Steering systems have improved over the years, in respect of weight and range of motion. Modern track cars require little input, and rarely involve any movement of the hands other than “fixed grip.” In prominent racing leagues, the wheel has developed into a “cut out” form that is suitable for a fixed manner of gripping and turning the wheel. Nevertheless, during auto crossing, rallying or when driving down a tight track hairpin or even on the public road, different steering styles can be used and adopting an effective style will improve the driver’s control.
Fixed Input Steering
The term “Fixed Input Steering” refers to holding the wheel with both hands and simply turning it to either side with the hands in their same position. This is the most basic manner of turning the wheel and it is the core and heart of the fixed input steering method. The ideal grip is at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock on the wheel. Contrary to the popular grip at the top of the wheel (12 o’clock) or the customary 10 and 2, or even the 8 to 4 grip – this position creates the widest possible leverage between one arm and the other as well as the largest base possible relative to the vector of gravity. Have another person try to rock the steering wheel when you hold it. You will find that it is easier to resist this pull when holding the wheel at 3 o’clock than in any other position. The rims are normally suited for this position so that the spokes of the wheel and the shape of the rim create a “socket” for the thumbs.
Also, by this position you can turn the wheel with “fixed input” to an overall amplitude of 260 degrees in each direction. For a modern steering rack this is an enormous amount of steering lock for getting around curves or sudden obstructions. The 10 and 2 grip, as it has been widely practiced, is originally a position that was used in older cars where the rims had a big diameter and the driving position was often less than desired. Under these conditions, the “quarter to 3 o’clock grip” would have normally resulted in the hands being extended too far to the sides, even wider than the shoulders. The grip of the wheel would become awkward and the leverage and amplitude would have been restricted by the driver’s body. A higher grip, on the other hand, allowed the driver to rest the weight of the arms over the rim and turn it with his upper body. Also, the wheels did not host an airbag that can nowadays injure the arms if placed too high, and the signals and wipers were extended upwards to match this kind of grip. When turning with the 10 and 2 method, both hands sort of “collapse” into bends and cannot support each other.
Place the palms so that they cup the outer diameter of the wheel, but slightly tilted downward so that the heel of the thumb is pressed against the face of the rim and the thumb can be lightly hooked inside the rim. The fingers should curl around the wheel and under the cross brace. The grip should be light, just tight enough to keep the wheel under control. This reduces fatigue and muscular tension, as well as reducing the stiffness of the forearms, allowing for greater feedback through the wheel. Your fingertips are your main sensory input, but that does not mean that your palms can’t help. The tightness of the grip changes according to the surface. It should be tightened on bumpy surfaces and it’s also recommended that you put the thumbs on the face of the rim in such conditions, since a serious obstacle could jerk the wheel and potentially break your thumb.
Fixed input steering is considered an efficient manner of steering for amplitudes of under 90 degrees (less than a quarter-turn of the wheel). It’s important to maintain the light grip even while turning the wheel. Instead of tensing the arms, relax them and let the elbows drop down. Fixed input steering is especially relevant for long curves or ones with an opening radius or numerous clipping points. In single-seaters (like Formula 1) fixed input is used exclusively.
For corners that require turning the wheel 90 degrees or more, it’s better to use a more complex manner of turning the wheel. The idea is to steer predictively. Instead of gripping the wheel at 3 o’clock and then starting to turn the wheel, we see the bend in front, asses how tight it is and how much steering is requires, and then replace our hands off-set on purpose so that, after turning into the corner, the hands “fall back” into the basic position of 3 o’clock, and maintain through the curve up to after the apex of the turn. Then replace the hands again and turn the wheel back to straight. Some drivers achieve this by relocating both hands against the turn, and then turning “back” to straight. Our method is a more refined manner of doing this by relocating only the hand in the direction of the turn, the right hand for a right-hander, left hand for a left-hander. The opposite palm remains stationary.
We relocate the “inside” hand against the direction of the turn, depending on how tight it is. For most cars, a tight hairpin can be negotiated within a turn of 130 degrees of the wheel (one-third of a turn of lock) and a typical right-hanger in the public can be negotiated in a reasonable speed with 180 degrees of turning the wheel. The end of the steering lock is achieved within 540 degrees (or 1.5 turns of the wheel). At our “turn-in” point, we begin to pull the wheel into the corner while letting the rim of the wheel slip controllably under the opposite palm. At the end of the turning motion, our hand should return to it’s position at either 9 and 3 accordingly, so that we are again at the basic position with the front wheels turned into the corner. We keep the hands in this position, in readiness to perform further corrections with fixed-input and as we reach the apex, we relocate the opposite hand to pull the wheel back to straight rather than allowing it to run back freely or turning it back with the opposite hand. We turn-in with one hand and track out with the other.
