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Advanced Driving Techniques

Advanced Driving Techniques

This is a shortened guide supposed to give a driver some basic insights and information about driving at a high level, at any enviornment (road, track, rally…). The motto is “Effective Driving” — trying to drive better in order to, well, drive better. If you do that, you will get better and better and things such as speed will appear naturally as byproducts much more consistently than they would if you would forcibly try to drive FAST.

Contents [hide]
1 The mental elements
2 The practice
2.1 Preperation
2.2 Seating in the car
2.3 Steering
2.4 Tire Grip
2.5 Braking
2.5.1 Left-foot braking
2.6 Cornering line
2.7 Vision
2.8 Understeer
2.9 Oversteer
2.10 Cornering
3 Intentional rocking of the car
4 Drifting
5 Practice sessions
6 Mechanical setup
6.1 Tires
6.2 wheels
6.3 Springs
6.4 Dampers
6.5 Anti-roll bars
6.6 Chassis bracing
6.7 Weight distribution
6.8 Wheel alignment

The mental elements

This will probably not get your attention, but it is important, so try and read it. It relates to personal attributes of good drivers and how to become such.

Driving is highly mental in essence. It is never simple. It requires understanding, maturity, ability to gauge distance, time and speed, responsibility, ability to maintain concentration while operation several tasks at different levels of awareness. If we assume some drivers are better than others and that it’s possible to improve, we can point out several elements that are nowadays believed to compose a good driver:

  • Responsibility: Responsibility is the counterpart of independence and both are a product of maturity. The appeal of driving is mainly based on a strive for independence and freedom, and hence requires the driver to be mature. Responsibility is “Response-Ability” — the realization that the driver is the only person to be in charge of how he acts or reacts. You can take responsibility, or you can put blame. Don’t blame, be responsible, think of how YOU can do things differently, better.
  • Awareness: Awareness relates to how much the driver is conciously aware of the significance and perills of the different actions and situations he encounters while driving. It relates to concentration. Concentration is maintained by observation and planning: Having the time to plan things in advance and keeping focus on the important bits of informatio, filtering out superflous information and distractions. Concentration is also maintained by fascination: Being fascinated by driving, wanting to drive better, be a better driver.
  • Knowledge: Knowledge relates to the driver’s understanding, and it is the main aspect of this guide: To get you to learn new things about driving. For this, you must be ready to learn and once finished, remain ready and eager to learn more or relearn.
  • Perception: Our perception revolves around our point of view at things. It consists of our identity: Who are you as a driver? Do you want to go FAST, or do you not want to go slow? The former is actually more beneficial. The idea is to know that you can adjust your identity for the situation. I, for one, don’t consider myself a “serious” person, but I become such a person when behind the wheel. Some people would call me being “random” but in fact I just adjust myself to the conditions, it makes life more interesting.
  • Patience: Patience and Tolerance are obviously very important in road driving, but they are also important in motorsport. Whether it’s about having the right attitude to competition and for sports, but also in terms of actual driving. Waiting for the right moment to turn, waiting for the right moment to accelerate, waiting for the right moment to brake. Do not overdrive the car.
  • Skill: Skill is the ability to bring your theoretical knowledge to practice. Skill is created by training, not by practicing. Just doing something, even if it appears to succeed, is not nessecarily desired. It simply means you do something over and over, at a certain rate of success. But how would it work in different conditions? And what about getting BETTER? You need to train, with observation of a professional third-party, rather than simply getting into bad habits, just because they work.

The practice

Before we move into technical aspects, just another comment about improvement: It so happens in life that we seek improvement, but get “stuck”. How come? Because we do not apply the process of improvement effectivelly. The process relates to having “reference points” that can make the process of getting better more accurate and easy. It comes in three stages:

  • Imagine your desired outcome: Imagine your desired level at driving in detail. Mentally rehearse and imagine this type of driving from various angles and at various places. Bring up sounds, feelings, touch and sight, from the driver’s eye, from a passenger’s eyes, from outside the car and from a bird’s-eye point of view. Use videos of drivers/racers you strive to be like as an example. Mark in writing your rating of any aspect of your driving, from 1 to 10.
  • Know the present reality: Compare that rating to your current level of driving.
  • Take action to bring the present (the reality) to the future (the desired outcome): Work on minimizing the gap between the two former stages. It will come naturally. Now, let’s talk tech.

