In the meantime, you’d better have been good because the big man is coming:
We’ve talked in the past about the correct process of applying the brake: a firm and quick initial application followed by a bleed off of pressure as the car slows increasing the rate of releasing the brake as you turn into the bend.
The speed of the initial application can loosely be linked to the spring and damper rate of the vehicle. In a softly sprung and damped car your initial application needs to be slower to match the rate of compression possible with the front suspension. If you brake too suddenly the front of the car will not have had time for the weight to shift onto it giving the front tyres less downward push into the road and hence less grip. In this instance increase the brake pressure slightly smoother and more progressively to allow the weight to shift forwards remembering a soft car will transfer weight slower. Conversely a stiff car will transfer the weight more quickly so in a stiffer car you can have a much faster initial application of the brake as the weight will shift over the front more quickly.
Obviously, this is a very sweeping generalisation and there is alot more physics and engineering involved but it gives you an outline idea of how to approach braking in different vehicles.
For a master class in how to use the brake pedal take a look at the video below, courtesy of the WEC official channel, where Marco Sorensen takes us around the Bahrain circuit in his fabulous Aston Martin Vantage GTE:
There is alot going on in a lap, in fact there is alot going on in every corner! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the information you are having to process so try to recognise if its all getting too much. There are a number of ways you might recognise this: your laptimes may have stagnated; you can’t remember what your previous experience of the oncoming corner was but as soon as you brake and turn in you know you are repeating the same mistake or; if your engineer asks you to describe the handling of the car you can only use vague impressions rather than a detailed analysis of each corner.
If you find yourself in this position, try to take a step back and go back to basics. Imagine you are driving the circuit for the first time and look at it with new eyes. Don’t try to break the lap record for a couple of laps and let your brain re-set to the core of what you are doing: pick the important corners, look at where you need to get on the power on the exit of each bend, think about how to get there with one fluid deceleration and make sure your lines are spot on. Once you’ve had that little ‘think’ start to wind up the pace again and I suspect you will be alot clearer headed and probably faster as well.
At some point in time you will be driving on track in wet weather, either a trackday, test day or a race weekend. This throws up a whole host of new challenges but it is an important weapon in your arsenal to be a good wet weather driver.
One of the first things to overcome is the mind. The wet gives you less grip and predictability and can give total loss of control through aquaplaning (where the tyre can’t shift all the water from underneath it so it rises up on to the top of the water like a boat giving you no contact between tyre and tarmac and hence no grip or control) so it is a big step into the unknown to get out onto the track. Its an easy thing to say and a not so easy thing to do but-don’t let it get to you. Don’t dwell on the negatives, think of it as an opportunity. If you are intelligent about the way you drive and where you drive you have more chance of finding the grip than your competitors, this gives you an advantage and we all like an advantage.
When you get on the track be open minded. Use bits of track you wouldn’t normally go on, explore the grip limits all over the track surface and you may find a wide line or a tight line which gives more grip than the ‘racing’ line. You may not be driving a geometrically correct line but if you have more grip to exploit you will be faster.
Let the car move around. Don’t be wary of any slide turning into a massive spin, let the car move and slide underneath you, this keeps the tyre surface hotter giving you a little more grip.
Lastly, move your vision closer to the car more often. Our general rule of thumb when driving is to look at your next point of reference: your next braking point or turn in point for example, but with driving in the wet you need to keep a closer eye on the surface conditions as you approach them. Look for the puddles and the glassy sheen that shows standing water, pick a line through the darker more grainy looking road patches, there is less standing water here so less chance of aquaplaning. If you do have to cross a puddle do it in a straight line with no input required from you then, if the car does aquaplane, you will be going in the same direction when you ‘land’ on the other side.
Wet weather is a great opportunity to maximise the thinking drivers performance so explore, relax and enjoy.
There is a worrying trend in modern motorsport to crowd your competitor off of the track. The ‘Win-at-all-costs’ attitude is dangerous and its only for the grace of modern safety protection we don’t have more serious consequences. The reasons behind why drivers drive like this is a matter for another discussion but for now lets talk about ‘racing room’.