The advantages of this technique begins with the ability to turn the steering wheel very significantly in a single, smooth motion. Only in this way can the steering we turned securely (so it won’t run free from our hands) and just at the right pace; be smooth enough to prevent any jerking of the chassis and suspension, but decisive enough to allow the car to “set” over the outside suspension. The leverage with this technique is enough to turn the wheel a full turn of 360 degrees with a single hand motion, and return to the 9 and 3 position, which allows us to turn it a further 260 degrees in each direction. Successive hand motions can be used to turn the wheel rapidly to the end of the lock, or from lock to lock.
A secondary advantage is the ability to maintain the proper hand position for the longest time possible: before the turn, during the turn and coming out of the turn. Even during transitions, where one hand is relocated or is turning the wheel, the opposite hand remains in the correct positioning. It provides additional feel and a crucial “balance” to the other hand. If we were to turn the wheel one-handed, the weight of the steering hand would interfere with our attempts at achieving precise steering, by acting as a weight that would pull the wheel down, forcing us to use our upper body to cancel out it’s effect. By this way of turning, we ensure that we always have both hands on the wheel, and at least one hand that is gripping and guiding it. We are always in a position of readiness to cease the steering input, remove it, or even turn the wheel in the opposite direction.
A third advantage is that the pulling hand provides increased sensitivity relative to the pushing arm. Pulling the wheel is done by utilizing almost all of the muscles of the arm itself, notably the smaller muscles of the forearm, that operate the fingers. This provides good feel, smooth and precise turning and less effort in turning the wheel. Pushing the wheel is done with the upper body and big, strong muscles like the deltoids and cuff rotators, which provide little sensitivity and excessive effort for the task of steering. It is true that when pulling down, the wrist twists in a way that slightly impairs smooth steering, but in this technique the idea is to pull the wheel from across, rather than from the basic position and downward.
One last advantage is that this manner of turning is symmetrical. Within the outset of demanding driving on a rally stage, race or even a drive around a winding mountain road, the arms will face roughly identical loads and the turn-in and track-out phases will mirror each other out. It also means that the other advantages mentioned above will be maintained during the steering motion and the retracting motion. This method also allows us to turn the wheel one-handed, if required. This was crucial for rally drivers, which at the time, were also occupied with constant gear changes and an occasional use of the handbrake to turn the car.
- “A good steering style results in effective driving, a quick and precise response from the car to the steering input and less driver’s fatigue while driving. By acting upon the described style you will find out about a new world of easy driving and a disciplined car. Amongst other things, you will become aware of the fact that thus far you have turned the wheel too much and with excessive effort. I will now discuss how to turn the wheel effectively while performing significantly less hand movements. Afterwards, you will learn to apply more steering in less effort and time. During a demonstration in my race car to the public, one of the common responses was: ‘How come the car turns so much, with so little an input from the wheel?’..
- You will be wondered (and happy) to learn that with this technique, most corners are taken by a quarter to one half of a turn of the wheel, and in one hand movement. Till this day, you probably turned the wheel in a succession of little pushing and pulling movements and now, you simply will not know how you dared to drive else than the suggested technique. Ride and have fun. When parking and in U-turns, you will not believe how few hand movements are required to turn the wheel to a sufficient angle and how little time the maneuver consumes. No more long, endless, tiring toil in every parking maneuver! Piece of cake!” (Re’m Samuel)
A 90-Degree Pull
The pulling hand goes on top of the wheel (12 o’clock), pulls down to 9 or 3, while the other hand stays stationary. Sometimes it’s beneficial to remain in fixed-input for this amount of steering-lock and sometimes, when the corner is long, this technique is preferred. For the same reason, relocating both hands before the corner (“dual-movement steering”) is not recommended here. Using the dual-movement method here will only result in more effort and a difficulty in retracting the wheel.
A 180-Degree Pull
In older cars with a higher steering ratio, or in road cars, the pulling hand goes across the wheel, just over the other hand. This is not going to be a full 180 degrees, so you might want to hook the thumb of the pulling hand under the spoke of the wheel and pull with it, to reach a full 180 degrees of leverage. Now, stretch your arms to make sure your wrist stays firm as you make corrections with both arms. Now, take the other hand and do the exact same drill, in reverse. Pulling is done quite quickly, while pulling back is done gently.
A 270-Degree Pull
The pulling hand goes to 6 o’clock (bottom of the wheel). The idea is to hold your hand with the palm pointing up, hand upside down, gripping the rim firmly. It becomes comfortable with the right posture and once you get used to it. Now, pull all the way across the steering wheel, under the stationary hand (momentarily lift it) and back to 9 or 3. Pulling is done almost sharply turning in, and gently coming out. The stationary hand should not be abruptly lifted off of the wheel, it should simply let the steering and the pulling hand go just under it, so you are not really steering one handed.
Once you acquire the skill of it, this movement can be refined, so you first turn the wheel 90 degrees with both hands and then pull it the extra 180 degrees. This is good for when you need to make a succession of such movements, like when you need to reach the far right or left lock of the wheel, or even turn it from lock to lock. With skill and practice, it can become very quick.
