Track Wisdom

 
  1. Read our Classic Motorsports article illustrating basic training tenets HERE: Basic Training.pdf

  2. Read our interpretation article HERE: Deciphering Data.pdf from Grassroots Motorsports!

  3. Here is an example of our short, abbreviated course notes for VIR. Hot Lap VIR Full 2015.pdf

  4. A shout out from Road & Track here: http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a30683/theres-a-trackday-instructor-shortage-a-brewin/

  5. Click HERE to read the first of a two-part interview of Peter Krause at AutoTrackDayMonthly.com HERE

  6. Click HERE to read the second of a two-part interview of Peter Krause HERE

Does (or Should) Hard Braking Upset the Car?

The only reason the car should be upset by heavy braking is IF that heavy braking occurs too LATE in the zone (where the release of the brakes should be prioritized), instead of trying to carry in TOO much speed at the end, which results in the "sphincter sensor" going crazy and the brake pressure spiking, as a result!

Too late braking can cause this, but usually it's because drivers don't brake correctly to begin with, applying brakes too slowly, modulating the brakes for no good reason and end up going too fast, too DEEP into the corner... THAT is what upsets the car in transition.

I've explained on a number of occasions that the braking event should be broken up into at LEAST four segments, each of which is important, can be measured and affects the next step in the process.

1) Fully accelerating to the brake point. If the brakes are aggressively actuated while the car "floating" under gentle, coasting deceleration or ambiguous throttle, then the pitch forward transition is not clean. It's always better to TELL the car what to do than ASK it what to do, but you need to be in conversation first with it...

2) Brake pressure application speed and amplitude upon initiation. Unless the car is subject to significant lateral loadings INTO the brake zone, the brake pressure should rise quickly and peak on initial application. The best drivers go from beginning the application of brakes to peak pressure in .22-.30 seconds, if the platform is good, the alignment is correct, the track surface is normal and the brakes are working correctly. Now, the "squeezing" application happens, but in the blink of an eye, slow at first then quicker to maximum. Envision the altitude of a jet taking off then climbing straight up. THAT is the strip chart (pressure versus time) shape of the development of the pressure on the pedal, only slowed WAY down.

3) Consistent pressure throughout the longer braking zones. Once the significant inertia of the rotating mass (wheels, tires, rotors, hubs and axles) is overcome, the brake pressure can ebb somewhat. But the key is to create a uniform, repeatable and consistent retardation rate (slowing) so you can KNOW where you will be able to trail off, hopefully close to or just past steering wheel input, depending on the corner.

4) Brake release coinciding with the End-of-Braking point. Instead of trying to "fix" a start point for applying the brakes, determine where you want to be letting off and beginning to transition to cornering load and your ultimate priority, throttle application. Do this by establishing the brake zone that is consistent in it's deceleration rate, then moving the end of that zone incrementally in. Then, NO panic results.  Brake release is king, because WHERE and HOW QUICKLY you do it often establishes the creation of a desired yaw angle, better known as "rotation," where the rear slip angle is slightly more than the front slip angle and the CAR does more of the work turning instead of the loose nut behind the wheel working the wheel! But, of course, this deal is only closed with the application of throttle...

So, the purpose of braking is to shed the required speed from vMax from the previous straight (or acceleration phase) to the speed required to negotiate the beginning (and hopefully, the entire radius) of the next corner in the least possible distance and time, in the most uniform deceleration rate.

This is most evidenced by longitudinal g measures, or how hard your body is pressing forward on the shoulder harnesses! Lots of things can get in the way, but if your blips are causing your pressure to ebb, the car is going to take longer to slow down... Also, if you are trying to "carry speed" into the corner by moderating your pressure (soft braking), there is no reliable and consistent way to do that and STILL use the available traction within the friction circle, which is the measure of how WELL you use the tire.

I find that braking is the most "variable" skill between good and great drivers. We often brake as hard as we need to (and variate the pressure accordingly) to "fit" the braking zone to what WE think it ought to be, rather than what the car is CAPABLE of. Good lessons to be learned here, but let's get the subjective variability out of the discussion, measure what you're really doing, and fix it by the BEST execution of FUNDAMENTAL skills...

The Friction Circle, And Why it is SO Important

There are many measures that define how and how well a track day driver is using the capability of their car, but few that combine several individual, important measures into one, powerful and easy to visualize graphical display AND a REAL number! 

The Friction Circle was engineer Mark Donohue's enduring concept of how best to show the forces acting on the car in the two axis (vector forces) that we, as track day drivers and club racers, are SO obsessed with. Lateral (cornering, or side-to-side) and longitudinal (in line, or acceleration and braking) forces are not only determined by how quickly we decide to go through a long, steady state corner or how hard we stand on the gas or brake pedal, but are ultimately defined (read: limited) by the total amount of grip generated by the tire contact patch. This concept is often conveyed by the experienced, wise instructors at Skip Barber, Bob Bondurant and Bertil Roos' schools, among others, as the idea that, in your 3000 lb high performance street car, "the only connection you have with the earth" is through four tire contact patches, each not much larger than two normal size palm prints tightly together. Put in that perspective, the importance of this concept is heightened!

The Friction Circle is a graphical representation of forces that act on a moving vehicle. Picture a pair of fuzzy dice or an event lanyard hanging from the rear view mirror in your car on the street. When you accelerate, the dice move straight back. When you brake, the dice move straight forward. Turn right, and the dice move left. Turn left, and the dice move right. Easy, right? The harder you actuate each pedal, the more distance from the center, static position the dice move. If there was a pen drawing the position of the dice on the piece of paper, you would, after a few laps around the block making sure to turn left, right and fully accelerate and brake, have drawn a basic friction circle.

The reasons why the friction circle is SO important to the track day driver are two-fold. 

The first is because this is one of the few measures that does not require a plethora (or even any) sensors other than a basic two-axis accelerometer. The Traqmate Basic, VBOX Sport or an AiM Solo, even an iPhone with Harry's Lap Timer, are ALL capable, without ANY connection to the car other than being securely mounted, can collect this crucial information and display it so drivers can make intelligent decisions about where there is opportunity left, and where they dare not tread! This can be represented not as just a simple Lateral G or Longitudinal G measure, but a COMBINED G (or GSum) measure that is a REAL number that shows, down to decimal places and in fine resolution, EXACTLY what is going on and how hard those tires are being "worked."

The second is because it is one of the best, simplest ways to identify VERY targeted opportunities for improvement for the track day driver. The reason for this is because the greatest performance differential between novice, intermediate, advanced and professionally practiced drivers is their ability to FULLY exploit the Friction Circle. How do you do this and what are you looking for, you ask?