Preperation

A maltreated car will maltreat it’s driver. Even if he does everything right, a mechanically neglected vehicle will work against him. Mechanical car preparations can be very intensive, but for starters let’s just focus on tires. They are the most significant part in the car, and they do everything: Accelerate, decelerate, turn, dampen bumps, support the weight of the car, channel liquids on the road, sustain pressures, heat and speed, and combinations of all of the above. Overall, the amount of rubber in charge of performing all of this is no different in size than your shoe. Tire maintainence begins by choosing the right tire: Be it an allseason/winter/snow/ice/mud/racing tire, and also in terms of quality. If the name of the manufacturer sounds foreign and unknown to you, it’s probably not very good. Go for known brands.

Pay attention to your tires: Notice their state of wear, their age and their inflation. Each of the following three can be crucial in the amount of performance a tire can generate, be it for the sake of performance driving, or just for safety on the road. Check tire inflation every two-three weeks, rather than once a month. Check the physical state of the tire by looking at it every time you set out to drive. Bumps, cracks and other such things require immediate replacement. Heed the age of your tires and their milleage. A tire over three years old, or that has done 70,000 km, has lost most of it’s qualities and a great deal (40-60%) of it’s performance.

Remember, brakes don’t slow you down and the engine does not accelerate you, it’s all the tires’ job. You can have all the engine power, braking torque, suspension upgrades, fanscy tranny, stiffened chassis and etc, but without the right tire to put it all down to the surface, it’s all useless.

Seating in the car

The seat in the car carries greater resemblence to a fighter-jet’s seat than it does to your living-room sofa. Changing it’s alignment and the way you sit in it, changes your concentration, reaction time, safety and car control, and your comfort too. This can have outstanding effects on your control over the car and on your safety when the car has already hit something. Luckily, car manufacturer’s supply you with good seats that can let you enjoy all of these benefits together — if you sit properly. Correct seating begins by sitting IN the seat by pushing your bottom as deep into the backrest as you possibly can. You than adjust height to about five fingers (a handwidth) from your head and the ceiling, and adjust the distance for control.

You want to get: As much contact with the seat as possible, no possibility of limbs becoming bolt-straight when you fully apply any pedal or turn the wheel in any way, and be able to see ahead with no obstruction. You do not want to get: Any leaning away from the seat, any limb becoming bolt straight, or any obstruction of your field of vision ahead.

The way to do this is to start the engine, have it run for a few seconds, press the brakes a few times to build up pressure, and than squeeze the brake pedal (in a manual tranny, the clutch as well) fully. Make sure your knees do not become straight when doing this. Your heels should be on the floor and the balls of your feet should be the ones in contact with the pedals. To make sure your arms do become boltstraight, you place your wrist directly ontop of the wheel. Try and reach a situation where you can do this without leaning your shoulderblades forward. This means that when you grip the wheel you will have bent elbows.

Put on your harnesses or belts. Make sure they are snugged rather than just put them on. Your basic posture for the hands on the wheel is at 9 and 3 — which is across the steering wheel, as far apart from one another as possible. You should be able to lightly hook the thumb over the crossbrace of the wheel. Keep them there unless driving on bumpy roads/off-road. One handed steering will only make your steering movements harder and your back sour. Grip the wheel just firmly enough to keep it controlled. A good way of doing this is to treat your fingertips as the main sensory input, rather than the palm or thumb.

Adjust the (stock) interior mirror for the clearest view of the whole rear window. Adjust the side mirrors to the slightest overlap with the interior mirror. American and European cars have smaller mirrors on the passenger’s side so you need to open the smaller mirror further out to overlap with the interior mirror at a slightly larger distance (say, seven feet instead of four). Do not worry about not seeing the edge of your car in the mirror.

Treat the “dead-pedal” besides the clutch/brake as another pedal. Keep the left foot there whenever possible for extra body support and, when you make a sudden manouver or even a simple turn, brace yourself by pressing somewhat against it. This will push you back into the seat. This will help you to avoid leaning against the wheel or pedals and keep your back muscles relaxed too.

Steering

Seating in the car has an enormous effect on how someone controls his car. Race drivers can spend hours on finding just the right posture. Nearly unseperate from seating, comes the operation of the steering wheel. It so turns that the way in which we work our hands over the wheel can have an impact on our control and our effort in using it. Our steering technique begins with gripping the wheel at 9 and 3. In this position, we can turn the wheel 270 degrees in each direction if we suddenly need to turn away from a hazard.

So, our steering technique should be aimed for keeping our hands there for as long as possible. Another goal is to increase our range of motion by being able to turn a lot of steering with very few hand movements. Most people reach a corner with their hands at 9 and 3, and than begin to work their hands around the wheel. But, what if we look at the corner, assume how much steering we need to turn, and prepare our hands on the wheel so that once turned, the hands will again be at 9 and 3?