A 360-Degrees Pull
The best method is simply to relocate the hand to pull the wheel a full 270 degrees, but keep pulling down towards the bottom of the wheel (6 o’clock). This reduces the sensitivity while turning and the amount of time in which the hands remain in the 9 to 3 position, but it maintains the prime goal of achieving maximum leverage in a minimum of hand motions.
In the event of successive cornering (like “esses”), this method can be used to pull the wheel in great movements to overlap the initial turn-in without retracting the wheel between rapid corners. You can, for an example, steer 180 degrees right and than pull 270 degrees to take a 90-degree left, and then relocate the right hand to 12 o’clock to take off the lock and back to 9 o’clock. This way, only three hand movements are used to steer the car through two successive corners, with the hands kept most of the time at the correct basic stature. In any other technique, this maneuver would require many more hand movements and would have be much less accurate.
It’s important to acknowledge the extremities of steering technique, or situations where the steering technique above should not be followed as religiously. For instance, what happens when you need to turn the wheel quickly and sharply? For most purposes, the recommended approach will do, but sometimes it’s just not quick enough. The accepted technique for this situation is hand-over-hand. Let’s use the example of turning right: You grip the wheel at 3 o’clock, push it across with the left arm a full 180 degrees, cross the opposite arm over and pull it to a full 360 degrees. Your hand falls back to 3 o’clock from where you can turn with “fixed input” to the far end of the rack. To quickly reach the opposite lock, you straighten the hands, perform two “hand-over-hand” cycles and cross your arms again.
There are, of course, other methods used to turn the wheel. These method are not recommended, because they usually involve successive and rapid motions (instead of one fluid motion), or use the brute strength muscles of the shoulder used when pushing the wheel along.
Hand-over-hand steering, the most intuitive manner of steering, but generally speaking, the least efficient one (with the exception of turning the wheel one-handed with the palm). This method can be quick if used in large enough steering motions, but is likely to make for steering that is less smooth and accurate than desired, split into too many hand movements and operated with excessive effort due to the use of upper body strength. There is also the possibility of the wheel breaking loose from the grip of the hands, or the hands getting entangled. Another kind of rotational style is taught by some advanced driving schools nowadays, as in BMW and Audi, and involves gripping the wheel at 3 o’clock, initiating a steering motion that begins as fixed input and is then followed by crossing the arms.
Another style that can be observed is where some people will perform this while gripping the wheel from the inside. This grip rotates the arm and limit the shoulder cuff-rotators so that the driver cannot turn the wheel further into the turn, or against it. It also causes the driver to bend the wrist and use upper body strength again. It can also result in fracture to the arm, should the rim be jerked by an obstruction on the road surface.
Hand to-Hand Steering
Another basic steering method that has been refined by some institutions into a technique that is conventionally known as “push pull.” This technique tends to be smoother and more secure, but less quick and quite awkward for large or quick inputs. It again splits the steering motion into smaller movements and relies in part on pushing the wheel from across.
When holding and turning the wheel with one hand, and the other hand not in contact with the wheel, we lose important advantages. The forces are loaded on the muscles of a single arm and shoulder, rather than dividing it equally between the two. We lose the balance that the opposite hand forms, so that the weight of the one arm (even when the wheel is held static) works as a weight that tries to turn the wheel in one way, a turn we have to resist to by the use of our upper body. We are also forced to use these brute strength muscles to push the wheel (if we grip the wheel with the right hand and have to turn right, for instance), especially in the custom grip where drivers hook their one hand inside the wheel at 6 o’clock.
Two-Handed Predictive Steering
Some drivers predict the bend ahead and relocate both hands instead of one. The advantage is the use of both hands simultaneously when turning into the corner, but there are many disadvantages to it as well. We either have to reposition both hands simultaneously and let go of the wheel, or one by one so that we don’t maintain the 3 o’clock position for as long as we need before the bend. The limitations of the leverage of both arms makes this technique efficient within a tight range (where it is more beneficial to turn the wheel with fixed-input to begin with), making it useless. Also, we move both hands offset, rather than have at least one in the right position.
Another problem arises when we need to retract the lock, or in successive turns, because we cannot relocate both arms again at the apex. We are forced to return the wheel to straight by “winding” it off to straight by shuffling the hands or by turning the wheel with both hands and then bringing them back to 3 o’clock. We either compromise the symmetry between the hands or the amount of time during which the hands are at the right position.
This is a steering method which involves moving the hand in the direction of the corner until it’s just above the other hand. Then, push with both hands like a “handlebar”, enabling about 220 degrees of rotation. The point of this technique is that pulling down creates a bend in the wrist, thus disabling smoothness and control. However, there are other ways to manage the wheel without twisting the wrist which do not include pushing. Pushing is an action based entirely on shoulder muscles, which have brute strength yet very little sensitivity. Also, this turning style does not enable much leverage, and therefore has a very limited use since it can’t be used for the smaller curves or tight hairpins. Once the wheel is turned, the ability to control understeer or oversteer is minimal.
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