Any driver can, with practice, think and execute relatively easily and with increasing confidence and capabilities, basic fore-aft axis control inputs. Going to power, FULL power. Crisply, cleanly and without equivocation. Then, as they get more comfortable and especially in a straight line, they get better (and sometimes a little too good) at pushing down the brake pedal, HARD! As they get more comfortable and confident with the car's ability to go and stop, then they can shift their focus to sustained cornering force, basically a result of following a particular radius around a corner with progressively more and more speed. Most drivers can sustain near one G (one hundred percent of their weight, forced laterally and in the opposite direction that they are turning), but this is the easy part. "What," you say? "I thought THAT was the exercise?" No... The hard part is what's NEXT...

The tire's (and to a lesser extent, the car's) ultimate performance capability is easily measured when simple skill executions are mastered. It's not uncommon and a measured fact that in a car with a properly functioning brake system, that the car should develop 90-95% deceleration G force on a flat, level surface than the maximum measured, sustained cornering G. Most track day drivers come nowhere close to that benchmark. If you, as a track day driver, are unable to develop at least 90% of the maximum sustained cornering G's when braking in a straight line over a long distance (more than 250-350 feet), than BRAKING is what you should focus on. Quick application, high initial pressure and deceleration, trailing off gently throughout the braking zone.

We've already talked about the fact that most accomplished track day drivers can attain high lateral (cornering) G numbers, but the area that IS the exercise (and the ultimate challenge) is the TRANSITION between the end of braking g's and the assumption of maximum cornering. The Friction Circle shows an unalloyed representation of how well drivers "blend" these forces together, with the sole goal of keeping the "ball" indicating the forces acting on the car in the Friction Circle as FAR out from the center as possible. SO often, and especially among the novice and intermediate track day driver, does the the "ball" spike correctly under braking, but ebb TOO fast (brake pressure released because they KNOW they braked too soon), then spike a little again (as they realize they're not QUITE going slow enough to get the car to begin to turn) and then ebb  more before heading out sideways as the cornering G's come up.

The BEST drivers "walk" the ball around the circumference of the available grip of the tire, as evidenced by the concentric "rings" of the friction circle. They brake quickly, hard and even throughout the braking zone, often maintaining brake pressure to keep weight on the nose of the car PAST turn in. Not necessarily to "rotate" the car, but to insure that it begins to turn at the proper rate. As the car begins to turn and assume lateral loading, the progression to acceleration, hopefully ahead of the slowing resistance of the "scrub" of the turning front tires so the car doesn't slow further after brake release, begins to occur. Then, maximum cornering occurs under acceleration as the radius widens at exit, until finally, the "ball" moves into the forward thrust field of the friction circle and comes back to center as the car get straight.

A fascinating question and the crux of how fast drivers go faster!

A Response to a Forum Post About How to Go Faster, With a Coach

Originally Posted by MSR Racer:

“These videos illustrates the need for professional coaching from the get go even for club racing, if you want to go fast.The usual kerbside driving advice you get from most DE level instructors is to "get on gas early" or "slow in, fast out"!! Obviously it is not quite as simple as that!!!”

The thing that continually strikes me is how far UNDER the performance level (that the car is capable of) most club level drivers are content with. Operating alone, or without objective measure, they continue this cycle, over and over again, thinking somehow that the results are going to be magically better. What is the definition of that?

Sure, most drivers can execute a few fundamental skills well enough to come close to using the measured, proven and objective capacity of the car (and tires), particularly in straight line braking and in the middle of the corner, but frankly, it's SHOCKING how much time and distance is covered at less than optimal levels. Going in, mostly. But also, coming out...

The reason why Spence, Bryan, Andrew, Leh, Cory, Pat, Sean (RIP) and very good club racers like Yonker, Oxner, DiPietro, Wilzoch, Brown, Gomez, Ron, Chris, Spencer and Seb (among others and just to name a few) go so quickly is because they are USING proportionately more of the car's capability over the given distance. They're also smart and study in painstaking detail the challenge they face.

Some of this deficit, a large part of it as a matter of fact, can be rectified by studying to acquire course knowledge SO detailed that there is NO question in the mind of the driver what to do, how much to do it and, most importantly, WHERE to do it in relation to the car's attitude at ANY GIVEN POINT on the circuit.

THIS is why I spend a lot of time putting together twenty-plus page course guides with landmarks for every turn-in, apex and track-out at track-level, eye-level and above, as well as working one-on-one with drivers in the sim doing "virtual" track walks BEFORE events. If folks can hit the track already KNOWING where they want to go and WHAT they want to do when they get there, they can win...

The result is the elimination of conscious and unconscious reticence in the decision-making process (required to execute the three control inputs, gas, brake and steering), hence NO WASTED TIME.

It was fun at the SVRA event under 901 Shop's tent this past week. Five Argentinians, with no experience driving Porsches and driving in North America for the first time (at Sebring, this "iconic" circuit, no less) kicked ass and took names, all of them standing on the podium and two, led by former SuperTurismo Champion Pablo Peon, WINNING the forty-car Vintage Enduro. Yes, you CAN learn how to go quick but not without serious capture of what you're doing in the car, a LOT of specific and highly detailed knowledge and a little bit of hustling the car!

A lap time is merely the accumulated result of tens, hundreds, even thousands of decisions every driver makes over a lap, especially at a complicated, long and busy circuit like Sebring. Armed with better information, drivers can make better (and quicker) decisions, resulting in lower lap times with less risk.

Seems simple to me.

A better explanation of our coaching methodology...

I work one-on-one and it's fairly intense, but fun!


I can see how having a pro benchmark your performance and identify opportunities for improvement may have been helpful to you, particularly as you entered the sport and progressed through the intermediate phase of your participation.


When I work with clients, I bring one and sometimes two (additional) data and video systems to install in the car, then would use the combination of your system, my Video VBox and AiM Solo DL/SmartyCam HD to isolate your best performance and see if we can get you to do that more consistently and all around the racetrack.


I have found that for the general level of driver I am working with and the depth of the analysis we seek, my system of specific, targeted improvement each session, then sending the client out and reviewing data and video immediately afterwards works best.


My experience working with thousands of drivers, and several professionals, including a former World Champion, allows me to share with you tremendous insight into the motivations, techniques and how the car attitude comes to be, at particular places on the track. Most importantly, how to “think fast” and understand how to function at a high level most frequently.