So, let’s assume we reach a wide corner that would require turning the wheel 90 degrees left (on the track this would be a very tight corner, on the road it’s a very wide corner). We can place our left hand 90 degrees to the right, which brings it to the top of the wheel, and than start pulling back with it. In the meanwhile, the other hand would let the wheel run under it. So, we turn the wheel 90 degrees, which means that the left hand is back to where it started, and the right hand stayed where it was, so the wheel is turned into the corner, but the hands are at 9 and 3, as if we were driving straight. This gives us extra feel and an ability to make further steering corrections in each direction. Very effective!

Near the end of the corner, we do the same in reverse: We place our right hand ontop of the wheel, and pull back down while the other hand remains stationary and the wheel runs under it, so the hands again “hit” 9 and 3 at corner exit. You can place your hand further if the turn is tighter: 180 degrees (requires crossing the pulling hand all the way across the wheel), 270 degrees and more. There are other steering methods and there are specific situations where some of them should also be used to achieve a good result.

Tire Grip

We have talked before about the importance of tires. The question remains: W-H-Y? The answer: Become the tire has little grip to offer, being based on a contact patch similar to a standard footprint in size. Let’s define this “Grip” as 100%. This 100% of grip can give us 100% of acceleration, 100% of deceleration, 100% of turning. It can also give something like 57.2% of turning and 42.7% of acceleration, but it cannot give you 52% of each, it can only do a full 100%. So, when we drive, and practicularly when a corner is coming up, we want to use our grip wisely: Brake before the turn at a straight line, than turn with the car coming around at a constant speed (not slowing down or speeding up while turned) and than accelerate in a straight line.

Still, this modell is not perfectly fit to reality. In reality we also have an effect known as weight transfer. You might have felt it as a nosediving of the car when you brake suddenly, or as it “leans” into the corner when you turn the wheel suddenly. When you brake, the weight of the car is tossed forward, when you accelerate, it’s thrown backwards. The front-wheels will always be the wheels that steer the car: When you turn the wheel, you turn the front wheels into the corner. The front also do most of the braking performance. Acceleration depends on drive: In a rear-wheel drive it’s obviously the rear wheels which have the toll of accelerating the car.

Basically, weight transfer results in “downforce” that presses a “loaded” tire against the surface, increasing it’s 100% grip. Let’s say I have a Front-wheel Drive car and I turn into a right corner while accelerating the car. I have an initial 100% grip at each tire. Acceleration shifts 5% to the rear, so the front now have 95% grip. The turning of the car shifts 10% to the outside wheels, so we have 85% to the front right wheel and 105% to the left “outside” front wheel. The rear wheels have 95% and 115% accordingly. The car has to turn, but it also has to accelerate. Let’s say the front has to “invest” 10% grip for turning and the rear only has to cope with 5%. The front wheels also have to accelerate the car which takes, say, 5%.

Axle – grip – weight transfer – acceleration – cornering force – grip reserve

Front: 100…minus 5……..minus 5……minus 10…………..equalls 80

Rear: 100 plus…..5……..minus 0……minus 5……………equalls 100

So, we can see that the rear has more grip than the front. Now, let’s sharpen it, what if the we accelerate enough to use all of the grip reserves of the front axle? We now have no grip to the front. So, the front will slide. When the front slide, it cannot do it’s job of steering the car, and this means that the car will not turn, or at least turn at a very wide arch. For obvious reasons, this phenomenon is known as “understeer”.

Let’s run a second scenario: We brake. The front wheel do some braking (10%) but they also get extra grip from the forward weight transfer (say, 15%) and this can make them turn into a corner better than they would with no brake pressure. You can easily overdo this, though, and than you will either use too much front grip to slow down (again causing understeer), or you will get too much of a forward weight transfer, simply making the rear not grip almost at all, which can make the back swing around when you turn. This will cause the car to turn too much and spin you around, and is thus called — for obvious reasons — oversteer. Another type of oversteer can happen if you take rear-wheel drive car and you accelerate all too much, to make the rear-wheels to buisy with accelerating and too little buisy with the little cornering force they need to sustain, making them swing around.

Braking

The brakes are the strongest means of car control. It’s important to know how to use them. Good braking helps us slow down faster. Slowing down faster enables us to keep the throttle fully open up to the last second before the corner. Brakes also help in keeping the weight slightly baised to the front, which helps turning into corners faster.

In relation to tire grip, we can overdo the tire’s limit not only by combining forces (like braking and steering simultanously), but also by excessive use of a single input (like too much braking). If we brake “too” hard, we will get the wheels to slow down so much that they would actually stop rolling completly, and be “dragged’ to a stop. These are locked wheels. They can stop you very quickely, but in a race we try and slow down faster (and with less tire wear). We do this by braking hard just enough to get the wheels just shy of locking up. This is the threshold of locking up. The point of threshold is not static, it changes according to speed and the grip levels of the road.