This is probably an old fashioned concept, that competition should be held in a sportsmanlike manner, but you should always aim for fairness in your driving. When a rival attempts to overtake you should give them ‘racing room’. By that I mean give them a cars width (plus maybe an inch). No more, but certainly no less. If you give them less room than a cars width you put them in the situation to decide to either go off the track or crash into you. Some of the time you will get lucky and the competitor will go off the circuit to avoid contact but some of the time they don’t, then both of your races are over, or at least severely compromised. Finishing third rather than second is certainly better than not finishing at all or dropping further back with a damaged car.
Crowding a car off the track is against the MSA regulations in the UK, although the FIA seem to be more relaxed about the matter but it is still not exactly ‘legal’ and it certainly won’t win you any favours with the other competitors or race series organisers.
Above all be hard, but fair in your driving and you will garner respect from your competitors. In the video above the F3 racers show how not to do it, the first car crowding the second car to the side of the track followed by the inevitable contact. The second video shows a clean move by two drivers with respect for each other, wheel to wheel, giving each other room to race fairly (and surprisingly its from the BTCC!)
It sounds simple but its important to know all the rules that will affect your race or session. Simple things like: What is the start procedure, how many green flag laps will you get?; What are the track limits for the country or event you are racing in and were are they (and aren’t they) policing them?; What is the pitlane speed limit?; How many people can you have on the grid with you and when must they leave?; How many people can be in Parc Ferme?; Whats the safety car procedure? All these and more can have a dramatic influence on your race.
Lets look at pitlane speed limit: If you are racing in an event with a pitstop there is no point wasting a couple of seconds because you drove too slowly down the pitlane or slowed down too soon when entering. Those couple of seconds are hard to make up on track so make sure you maximise the pitstop as well. Where does the seed limit apply, what speed is the limit set to and if you don’t have a speedo then what revs in what gear does that speed apply to?
How about track limits? This is becoming a contentious issue worldwide with the drive for lower, flatter kerbs and wide, flat tarmac run-offs as demanded by the bike racing fraternity, but has been a hot topic here in the UK for a number of seasons now after the rules were changed to move us away from the FIA rules. Here in the UK for example if you stray beyond the white line or kerb (whichever is furthest out) with ANY part of your car you are deemed to have exceeded the track limits but there will be a warning procedure. For example the first ‘excursion’ is deemed to be an accident,if you repeat the action of running wide or cutting a corner you will get shown a warning flag and if you transgress again then you are given a time penalty. The number of warnings you receive before being penalised is defined in the regulations and you could use this to your advantage to maximise (or over-maximise) a corner if you know you have ‘warnings’ in hand.
You can see how scrutinising the rules means you will maximise all our opportunities on track and give yourself the best shot at success.
In the meantime, check out this great battle and a VERY liberal interpretation of the track limits…
The correct hand position is crucial in controlling a car at speed. The only thing connecting your brain to the car is your body, so it’s important that you make your connection to the car as user friendly as possible so that you are able to control the car as well as you can and gain as much feedback as you can from what it does.
When you learned to drive you would have been told to hold the wheel at the Quarter to Three or Ten to Two position and the same applies to circuit driving. Keeping both hands on the wheel is vital as it keep even pressure on both sides of the wheel and keeps it balanced. If the car is to hit a bump or a kerb then you will bounce in the seat at a different rate to the car and if you have just one hand on the wheel it would be easy to transfer that bounce into the wheel and inadvertently steer the car. If you have both hands on the wheel the bounce is neutralised by both hands trying to move the wheel in the same direction, therefore keeping the cars trajectory constant.
Keep your hands in this position as you steer the car, crossing your arms just like you were told never to do on your driving lessons! By keeping your hands in the same place on the wheel you will always know where the front wheels are pointing so you will be able to react to a slide instantly without your brain having to think about where the straight ahead position is. If you have to steer beyond the reach of your crossed arms, for example at a very tight hairpin, either try to anticipate how far the wheel will go and use one hand to grab the wheel in a different place before the turn to guide you around or keep one hand in the original position on the wheel to keep the brain connected to the straight-ahead position reference.