Instead of working with a comparative measure between you and another good (but ultimately variable) driver, I am seeking first to evaluate areas of potential improvement compared to an optimal practice, execution and methodology of fundamental skills, then decide on a very specific plan to improve the "lowest hanging fruit", then have you go out with only that goal in mind and then measure the improvement! (or not <grin>)


My time with drivers is often helping fill in knowledge and perception deficits that allow them to become more confident in planning and executing quick, optimal driving. 


Some of this has to do with local knowledge (the hundreds of individual landmarks low, medium, high, on and off the racetrack alone at Sebring, and at all other tracks) and some of this has to do with optimizing fundamental technique (transitions in direction, transitions between acceleration and braking and vice versa, judging corner entry speed and using specific, targeted exercises to learn where the optimal use of the tire contact patch is), but between those two, we can do a lot!


I believe this is a learned skill. I believe smart people can driver very quickly and I believe that when drivers work with me they are able to move themselves forward with my help and continue on their own for some time with that improvement, based on the tremendous variety of input I can provide.


Thanks, Peter

“Tenths,” and their appropriate use on the track...


When I describe "tenths,” or the system of assigning a relative speed, level of concentration or demonstration of car physics on-track to someone, it usually follows these definitions.


3/10 is driving on a flat, straight and level road with no distractions.


4/10 is driving on a gently curving Interstate with low traffic density at a higher rate of speed than at 3/10.


5/10 is driving quickly, but efficiently and at the speed limit on the street, more concentration required due to more "hazards" present.


6/10 is a standard DE lap or an out lap early on in a race weekend, for me. The purpose may be to re-familiarize myself with the race track, enjoy a relaxed lap or just "cruise" around and, in particular, designed to take NOTHING out of the car. This is also the level of driving quickly on the Interstate with a fair bit of traffic at higher speeds.


7/10 is a more aggressive DE level, designed to begin to "move the car around" and just a little more taxing on the car. Also, 7/10 can be an out lap later on in a race weekend, usually the result of greater confidence and familiarity. Relatively wide variation in lap time depending on traffic and concentration.


8/10 is an easily sustained level, requiring high levels of concentration, generally attained after the first few laps of a race or enduro when the dust settles and you slide into driving quickly and accurately, but are not locked in a battle that is external to you and your car. The car is sliding, but only at the beginning or the end of a corner and not at all corners and not on all laps. Generally laps are within .8-1.5 seconds apart and relatively consistent. This is the level I am most comfortable taking people around the track. Plenty of "headroom" and margin for error or changeable track conditions.


9/10 is driving pretty hard, but is sustainable, repeatable and the driver is still relatively accurate in their placement of the car. The car is now sliding much of the time, the driver is focused on catching someone or staying ahead of someone but is maintaining control and discipline of their own mind and of the car. At this point, the driver is using most of the width of the road, but not much curbing, and is focusing on drawing large arcs with the path of the car. The rhythm is such that the lap times are generally within .2 -.8 seconds apart, barring traffic or mistakes. This is my limit for one or two "hot laps" with someone riding with me.


9.5/10 is driving hard. More sliding, slightly quicker laps still than at 9/10. Less margin for error, a lot more work being done by the car. The driver is now "guiding" the car on a path selected well in advance. The car is sliding from turn-in, through the apex and is using the entire width of the paved track, plus the inside curbs. Cannot generally be sustained for more than five or six laps. I would not drive a car at this level with a passenger in it...


10/10 is when the skill level of a substantially experienced and supremely confident driver meets the competence level of the car nearly perfectly. The car is sliding nearly the entire lap. Slip angles of 7-12 degrees (DOT radials, less on radial slicks) are sustained through the entire length of most of the corners. The entire width of the road, plus the inside and outside (if available) curbing or pavement extensions are used, every corner, every lap. The previous lap is at 9 or 9.5/10 so that the "hot" lap is started at the greatest possible speed and with the highest possible concentration.


Typically, I drive 10/10's for one or two qualifying laps and my first few laps of the race to build a "gap" to the rest of the competition. I also drive 10/10's to experiment with changes made to the car or to evaluate tires in practice, not to mention putting in a "flyer" to achieve the psychological advantage of being on or near the top of the time sheet <grin>.


I may not drive 10/10’s more than a few laps during the weekend, but I pick and choose the time to do it. I feel like the car and I are balanced on a tightrope and I am constantly making tiny little corrections to adjust it's trajectory, with each correction making a difference... I'm not sure this level can be sustained more than two or three laps at a time. In order to be successful at the highest level of most organized competition, you must be able to drive at this level.


11/10's is when your talent runs out! <very big grin>




A Few Thoughts on Cornering 101...


This was in answer to a bulletin board post where someone had posited that the engine location/drive wheel layout influenced how a corner might be taken and whether cornering technique and approach should be influenced by the layout in the car.


“The expressions "slow entry, fast exit" and "fast entry, slow exit" refer to the type of corner complex you are attempting to negotiate, regardless of the layout of the car. Examples of a "slow entry, fast exit" corner, which is WAY more important to master than a "fast entry, slow exit" corner are Summit Point T1, Savannah T4, Sebring T4 and T10, Road Atlanta T7, VIR T1, T4 and T12 (Oak Tree), Mid-Ohio T4 and T14 (Keyhole and Carousel) as well as T8 (bottom of Madness), Watkins Glen T9 and Laguna Seca T11.


Examples of a "fast entry, slow exit" that would be appropriate would be "throwaway" corners where the goal of increasing exit speed, at all costs, is mitigated by the fact that you must slow so soon after exit that there is no benefit to "slow entry, fast exit" and you are merely trying to maintain the greatest speed for the longest time in the broad range of the corner. Examples of a "fast entry, slow exit" are Lime Rock T1-T2 (Big Bend), Summit Point T5, BeaveRun T2-T3, Savannah T5A-T5B. "Fast entry, slow exit" is really the antithesis of the proper racing driver, as the goal is always to slow as little as you can, to maintain "fast entry, fast exit" above ALL else. <grin>


In analyzing each of the three configurations (front engine/rear drive; mid-engine/rear drive and rear engine/rear drive) you've cited, and with the goal only of "slow entry, fast exit" or "fast entry, fast exit", the key is to utilize the centrally mounted center of gravity of the mid-engined car to your best advantage by inducing rotation to get the car turned as quickly as possible.


The mid-engine Ferrari F430 may need to be "overslowed" more than the other two to initiate decisive and effective "turn-in", but should enable the competent driver to use more throttle, applied sooner than the others, due to the better traction of the mid-engine positioning, resulting in greater exit speed.


The rear engine 911 will brake better and more efficiently because of the way that the weight distribution significantly and substantially changes, but the light front end will require more driver machinations to get the front to hook up, such as more aggressive trail-braking (or "brake-turning") thus delaying that all-important throttle application.