Threshold braking in racing is sustained into turns. By braking into the turn, we can brake later on the straight and keep full throttle for longer on the straight. As we turn into the corner, we reduce braking pressure to below threshold, freeing grip for steering and ease the throttle simultanous to the turning of the wheel — the more we turn the wheel, the less we stay on the brakes. Once we established the nessecary steering input for the turn, we switch pedal to the throttle and keeep it neatly balanced, just enough to keep the car at a constant speed untill we can being to accelerate out as we unwind the steering.

Think. Braking hard at a high speed is a frightening ordeal for the normal driver where in reality, the faster the car is going, the harder it is to slow it down — so the HARDER we need to brake. So, in order to keep the car in a state of threshold braking we constantly ease the pressure gradually. Brake hard at first, and than ease the brakes progressively. Emergency braking is different from threshold braking. It begins by a full and instant application of the brakes to fully lockup of the wheels and than — with practice — starting to ease off in search for the threshold. Unskilled drivers are advised to keep the wheels locked unless steering corrections are required.

Left-foot braking

It’s advised that you beat some sensitivity of brake operation to your left foot. Skilled drivers operate the brakes with either their right or left foot as the situation requires. When you brake with the left foot, you shave off wasted tenths of seconds on the straight where you switch pedals. This is beneficial when you brake for a turn that does not require downshifting. Left-foot braking can also take the form of “combined braking”: Where the driver uses both the right foot on the gas and the left foot on the brakes to create exactly the right force of acceleration he needs.

Why to perform combined braking? One advantage is that it helps avoid wheelspin. When a car does not have a Limited-Slip differential, the inside wheel can spin when you try to accelerate hard out of a corner, losing all drive. When you apply some pressure to the brakes, you use the brakes to stop the wheels from spinning too fast. In cars that do have a limited-slip differential, braking with the left foot when you accelerate creates a little resistance against the power of the engine which is turning the wheels. The differential identifies this as the inside wheel sliding, and it locks-up and gives you some extra drive through the corner.

Cornering line

In order to maximize our cornering speed, we need to engineer our cornering line. You can choose when to turn and how. You can “engineer” straights in corners, and you can turn along a straight. When we want to maximise speed through a corner, we need to make it as straight as possible. The way to do this is not only to refer to the length of the road, but also to it’s width. We approach the corner from the “highside” (approach a left-hander from the right edge of the road/lane), dive into the “inside” of the corner, so that we “cut” the corner and reach the other side of the road in the middle (this point is called the APEX), and than let the car run out wide back towards the far end of the road. Outside + Inside + Outside = the racing line.

But, the question remains whether maximizing speed through a turn is beneficial. If we use this line, we can do very fast through the corner, but cannot begin to accelerate before we pass the APEX in the middle of the corner. It we wait patienty, and brake a bit later, and turn a bit later, and hit an APEX later, somewhat after the middle of the corner, we can get on the gas earlier, before the APEX. We sacrifice some speed in the turn, for speed in the straight afterwards, and straights are naturally longer than turns. This becomes more beneficial in slower corners, with longer straights, or when the conditions after the turn are un-expectable (like in a rally or on the road). It becomes less beneficial with fast corners, long straights, open field of vision, or with exceptionally weak cars.

Vision

Besides learning how to steer, brake, accelerate, shift and turn, we must understand how to mentally choreograph those in order to drive on the limit effectivelly. On the straight, many people will not get up to the right speed become of an effect called “ground-rush”. It so happens that the driver focuses on a small stretch of ground just slightly ahead of him/her, and this makes the sense of speed be far more intense. The cure is to look up to the furthest distance in which we see tarmac. It takes more time to get to that point, making it appear that we are going slower and allowing us to reach a good speed/accelerate further.

It also allows us to detect hazards from a larger distance, and plan our reaction and do it smoothly, rather than avoiding the obstacle at the last possible second because we did not notice it in time. We can also draw an imaginary line between us and that point on the horizon, which will help us not to make unnessecary steering corrections, but rather drive in the straightest possible line. After some practice, “drawing” the imaginary line becomes inherent and subconcious.

In a corner, our job becomes more complex. Here, we use the eyes in a more clever manner. First, we look up down the straight and see the corner. We asses what corner is it (fast, slow, moderate, hairpin, etc…), what comes after it, and draw an imaginary line we want to take through it and “mark” the APEX of that line. As we near the corner, we can see slightly into it in what would appear like an “arrowhead”. As we get closer and closer, our field of vision into the corner would expand and the arrowhead will seem to get away from us. We need to match our speed to it.

