not. First, if, you are approaching the brake zone, andM6 GT3310px at your hardest initial hit of the brake pedal, the rear of the car starts to slide around, you need to make sure your hands are straight; you might be downshifting too early, causing the rear tires to lock up, or you might be braking on a slick sealer patch, paint, or a bump. Or there could be a problem with your car, or setup of your suspension. How the wheel reacts and how the brakes feel—including pedal feedback—give you data through your hands and feet.

Once you are in the brake zone, it is important that you taper off the brake with one smooth movement, as that helps keep the car stable and neutral as you approach the turn-in point. If you find yourself going hard to the brake, coming off the brake, and going hard to the brake again, you either initially braked too early, which caused you release brake pressure to keep more speed, which forced you to slow up again when you got closer to the corner, or you might not have hit the brake hard enough in the first place, causing you to brake harder later in the brake zone when you realized you were carrying too much speed. If you ever find yourself pulsing on and off the brake pedal, work on making it one efficient motion: Make the first hit as hard as you can (without locking the tires) and smoothly taper off as you approach the turn-in.

Once you reach the turn-in reference point and are turning into the corner toward the apex, there are a hundred scenarios to go through, but here are the most basic ones that happen most often—and your feet and hands affect the car in each of them. If you notice that you are turning in and having to keep cranking the steering wheel (understeer) because the car isn’t feeling like it is going to make the apex, you might have come off the brake too soon, transferring the weight—and the grip—off the front tires and onto the rears. You might be braking too hard or too long into the corner, which is overwhelming the tires until they lose traction and start to slide. Or you might be getting on the throttle here, which will definitely take the weight off the front and put it onto the rear. Finally, of course, there might be a problem with the car or setup.

If you are turning into the corner and you notice that your hands and the steering wheel go back to neutral or past neutral (oversteer), then you might be coming off the brake pedal too quickly; if the car is under a heavy side load, this can upset the balance. You may be braking too hard into the corner, throwing too much weight onto the front of the car and taking it off the rear. Your initial turn-in might have been too abrupt, and the rear couldn’t keep up—or there may be a problem with the car or setup.

M6 GT3 2 353pxThe same things apply to the exit of a corner. (First I have to state that exit speed is crucial to getting a good lap time!) If you feel like you are still adding steering as you are exiting the corner, and you were on the correct line in the first half of the corner, then one scenario is that you may have gone to too much throttle too soon, throwing all the weight to the rear and taking away the turning ability of the front tires. In most cases, you see a driver go to throttle early, then come off of the throttle, then go back to the throttle, and come out again, because they really wanted to get exit speed—but instead, they’re causing the car to be really unbalanced. In the end, this loses exit speed, because your actual full commitment to throttle doesn’t usually come until you’re 200 feet down the straightaway.

The goal in every corner is to get maximum exit speed by giving the car one nice throttle application as early as the car will take it, ideally at or slightly before the apex; you never want to have to come off the throttle after applying it. In order to do this well, make sure that you have changed your direction as much as possible before you get to the throttle-on point, because as soon as you go to the throttle, you take away front grip. Sometimes this means waiting a couple tenths of a second off all the pedals, waiting for the car to turn, and then going to the throttle when the car is pointed toward the exit. It is a common misconception that you must be either on the brake or on the throttle at all times; some cars or tracks work best when you leave it at its neutral stage just for a moment to let the car finish turning—and settle the chassis—before you apply throttle.

And when you apply that throttle, it also shouldn’t be zero to 100%, or even zero to 50%, because the closer to the limit of the tires you are, the more they will be affected by the tiniest of inputs. Smooth throttle applications are key; you can apply throttle from zero to 2% to 10% to 25% to 40% and even hold it at 40% for a bit before you continue smoothly to 100%.

This is only a small explanation of how your feet and hands are crucial in communicating with you and your car, as there are so many variablesfreiberg2 and scenarios that can take place. The point I really want to get across is that the information is all there for you to absorb; what separates the good from the great drivers is that the ones who are calm and mindful are thinking about what is happening—and why it is happening.

Even the best drivers can’t drive a 100% perfect lap, but what makes them good is that they can absorb this information quickly, and when they read the slightest clue of something starting to go wrong, they can fix it in fractions of a second. Every lap, every inch of the track, they can read the car, the tires, the track surface, and make constant tiny adjustments to keep the tire just barely at its limit—and they’re very careful not to go over it or under it.

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Reprinted with permission from Roundel Weekly with thanks to Satch Carlson, Editor, Roundel Magazine, BMWCCA.  Ashley Freiberg is a professional racer who writes for Roundel Weekly.

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