The front engine, rear drive Corvette, specifically the current Z-06, is one of the most neutral, progressive cars I've ever driven and will brake well, turn-in well and allow modulated throttle to be fed as quickly as the steering lock is taken off!


In analyzing the data from the 997 GT3, the F430 and the C6 Z-06, there is not much difference in the braking distances, corner entry or exit speeds between similarly street-tire equipped cars, but the way each of them do it is night and day.”




Preserving Speed Through the Corner is the Gospel


Dale asked; "When I can see through the turn, i.e., a late apex, I'd get off the brakes and pitch the car in towards the apex. Is this the correct thinking?”


Too late. That "when" takes time. Time that you're not on the brakes and not fully on the gas (most drivers aren't even on the gas from end of braking to nearly on top of the apex, even though they think they are), therefore there is a period of time between maximum braking and turn-in and a period of time between turn-in and seeing through the turn ("whacking" open the throttle, in your parlance).


To drive above 8/10 or 8.5/10 safely and consistently, you must be able to position the car and "see" through the turn BEFORE YOU GET THERE. You must be so intimately familiar with the topography (radius, surface changes, camber gain and loss, inner and outer pavement extensions and curbing) of a particular turn or complex of turns that you know what is going to happen before you even get there.


The major difference between people who do this for fun and people who do it for a living (not mutually exclusive, I've found <grin>) is the successful management of the transition between the end of major braking and turn-in/throttle application. The truly quick are those who can "slow down," in their mind, all of the force vectors acting on the car and feel intimately, through their fingers and their butt, the ability of the tire contact patch (the ONLY connection with Mother Earth!) to counteract the desire of the car to fly off the road! <very big grin>


The reason I say you (and most) are too late is that developing this "visualization," or plan of attack before you get to the corner, promoted by Bertil Roos, Ross Bentley, Skippy and other fine schools and coached, is extremely important. To minimize the "down time" between all control inputs, you must almost have an "out of body" or "looking down from above" vision of what you're doing before you do it and reach the level of confidence required to have no null or to drive the car at the edge of the famed "friction circle." This is the reason why we can (and should) practice as often as we can to develop this set of skills.


When you ask: "In other words, are you transitioning between going 11/10ths on the front and rear tires?" Yes, and that is the hallmark of all pro and really quick amateur drivers. That is what I strive for, in whatever I drive, more from corner entry-to-apex and mid-corner than anywhere else in (including the exit of) the corner! If you can fully apply the throttle nearly anywhere in the corner while you have (or need to have) steering lock (input) on, you're probably overslowing and/or you are not at the limit of the car and the tires. It is a fact that nearly every car on any track can be driven quicker by someone else. It's all in your head... It's an intellectual exercise, not a bravery test.


You ask: "If so, do you normally take an earlier apex line?" Ding, ding, ding! We've got a winner!


The whole idea is that as we learn, we take the safest route, brake in a straight line, drive deep, turn a lot, apex late and unwind the wheel as we apply power. For years and years, I was the slave to the "DE" (drivers education) line. I'd haul down the straights and do exactly what you did, slam on the brakes, paste myself against the belts and rob my passenger of his breath as the harnesses squeezed the air out of him, go deep, slow more than I thought I had to to retain control, turn in more than I thought I had to get the turning DONE and "whack the throttle" as soon as I saw my way out of the corner. It was fine, fun and kept me and my charge on the black stuff. As in most learning situations, I had reached a plateau by driving harder but not really doing anything except wailing on the car and exhausting myself.


One day, I was teaching the classroom part of a professional school and a friend of mine (who had been on the front row at the RunOffs several times in a GT car) asked if he could ride with me. We went out and I did what I always did. He was aghast! He couldn't keep his mouth shut after the first lap. He started saying "brake HERE," "turn HERE", "gas HERE" and when I protested, he told me to "shut up and drive!" Hah! He said, "as good a report as we get out of the classroom of what you're telling people, you should at least be able to DO it!" Steadily, he brought my turn-in points further and further back, so that I was turning the wheel less and less to draw as large an arc through the corner as possible.


He also MADE me concentrate more on getting OFF the brakes than getting on them. He also told me "you've got the car control skills, if it steps out, FIX it!" and, as my confidence grew, everything started getting eerily calm in the car. All of a sudden, I found myself turning way earlier than I had been. I was eating cars up right and left, my brakes were not degrading, the tires were singing (a squealing tire is a happy tire!), my throttle and steering applications were decisive, measured and aggressive, but calm. I learned more in that cold winter day sixteen years ago than I had before or have since.


In short, I learned to trust myself. I learned that it is most important to make the car do the work, without taking too much out of the car. I learned that the WAY YOU ASK THE CAR to do something allows you to transcend that "edge" and teeter in that netherworld of 11/10's without too much drama while still retaining a reasonable chance of not bringing back the car a smoking heap of rubble.


While the old cars definitely suffer slip-angles that would invite certain disaster in a modern car, all of the really quick guys are 'balancing" the car on the brakes, on the throttle and with the steering wheel every moment of every bend in the road. They are "drifting," because they are preserving speed or gaining speed. They are not "sliding" because that infers losing speed. As most modern performance tires and even racing tires function best at 5-12 degrees of slip angle, the answer to your question is that the quickest drivers are seeking to go beyond the "planted" approach we are all most comfortable with. That's what's so fun about this sport. The more you practice, the better you get! Good luck.




The Importance of Braking Properly


I define "brake modulation" as constantly altering the brake pedal pressure in order to reach the point of incipient (or "just about") front-wheel lock-up. Proper brake modulation is required in order to execute "threshold" braking. As in cornering, the most efficient use of the tire under braking is when it is rotating several percentage points less than the actual rolling rpm, unencumbered. "Slip angle" under braking, if you will! Brake modulation is only useful in executing the rate of attack (over time) at the beginning of the braking zone and for altering the amount of pedal pressure as the car slows (it will take less pressure to slow the car as the car itself slows) to keep the car, and more importantly, the tire, at the threshold of lock-up. That is NOT the important part, even though we are all taught that the brakes are the most underutilized capability in a modern car...


Jim Myers, my coach, forced me to move away from being seduced by by the sensation of doing something special by "slamming" on the brakes. He refocused my attention towards "squeezing" ON the brakes earlier and, more importantly, focused me on where and how soon I could get OFF the brakes. This reduced my natural tendency to over-brake for the corner and allowed me to become comfortable introducing the slight instability required in order to begin the rotation of the car. This leads to the next phase, how to integrate the end of braking into helping the car to begin turning into the corner.