The third step requires a bit more sophistication. In order to achieve accuracy and good timing, we need to have “reference points” for when to brake, when to turn, when to apply throttle, when to APEX and when to track-out (corner exit). Some of these points would be actual landmarks and permenant signals, but some will be based on other variants like sight, steering input, engine tone or simply the astimation of the driver. On the track, we focus around fixed reference points for turning-in, apexing and tracking-out. Throttle application and brake application are based on other varients. On the road/rally stage, we use the “mental scetch” of the imaginary line we want the car to go to, and we scetch the turn-in and APEX points over it.

We want to be one-two steps ahead of the car, so when we approach the corner we keep our eyes up towards the turn-in point and refer to it as the “brake-ending” point and gauge the exact moment for braking by estimation. A certain distance before the turn-in cone, we “shift focus” to the APEX marker, and the exact point of turn-in is gauged through the corner of the eye. Before the APEX, we shift focus to the track-out point, and gague our exact clipping point of the APEX through the corner of the eye. When we are about to reach track-out, we look up down the straight while gauging the exact point of track-out through the corner of the eye.

Throttle and brake application depend on feel and estimation. To relate to the point of throttle application in particular, we want to synchronise our throttle application point with the timing in which we shift focus from the APEX to track-out. We need to consider how fast the corner is. Some corners are very fast. So fast that you keep some throttle or acceleration about all the way through them. In these corners, you shift focus very quickely and maybe look two reference points ahead rather than just one.

In slower corners, you enter the corner when still on the brakes to keep the weight of the car on the front, and ease the brakes off as you turn the wheel in. As you lift-off of the brakes, you ease on the throttle just enough to keep the car at a constant speed and than begin to accelerate just before the APEX. Once on throttle, when ABOUT TO accelerate, we should shift our focus from the APEX to track-out and begin to accelerate.

The System is something more advanced that relates more to road driving than it does to track-driving. Let’s look at a straight road. We keep our eyes up to the horizon. We should be aware of the fact that we have two types of vision applied now: Our focused vision, and our peripheral vision. Focused vision is the little field of focus that has the ability to detect details. Peripheral vision is the rest of the field of vision, which is blurry, but very sensitive to changes of color and to movement.

In order to use our eyes better, we need to use each of the two according to it’s treats. Focused vision detects detail. Detail allows for planning. Peripheral vision detects changes of color and movement, so we use it for quick response and for timing. Because our focused vision is used for planning, we want to plan in the largest advance possible, and so we look up to the furthest point on the road in which we can notice detail (cars, pedestrians, changes in the surface of the road itself). Sometimes, in rain or darkness, it requires a certain scanning movement between two points: One further ahead and one a bit closer to the driver (but still in the distance). Meanwhile, we entrust our peripheral vision with detecting any hazard in our immediate proximity, and also to judge when to apply throttle/brakes/steering.

By using both types of vision like this, we can gauge (I.E. visualize by use of imagination) the right speed and the right positioning on the road, for any hazard head. A “Hazard” is defined as anything that MIGHT make us change either our position and/or our speed. When we see a hazard, we percieve it (“Okay, this is a HAZARD”) and than we deal with it by matching our speed, setting the right gear, changing our position on the road accordingly, and changing the attitude of the car (acceleration/deceleration) accordingly. Perception – Speed – Gear – Position – Attitude.

Understeer

All cars are set to understeer. It means that if you go into a corner beyond the limits of grip the car would turn too little and slide forward and out of the turn. Oversteer means that in the same scenario, you would get too much cornering and the car would spin. If you enter a corner on a plain while the car is in a constant speed, above the critical speed of the corner, you would recieve understeer.

Understeer happens when the front wheels are the ones sliding, and therefore cannot do their job in turning the car effectivelly. The way to detect it is not by physically seeing the car drifting off line, but by feeling the wheel becoming “lighter” and less responsive. This way, we can prevent understeer or at least apply corrective input earlier. The corrective input requires discipline to not fight with the car. You turned the wheel, the car does not turn as much as you want. So…Will turning it more help? Well, it might. But it might not. Turning the wheel more will cause the front wheels to slide more. It might get the car to slow-down faster, making it recover eventually, but there might not be enough steering/space to lose enough speed this way.

It would be better to slow down by easing the throttle slightly, and release it and maybe apply a bit of brake pressure with feel. Whatever is enough to slow-down enough and shift weight to front wheels, without spinning the car or overloading the front by too much deceleration. While doing, it’s not always enough not to turn the wheel more. It in fact helps if we slightly reduce the steering, because the car has a smaller angle to recover from, making it recover faster and more smoothly. Afterwards, you can smoothly turn back into the corner.