Jon Kofod observed the competitive advantage that Bill Auberlen has by his mastery of this technique when he says: "Every time he would brake a little bit deeper (maybe a product of some Skip Barber training ??) and each time I thought "this is it, he's going to lock up and go off," he never did and (he) made up time on cars that were much faster down the straight." Any yahoo can apply full throttle down the straight or even when he (or she) is exiting the corner, but it takes a real artist (and a lot of practice) to "meld" together the sensitive transition between the end of threshold braking, the inducement of rotation and then the instant, almost imperceptible (from outside the car) "balancing" by careful use the throttle and the steering to stem the increase in the rate of yaw caused by beginning that rotation! Gets me excited just thinking about it!


He hits the nail on the head when he says: "You feel at this point that you are about to "lose it" as you carry a lot more speed into the corner but when done properly this trail braking action will actually start to rotate the car as you are cornering, helping you to complete the corner and carry a lot more speed out of it." Why? Because, as he says, "the idea being you can carry more speed INTO and THROUGHOUT the turning process." (caps mine)


Now, these are advanced techniques that can serve up a great deal more risk than pleasure, but it's a worthy goal for all trackheads (and required for success in most any form of racing) to aspire. Besides, if approached in a stepped, progressive way, the risk can be minimized.


Fuse speaks of his epiphany by saying "after I trusted what I was doing with the new perspective, the varying line options became visible to me," which is exactly why this is such a confidence game. The more practice he got and the more he analyzed his technique, (why his Daly instructor was trying to steer him away from his preoccupation with the "line") the more he could instead focus on "feeling" the car and "stringing together" the portions of the corner, aided by the factual data provided by the DAQ. The tangible benefit of this epiphany is what I spend my entire time at the track with my customers doing, to get them, as Fuse says "to start to understand how top drivers were able to make the passes on me where I didn't feel that the car could hold the line he had taken to pass."


It's NOT magic! <grin>


I spend a lot of time studying the tracks we attend, so much so that it's a running joke among people who know me to suggest "now, WHICH blade of grass marks turn-in for Turn 1?" I can do this for many tracks, including Lime Rock, the Glen, Summit Point, BeaveRun, VIR, Kershaw, Roebling, Charlotte (oops, Lowe's) Motor Speedway, Rockingham, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, some European tracks like Monza, Mugello and now both circuits at New Jersey Motorsports Park.


You cannot learn or know enough. Fuse is right on target when he says: "I still feel that braking and truly knowing the tracks in detail (meaning walking the track remembering the traction differences, surface changes, subtle changes in radius, elevation changes, banking or off camber corners and visual references) makes the most impact on my lap times."


You just have to realize that it's letting OFF the brakes that is the most important part of braking!




See Everything, Focus on Nothing


While throttle control is a useful tool to have in a driver's back pocket (throttle steer = planning, TTO = reacting), vision and the subject of eye movement has been, IMO, the biggest and best addition to most driver training and coaching curricula. Pioneered by Bertil Roos and enhanced by Russell, Barber, et al (in particular, Ross Bentley's excellent series of books), developing an "ocular motion" technique has gained traction as a key ingredient to a driver's success.


In school, we constantly stress, "see everything, focus on nothing," primarily in an effort to keep the driver's eyes moving. Some of the introductory classroom sessions deal with just that, the idea of developing a "scan" pattern that you can repetitiously follow to develop good vision habits. After developing this habit, driver's can then begin to filter out what is and isn't important out of the data gathered in the scan so as to retain some "headroom" in their processing capacity.


Moving their eyes laterally, "left mirror, off left front fender, over hood, rear view mirror, off right front fender, right side mirror" and back to the left mirror again, is the basic drill. This allows folks to begin looking "outside" the car without losing track of where the corners of the car are, very important to position the car properly even if just to hit your marks. Then, we concentrate on "up-down" movement, similar to Hurley Haywood’s reminder sticker. The idea being to look as far down the road as possible.


It is a physiological fact that when under stress, and low-time (or less experienced than when track-driving becomes second nature) track participants ARE under stress, the human body undergoes a reaction to that stress by succumbing to the primordial "fight or flight" adrenaline rush. When that occurs, the vision automatically narrows to a contact patch about 2' x 4' about 50 feet in front of the car, no matter how quick you are going! <grin> The key is to adopt exercises and a skill set to overcome this normal and deeply ingrained reaction. I don't care if you have two years at Le Mans, if you feel in danger, your field of vision will dangerously narrow! I think of how often mine has when headed three-abreast into T1 at Atlanta or the Inner Loop at the Glen, with FRIENDS! <very big grin>


As a student of Brian Redman, he would use his personal experience to help us remember what was important. For vision, he used picking up crowd behavior to warn him of hazards ahead. At Spa one year, he caught out of the corner of his eye (this at 160 mph in a 917!) umbrellas being raised in a grandstand some way around a slower corner coming up ahead. This alerted him of the precipitation ahead and saved him, his car and possibly serious injury.


Redman would relate the importance of vision, not only as a self-preservation tool, but as an indicator of "excess processing capacity" and a desirable gauge of how in control of a situation the driver was. As drivers gain experience, they become more relaxed, and part of that relaxation allows more and better use of your eyes to keep tabs on flag conditions, track surface conditions and other traffic. Proper vision inestimably aids a driver’s planning, and being able to successfully plan and execute is what makes a good driver into a great one.




Hand Speed and Amplitude of Input on the Steering Wheel


I had a delightful time working with a few clients who are quite experienced and have done a LOT of Driver Education events over the past few years. This is not unusual, but the discussion that ensued when I asked why they had observed “you’re teaching us so many different things” was!


One of the drivers noted that no instructor in the past twenty-five events had ever asked him to improve, develop or otherwise pay attention to his “hand speed,” or the rate at which he moved the steering wheel at initial turn-in. I was surprised, as part of what this client had asked of me was to “move him forward” through his performance plateau. Part of his difficulty was that he was trying his hardest to drive quickly and decisively, yet his quest for “smoothness” was getting in the way.


He constantly turned in slowly, both with his initial movement of the wheel and subsequent “gauge” of how MUCH he had to turn the wheel to cause the car to follow his desired arc.


The first task I charged him with was to decisively turn the wheel at a particular point. I demonstrated that it was possible to turn the wheel more quickly without “jerking” the car or unpsetting the weight transfer.


The second task I charged him with was to turn the wheel MORE that he thought he should initially, then “bleed off” the amplitude of the input to more closely guide the arc trajectory rather than to continually add steering input after the initial motion. I told him that the self-evaluation guide that I recommended he use was that if he had to add steering input after initial input, than he either turned too soon or turned the wheel too little at corner entry!


It was a learning experience for him and left him with a lot to think about AND practice. By the end of the day, he was beginning to integrate this new way of thinking, this new approach. After looking at the data, he was chuffed to know that he had achieved his personal best. He KNEW THEN that it worked!


His feedback included the sentence, “I learned more today than I could have in a YEAR of driver’s education events!” That was good enough for me. I knew then that he had “gotten it,” and had been able to learn yet another tool to improve his driving that would serve him well, even after our sessions together.




Race Start Methodology, Rolling Starts


The start of any race is designed to afford each and every driver the most equal opportunity to do well and gain a competitive advantage at the display of the green flag. That means the field should ideally be tightly packed, front-to-back and side-to-side and under "starter's orders" from the time the pace car leaves the circuit to the display of the flag by the starter.


In most organizations in the US, the decision to start the race is one of the few that is not directed by race control or the Chief Steward, but instead relies completely on the judgement of the Starter. If for any reason the Starter doesn't believe the field is in proper order or tightly packed, he can choose to "wave off" or not display the flag to make the field come around again, the penalty being one less lap of race duration, the wave-off lap counting against the total race distance.


Only in Pro Racing or SCCA do there seem to be any regular wave-offs and in most vintage events, the starter avoids wave-offs to avoid the type of pile-up that marred the Brian Redman Invitational Challenge at Road America a few years ago with the big V-8 group. We still teach wave-offs in Skippy, most all of the Club and amateur racing schools because it's part of accepted procedures that people need to know.


Most serious groups employ the use of "start judges" to ensure that the field is tightly packed and that no one "peaks out" of line or jumps the start, in which case the judge will report to the Steward and the Steward will make the decision to black flag the transgressor or penalize them after the race. SVRA is particularly good at this. I often watch the starts with the Competition Chair, Carl Jensen, and we have fun comparing notes on folks!  The most opportunistic starters are generally the ex-pro racers like Bobby Brown, Bobby Rahal and current pros like J.R. Hildebrandt and Ian Baas. I remember Bobby Brown heading right and making it four abreast at Lime Rock by going two wheels in the grass at the green! Yes, he was hauled in a lap later.


If the best starters are near the front of the group (and that is usually the case, showcasing errors like missing or forgetting shifts), the most inconsistent performers are towards the back making KBrew's observation of trying to stay "tight" all the more important. For those in the back of the field, often the most important nugget of information is to view the flag stations over everything else and hit it when the double yellows (which accompany the pace car on course and remain up until the radio net informs the corners that the green flag is waving) go down. This is particularly useful at places with big fields like Road Atlanta at Station 11 or VIR at Station 17.


In coaching drivers on starts, it is important to avoid big changes in gas or brake and stay as steady as possible in the run up to the flag. Mike Skeen's suggestion to observe other groups starts is really useful and, of course, the idea is to "perfectly anticipate" the rise of the green flag. I think hanging back to get a run is a bad idea, it just means you start from a few yards further back! 


When the flag waves, go where others aren't. Most everyone dives for the inside while not realizing that the approach speed to T1 is a great deal less than on a hot lap and that momentum can cary you around the long way outside of the stacked up inside column of cars. I love it when folks "go defensive" at the start. What a waste of time. While the start is an action packed part of the race filled with slightly greater risk than the race proper, the differential in performance between the good and great drivers is even greater in the opening lap or two.


In racing with slick tires, I've learned that those comfortable with the idea that the car is pretty slippy for the first few corners and the opening lap can open a big gap that can serve them well over their pursuers, if they can just hang it out enough in the early going. Also, the best racers set their quickest race lap in sprint races often on the second or third lap of the race.


To recap, the purpose of the start is to give everyone an equal shot, which means the desire is to have two columns of cars, not spread apart more than a car width and a half and not separated front to back by more than a car length, all traveling at the speed the pace car selects before leaving the track. The pole car stays at that speed until the flag is displayed (or not) and then everyone gets to go. Being aware of the "acordian effect" going into T1 will cause some to be more cautious than others, while going less quick into T1 than on a hot lap will embolden others, so just try and find an open slot and go.


Think strategically. Place the car on the side of the track that will give you an advantage providing you can stay side by side with whoever you're racing with, but don't get squeezed out or off the circuit.


Starts are fun and certainly a place where people who are paying attention and thinking ahead can gain an advantage.




How do you know you’re ready for working with a coach?


No one answer, I'm afraid. For many, it's an economic decision.


At what point do drivers believe that external evaluation, identification of areas for improvement, construction of very specific (and more broad) strategies to plan improvement and measurement of that improvement (if successful) justify the additional expense to what is already an expensive undertaking, at any level?


When done right, it's always been top-down. F1 drivers, CART/IRL, NASCAR, FIA GT and top level sports car drivers have been using trained, experienced and vetted coaches for decades.


Dr. Jacques Dallaire writing in 1983 "Scientific Principles of Training and Conditioning" which yielded a relationship working with Ayrton Senna, Sliderule Motorsports principal Mike Zimicki surrounding his clients (Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal, for example) in a "cocoon" of total approach encompassed by the Eastern approach, NinTai (perseverance), coach Rob Wilson vetting Bruno Senna for Frank Williams.


The studied, serious and outcomes-based approach practiced by a true, trained and experienced professional ALWAYS helps, for a driver at ANY level.


My experience has been to take the professional approaches most valid to the INDIVIDUAL client and apply them to the area identified as the greatest opportunity for improvement.


Whether working with a first-time track n00b to a former F1 World Champion, the approach should be the same with only the level of intensity and the number of "tools from the toolbox" used that varies.


Obviously, drivers only interested in track days take a different approach than even base-level club racing drivers. For them, the learning curve is SO steep, even unpracticed, untrained but more experienced instructors can help a great deal.


Most all amateur competition drivers (club level including Historic, SCCA, NASA, PCA, FCRA and up to Grand Am CTSCC and Patron Cup) who are open to collaboration with a bona fide professional coach can improve their performance dramatically (some immediately and others over time) by retaining a coach.


Much of the benefit is to CLARIFY the tremendous amount of information (and a great deal of MISinformation) and discard approaches that perpetuate mistakes and inhibit performance improvement. This is where data is so valuable.


I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. You can derive as much benefit as you are open to from the best guys.


From bootstrapping your "world view" to specifics about "which blade of grass to turn in at" (yes, I've been accused repeatedly of that one <grin>), the best coaches provide information and access to correct, outcomes-based methodologies and experience that will save tremendous amounts of time and money. Period.


Far better than getting into a car with an instructor in the passenger seat, one who stays mum during the session and gets out after saying "you're pretty good, not a lot I can help you with."