We said earlier that cars naturally understeer. If you drive on a plain, homegenic road, turn the wheel while keeping the car at a constant speed with the right foot, you will recieve understeer, not oversteer and not a neutral slide of all four wheels. Many people believe this setup to be slow, because they think oversteer gives a faster turn-in. But understeer also has several advantages in terms of speed:

  • If you remember the chapter on braking, you know that we tend to perform threshold braking, shifting the weight of the car to the front. We keep on braking into the corner. If the car would naturally oversteers, the phase of braking and trying to overlap braking and turning, is going to be hard to impossible or at least not effective.
  • Most racecars are rear-wheel driven. As such, they need some reserve of grip in the rear to accelerate out of the corner. Understeer means that the rear wheels still have that little reserve of grip available. Acceleration at the exit of the turn takes priority to turn-in.
  • A car that behaves neutrally suddenly breaks away with no warning from any axle, while a car that oversteer breakes away with the rear and rotates the front. Having the front break away allows to “touch” the limit while sensing the grip reserve of the front directly through the steering mechanism. Understeer is self-solving. Oversteer makes itself stronger from moment to moment, and the car does not always even have the nessecary engine power and front grip avaible for recovering.

Oversteer

Oversteer is much more complex than understeer. It requires a quick correction. The seating position is crucial for sensing through the buttocks when the back of the car “steps-out” and feel the “pressure” on the front wheels through the steering wheel. Once oversteer is felt, it’s important not to do one of the following:

  • Slow down: If you roll onto the brake pedal you shift the weight of the car forward and off of the rear wheels, further reducing their grip. If you are not very skilled, this should not intimidate you from braking. Unless you had the right training (and one skidpad tution is not “the right training”) your best choice is to brake as hard as possible, which is different than simply “slowing down” by pressing on the pedal only partially.
  • Fight with the car: Trying to force the car back on-track by turning the wheel to the other way and back towards the right direction (“Countersteering”) is by itself not very effective, much like turning the wheel more when you get understeer. Actually, it’s even worst.
  • Look at the obstacle: You should keep your eyes aligned with the right direction, even if it means looking through the side window.

Oversteer correction requires the discipline to apply the throttle when the car begins to fishtail, so that you get a weight transfer to the back. The correction depends on the type of drive. In Front-wheel drive (FWD) cars, you apply throttole to accelerate the car forward (which “pulls” it ahead and back straight) while straightening the steering wheel. In Rear-wheel Drive or All-Wheel Drive, you keep just enough throttle to keep the car at a constant speed (constant throttle) while correcting with the steering wheel (countersteering).

Cornering

Cornering goes deeper than just the basic choice of cornering lines. It is the most complex and important part of the track, where all the skills and knowledge are brought to practice. We perform threshold braking before it, we use the right steering technique to turn into it, we use our understanding of tire grip to get the right response from the car to this steering input, rely on our seating position and on our left foot to keep us anchored in the seat through it, and look up to “put it all together”.

For now, let’s relate to three types of corners:

  • A Fast Curve: This is a very fast corner, taken with some throttle all throughout. The line is “classic” — the APEX is exactly in the middle of the turn.It requires a lot of smoothness and percision and no particular steering technique – just hold the wheel at 9 and 3 and turn. Once turned, the driver now controls the line he wants the car to take WITH THE THROTTLE. More throttle makes for a wider arch and less throttle — for a tighter one. If the driver get’s understeer, the solution is a slight reduction is acceleration, while for oversteer, the choice is instant acceleration with as little steering corrections as possible. Remember, at this speed the engine should not have to torque to overpower the wheels.
  • A moderate bend: Semi-fast. The normal corner at race-tracks. Require smoothness and accuracy. The driver brakes before the corner, turns-in late while trailing-off of the brakes, restorts balanced throttle towards the (late) APEX and than accelerates out. If understeer is experienced, the driver should ease off of the throttle while slightly straightening the steering and than back into the corner. If oversteer is experienced, react in one of two ways: a) FWD: Straighten steering and accelerate. b) Rear/all-wheel drive: Constant throttle and countersteer as nessecary.
  • A sharp corner: On the track, some hairpins are considered as such. The driver brakes and waits for a very late point to turn-in, at which point the driver should turn-in relativelly quickely towards a very-late APEX, all while trailing-off of the brakes. During understeer, the driver should ease off throttle (and maybe apply the brakes with feel) while straightening the wheel slightly, and than turn back into the corner. During oversteer, the driver should react in one of two ways: (a) FWD: Straighten steering and apply strong throttle to spin the front wheels back into line for a moment, and than keep slight throttle through the corner. (b) RWD/AWD: Constant throttle and countersteering.