There is ALWAYS room for improvement...


Vintage Racing Etiquette


-Originally published in Grassroots Motorsports magazine, September/October 1998


In the last several years marque specific and vintage racing programs have experienced a marked increase in the number of chargeable incidents on the racetrack, both of the single car and multi-car variety. This for many is not acceptable. As we see an increase in both the number of events and the number of entries per event, it is likely that this problem will increase unless steps are put into place to curb the dreaded "red mist." The two most effective measures of controlling this downward spiral consist of education and the threat of penalty, including exclusion, from single or multiple events. In this article, my focus is education, with penalties reserved for those inevitable few that just "don't get it."


The tenets governing conduct in the early days were simple. The "13/13 Rule" was clearly stated and understood by the participants in the literal form. "If you are involved in an incident sufficient to cause damage to your car or any other car, you will be prohibited from participating for the rest of the weekend, prohibited from entering the next event, and placed on probation for thirteen months. If you are involved in another such incident during your probation, you will be suspended for thirteen months." Certainly not the sort of result anyone in the burgeoning sport would wish for… Later, the statement was modified to include the words "at fault," so that either the benevolent dictator running the event or a committee of the driver's peers could assign and adjudicate blame upon the poor unfortunate who suffered either brain fade or road rage. When marque clubs such as Porsche Club of America and the BMW Car Club of America began their "Club Racing" programs, the vintage philosophy as interpreted at that time was adopted, with specific mention of the "13/13 Rule." Unfortunately, with the rapid rise in the number of vintage events came a corresponding increase in incidents. In order to make the sport more friendly and inviting, a number of the vintage sanctioning organizations adopted "points" systems, or graded infractions up to and including probation and suspension, many simply changing again the wording of the rule to read: "…damage to your car or any other car, you may be prohibited from participating…". One of the larger sanctioning bodies on the East Coast publicly stated at a meeting of the Vintage Motorsports Council that they would not report incidents to the shared list that the VMC maintains and circulates among the member clubs, because "racing is racing". Failed reasoning leads to a breakdown in behavior…


I am of the firm opinion that people will behave and perform in a manner consistent with clearly laid out expectations. I am involved with numerous "orientation" programs that focus more on instilling and inculcating the "vintage spirit" to people who have already had racing experience (some of it significant) or are graduates of professional schools. My job is to move people towards focusing on a higher plane, to overcome the raw emotional, competitive "hunter-gatherer" instinct that makes them see holes in traffic that just aren't there, to make them take a breath and relax instead of cursing a backmarker under their breath, to make them think instead of going off willy-nilly and causing a hazard where none yet exists. Harder than you might think, because for some the desire to win overcomes the desire to take part, and that is where vintage differs most greatly from SCCA and other forms of club racing.


First, newcomers must realize that in vintage there exists a place for everyone who shares the interest in getting out and enjoying old cars. If someone wishes to bring a road legal Triumph TR-4 with a full windscreen and interior (as well as a roll-bar, fuel cell and driver equipment) that passes the safety requirements of the sanctioning organization, they have just as much right to buzz around Daytona at a sedate pace as the torrid progress of an ex-Logan Blackburn National Championship winning MGB! There are so many classes, so many levels of preparation, so many driver experience levels that if it is a level playing field that you're after, you won't find it here…Often, innovative classing leads to excellent racing, as in the perennial favorite Dodge Vintage Festival at Lime Rock Park on Labor Day. A benevolent "dictator" classes cars according to the potential of the car/driver combination (lap times within a narrow range) ensuring close competition and an exciting show. With new people joining the "circus" every event, there is always someone to race with. As in most forms of racing, there exists a small group of people who consistently run at the front followed by a large group comprising the middle of the field, then a couple of stragglers (mechanical or otherwise) who often provide excitement for the leaders.


Second, blocking, dive-bomb passes and other unfriendly maneuvers have no place in the vintage scene. I define blocking for the group as "altering the placement of your car more than once to deprive another car racing room." Again stressing that the watchword is cooperation, not confrontation; to weave back and forth across the front straight at Lime Rock is inexcusable, as well as embarrassing to the lead (in the beginning) car. Racing is a test of skill, vintage racing a test of skill and manners…The point where the overtaking car's reach overextends their grasp and inevitable contact ensues is usually the result of a failed "dive-bomb" pass. The art of passing takes years of practice to develop, the fact that most drivers involved in a passing incident have two entirely different stories surrounding the circumstances of their contact shows just how completely emotion can overwhelm reason. A "dive-bomb" pass occurs when the overtaking car pulls out from a significant distance back and by charging into the braking zone, brakes impossibly late from an impossibly high entry speed. Suddenly realizing that a minor misjudgment is about to turn into a monumental disaster, the driver of the overtaking car locks up the brakes and slides into the back/side/front of the blissfully unaware leader. In SCCA, this would be considered an "overoptimistic" pass, in vintage it's not acceptable behavior. In building an experience base, the need to identify, analyze and form an action plan on how best to pass is crucial. The best way to do this is to study the person you wish to pass over the course of several laps. Obviously, where closing speeds are significant this task is easier. As the speed differential narrows, heightened awareness and a calm, measured assessment is required before committing to a pass that may or may not succeed. In vintage or marque club racing, you are likely to see the same folks on track from event to event. Most of the time, the practice times will establish a particular order that will continue throughout the weekend. Rarely will someone have a "light bulb" come on in the middle of the weekend and magically find several seconds, so race at your level and be happy. Over the course of several years (and several plateaus), I would expect to pick up some time at the same events from year to year, but I discourage newcomers from becoming "married" to a particular lap time as an expectation or guarantee of performance. Too many variables exist. Very often newcomers to the sport wonder vocally why someone in a similar car could be so much quicker than they are. I respond by saying that speed is a matter of planning and comfort, comfort with yourself and your abilities, your car, the track and of course, the friends that you'll be racing with on that track. I stress the "internal" contest, the moving of individual benchmarks, the marking of progress and improvement. Racing is a mind game…