Intentional rocking of the car

If you ever watched an oldschool rally competition on gravel, you probably saw drivers who seem to skid around corners and drive preety much sideways. Why? Are those drivers foolish? Are they mistaken? No. They are professionals, so let’s assume for granted that they know what they are doing. Remember, gravel (and mud and snow which are also experienced in rallying) reduce the amount of grip available and make the driver reach the limit earlier and in a slower speed.

The result is that trying to drive on the limit is quite hard: If you try to drive on the limit, you are likely to overdo it and slide straight on and out of the corner. However, if you INTENTIONALLY slide the car to begin with you actually get a more controlled response and you can look for the point of maximal performance from a state of sliding. The drivers actually slide the car to increase safety, not reduce it. Nevertheless, modern rally cars are more grippy, and allow to drive more percisely. It’s also important to mention that the slides are also used for entertainment and show-off: Even during intentional sliding of the car, there is a limit as to how much sliding is effective: The idea is to avoid having to countersteer against the car: Sliding the car just enough so that the driver can straighten the wheel and accelerate through.

Intentionally sliding of the car is done by rocking it and using the shockwave to the advantage of the driver. The most simple style of rocking the car is simply by turning the wheel somewhat more quickely. This type of action is sometimes nessecary in slow corners on the track, and even in some fast curves. It enables to get the weight transfered to the outside wheels and for the car to “take a set” earlier. On slippery surfaces, it might require more than that in order to get the nose of the car into the corner. How to do it? Simple. In order to get a stronger jerk into the corner, we first turn the wheel slightly away from the corner, and than back into the corner. So we turn the wheel right, which forces us to pull sharper to the right than if we would keep the wheel straight, making the steering movement stronger. This is known as an “Appel Contre-Appel” and it results in the weight being tossed from side to side. The second weight transfer is going to be 1.75% more potent. The car’s center of gravity moves in the first steering movement to one side, but in the next movement it goes all the way over through the middle and straight to the other side of the car, which forces it into a skid.

A third manner of sliding the car, is to use the handbrake. This is used in rallying for very slow and tight corners, and it’s actually far less widely used than believed: Each of the former manners of provocation are more than effective in turning the car a full 180 degrees and more. A lot of people like pulling on the handbrake, but many ameaturs don’t even get the car to slide. Why? Because the handbrake by itself is often not enough: First, the driver needs the right speed in the approach, too slow does not allow to skid, but too fast won’t get you through the corner.

The next stage is to create a provocation not only by pulling on the e-brake, but first by jerking the steering into the corner with the weight transferred to the front of car (slight pressure to the brake pedal), only than we can pull the handbrake. The exact moment is crucial: Remember than generating friction is harder than maintaining it. When we jerk the wheel into the corner and than keep the wheel turned into the corner, we create a side force which increases as we turn the wheel more. Once the maximal amount of steering input is reached, the side force keeps on increasing up to a certain “spike”, after which it drops slightly into a constant level untill you start to unfold the steering.

So, pulling on the handbrake should be done just once the side-force reaches a spike. You need to pull on the handbrake just after you have turned the wheel fully into the corner. With a stock handbrake, you need to press on the ratchet BEFORE pulling on the handbrake, and keep the button in. As the car slides, the driver reduces the steering input so that the steering is almost straight, and accelerate forward and through the corner.

Drifting

Drifting is the art of sliding a car constantly under control, and driving it sideways. While many racing drivers favor sliding the car to be fun, it was only in Japan of the 70’s where drifting became a sport, later to be standartized in international drifting championships. These set standards state that a car used for professional drifting be rear-wheel driven, powerfull, and equipped with a limited-slip differential. This setup allows to slide the car and keep the car sideways through a constant application of throttle through the corners. The drivers are then tested for speed (30 points), angle of sliding (30 points), line (30 points) and general impact (10 points).

It’s possible to perform sustained slides in all types of cars and make an enjoyable habit out of it, but for it to be professionally called DRIFTING it requires the above criteria as a basis. By it’s criteria of judgement, types of contests and style of car setup and driving, drifting reminds stunt driving. Any drift is divided into three stages: Initiation, sustaining and recovering. Initiating the drift is done by any of the car’s controls — it can be done by sharp steering, by braking, by lifting-off of the throttle quickely, by kicking the clutch, by steering from side to side to rock the car, by pulling on the handbrake, by shifting down quickely, by accelerating quickely, or even by using the track itself by cutting through the dirt or making the car hop over the curbs. With skill, the driver can get the car sideways without being too uprupt, getting the car to break away quite neutrally, a feeling of a light rear-end that feels as if it is “surfing” away progressively.

Once the car starts to oversteer, the driver applies opposite lock and keeps enough throttle (and that’s a lot of throttle) to keep the car driving sideways neutrally and keeps that way as long as possible, and in the most ridicelous angle relative to the direction of travel possible. He drives the car through corners (even though the drift itself is often started along the straight) while clipping certain points defined as an APEX or track-out, as sideways as possible and as close as possible to the edge of the track/wall. He uses lights, horn, lifts a hand through the window and other stuff to increase the impact. The drift continues as possible into the straight, but when the driver needs to recover he must reduce throttle while straightening the wheel to create a smooth recovery.

Practice sessions

Practicing is important. Many people believe in the saying of “practice makes perfect”. Well, if you practice bad habits, you get it perfectly wrong! Only perfect practice makes perfect. It’s therefore important that practice be perfect in several aspects: First, progressive. You need to build up skills in order, much like they appear in this guide. If you do not sit properly, your limit-handling skills will be compromised. If your vision is not trained to look in the right direction, your whole lapping tactic is going to be messed up. It’s important to understand and practice the skills in order. We begin from easy and basic things: Seating, steering, looking, body support, before moving to fast driving, controling weight transfers, controling a sliding car, and only than driving a car on the limit.

Progressiveness also refers to learning each and every element: It begins with theory (along with images and videos), moves unto practice through a simulator (when possible), than an instructor’s demonstration, followed by actual practice, with a driving trainer. The significance of training with a trainer cannot be overstated. It takes a third party, a professional third party, in order to find strong and weak points and provide feedback. But, it’s important to understand that driving is a long-term skill. To establish serious skill after your first tuition with a personal trainer, the single choice is one of the racing school courses that last 3-4 days. Some old schools (JimRussel, GET, Elf Winfield) would even hold tuitions that last a full week. It’s important to take such a long-tuition only after some basic skill worked on a day with a personal trainer. Going to a racing school with the basics wrapped up in your mind, helps a lot.

After such courses, self-training, with periodic tuitions with your personal trainer, can be very effective. Here’s a basic way for building up a practice session in getting a certain track figured out:

  • First, we begin by getting to know the track in theory: Videos, track turn-by-turn guides, a video lap with an instructor that you know in person, etc…
  • At the track, we begin by walking the track at least twice with your trainer. Marking the reference points, desired line and certain other notes. Than, get into the car and imagine driving the car, and than turning thought into motion by pretending to drive the car by moving the steering, pressing the pedals, imaginating sound, smell, senses and G-forces.
  • Than, drive the the car around the track in a slow round: Late apexing, no trail braking, progressive acceleration through corners, all with the instructor talking you around the track. At the end of that lap, the trainer should give you a feedback on your strong points and on weak points to improve. If required, make a few more slow laps with the instructor on each of the elements you need to improve: If you need to improve your braking, invest a whole lap or two just working just on your braking, and than on — say — the cornering line or whatever needs work. At the end, work around a lap combining all the skills you worked on in a fluid sequence.
  • While driving around the track, set two sets of corners around the track, which you will later focus on. Now, it’s time for the instructor to drive you around the track once or even twice, talking you around it and especially around the chosen corner sets. Now, it’s time for you to make about three laps (instructor as passenger) around those corner sets. Work JUST on those corner sets. After that session of three laps, the instructor is going to drive and demonstrate both corner sets: Slowlely and than quickely, showing you how it’s done. If required, you drive around for another session of two or three laps, focusing on those corner sets. If perfected, move for another pair of corner sets, and another pair of summary laps by the instructor.
  • Now, it’s time to get around the whole track. This is done by driving in a pair of cars, you alone in your car, increasing the RPM progressively from lap to lap, in sessions of 6-7 laps. In between sessions, theoretical explainations and demonstration laps are repeated. After your “solo” sessions have been brought up to an efficient level, it’s time to have two laps with the instructor riding alongside you. Than, a final summary lap for feedback and finally, a full-speed demonstration from the instructor.
  • The session be terminated with data collection: It’s important to log all mechanical details on changes of the track (weather, temperature, wind), car (tire temperature, tread wear, brake-pad wear, etc) and driver (personal state, lap times, track segment split-time, handling through corners) and disscuss strong and weak points, and set some “trails” on habits to be improved untill the next session with the trainer.
  • Upload information like a video, and the session logs, to an online professional board like the trackpedia forums, for some extra prespective.

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