Third, where we finish is relatively unimportant. Some clubs, such as the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, eschew trophies, grid positions and even qualifying times, thus institutionalizing the philosophy that the preservation and use of the car is more important than the selfish whims of the driver… The Florida Region of the SCCA Vintage Group hands trophies out to everyone who enters, to foster the idea of togetherness and camaraderie. Does this take away from the contest? Anyone who has seen Tivvy Shenton and Bob Girvin doing battle at the VSCCA Spring Sprints would swear that they were racing for the "Winston Million!" And they don't touch! Charlie Kolb piloting his Chevron around Sebring with nothing less than the skill he demonstrated at the same venue thirty-five years ago! You don't see this at a Club Racing Regional. The rest of us are not likely to be so gifted or talented as to rewrite history, let alone as experienced. I stress that many of the cars we drive have made their mark many years ago and nothing we are likely to do with them in a current series will change history. We are "weekend warriors" and we must remember that the pleasure of taking part must exceed the desire to win at all costs. This attitude has been strained recently in not only vintage, but also Porsche Club Racing and BMW Car Club of America Club Racing as well. Peer pressure is a very effective tool, and there are many other more appropriate venues to "make a splash" than vintage. The vintage spirit is just that, the desire to enjoy our cars, on and off the track with friends. At vintage events, far too many newcomers are carried away with large transporters, uniformed crew, large entourages merely to learn that they are missing the point. One of the more successful programs in terms of retaining the flavor of racing for fun is the BMWCCA's program, with Scott Hughes and Don McCoin doing an exceptional job. VSCCA and CSRG are also well practiced in maintaining the proper perspective. More importantly, VSCCA doesn't suffer for a lack of entries despite having the most conservative eligibility and preparation rules…


Fourth, the final expectation that I stress in orientation is that under no circumstances is contact desirable, acceptable or even forgiven. Even if the sanctioning body fails to penalize a driver for going off and tapping the guard rail because they entered the corner too hot and ran out of road, that failure does not relieve responsibility from the driver. Even if the sanctioning body assigns "points" for a minor "coming together," contact is wrong. The best way to explain this to the group is to assign personal responsibility for each and every action that occurs behind the wheel. Single car incidents indicate that someone lost concentration, misjudged their car placement or speed, jerked the wheel or otherwise ran out of talent! Stressing constantly the importance of building speed gradually throughout the weekend, culminating in peak performance on Sunday afternoon, should be the goal of every racer. Going out Friday or Saturday morning with the idea of releasing pent-up emotions or psychologically "playing" with others in the group or class has no place in vintage or marque club racing. Plenty of this thinking exists where the level of competition is much higher and cars are looked upon as tools, extensions of the driver to be used up and thrown away in the quest for more personal recognition. Personal responsibility is facing up and measuring constantly whether or not the risk outweighs the reward. Many participants, attending only large events once or twice a year, present a wide disparity in speed or skill. It is your responsibility as "the loose nut behind the wheel" to plan and act in a manner that ensures your own safety and the safety of those around you.


The recent efforts of the Vintage Motorsport Council to fund an instructor training program for the benefit of member clubs is welcome and important. The institution by HSR of "The Winner's Circle" seminars led by E. Paul Dickinson as well SVRA's continuing efforts with the development of their "Driver's Orientation" and "Chalk Talk" programs are but a few ways that vintage sanctioning and marque club racing programs can show that they are serious about driver development. The clear delineation of expectations raises the bar for all of the participants. VSCDA's Spring Driving School series is well known and popular program, even though it includes no track time at all! Most importantly, sanctioning bodies need to reach out to the experienced competitor, to periodically remind them why they are here, and if through a pattern of bad behavior demonstrate that they don't "get it," need to enforce to rules as written. This applies also to car preparation, but that is a whole new story.



“Pearl of wisdom” from Rolex 24 veteran and Skip Barber coach Barry Waddell


At Tom Cotter’s delightful “Vice President’s Club” meeting in Concord, Steve Potter spoke about a project he was working on for Boston Red Sox owner and Roush Racing partner, John Henry, as well as ex-Papyrus Simulations guru Dave Kaemmer, a racing simulation called iRacing.


For nearly four years, a steadily growing crew has flown around the country laser scanning to millimetric accuracy several North American race tracks for this cutting-edge simulation. Steve brought several people and a marvelous simulator rig to demonstrate their “work in progress.” Naturally, I made darn sure I was in line for a few laps around perhaps the most realistic re-creation of a track I know like the back of my hand, Virginia International Raceway.


One of the four folks from iRacing was championship driver Barry Waddell, on hand to “coach” the fortunate souls sitting in the driver’s seat in the simulator. Because iRacing is a simulator and not a “video game,” it is as unforgiving as the real thing, requiring gentle building up of speed before attacking portions of the course. After I became acclimated to the controls (thanks to the superb Todd Cannon pedal set) and the familiar Formula Mazda, similar to the sports racing cars I drive IRL (in real life, not the newly unified open wheel series), I suggested to Barry we head over to VIR so that I might try my hand there.


The default settings on the car were such that speed was sacrificed for downforce and so there was no great challenge going up the Uphill Esses flat, which Barry saw right away. After a few laps of gentle advice, he became more animated as it became clear that he was working with a “driver” and not a n00b. He stopped me and suggested that we reduce the rear wing angle a few degrees to help the car turn and improve the lap times. He wanted to see if I could “feel” the balance change with the chassis tuning change.


Immediately, it was clear the car was more free, that the rear would swing around and less effort was required to get the car to turn. It was also more of a handful at the faster sections of the course and under braking at the end of the fast straights. It was eerie how realistic this simulation was and the representation of this track I knew so well was well nigh perfect.


Barry began speaking to me as I conducted the car around the track, now regularly turning sub 2-minute laps, a realistic and quick time for the car. He would gently prod and goad, pushing me to do what we both knew was the right thing, but it was in a particularly difficult part of the track, the treacherous and complex transition between the quick downhill left, Turn 16, leading onto the fast, crucial constant-radius right hand corner called Hog Pen, exiting onto the 3000+ foot front straight, that Barry taught me something new...


The way that people transition between the end of the left and the beginning of the right turn is often considered the hardest such transition on this track, and is pivotal in turning a good lap. My line was good, but Barry was able to put into words the proper throttle technique to allow for much more consistent performance through that section. What he said was so simple, I almost stopped driving for a second... I finished braking early, while still bending the car around the curb to the left and opening the wheel, briefly and for just a fraction of a second, before decisively turning to the right as the road plunged downward and hitting the right hand inside curb with my right wheel early... In that fraction of a second, Barry hissed each and every lap; “no pedal, no pedal.”


In that instant, I understood.


By reminding me of the patience required to allow the car to settle and finish the lateral forces acting on it without upsetting the car with further control input, I was able to set the car on a trajectory and commit sooner and more progressively and aggressively with the throttle on a successful path through Turn 17, each and every time.


For this complex corner that is rarely done the same way by the same driver more than a few times in their entire VIR career, this new technique was a breakthrough. Now, every time I turn into Hog Pen, Barry’s wise words are in my ear... “No pedal, no pedal...”


Thanks, Barry!

 

A series of “pearls” written in response to threads on various high performance driving/racing bulletin boards.