Speed Secrets: Learning From Experience
By Ross Bentley
May 30, 2014
Don't lie to yourself. There are many times, even at the pro level of racing, that we make changes on our cars or try different lines and we cannot tell a difference. Maybe you have a friend helping you or maybe it is just you alone, but throwing out some big words and trying to "convince" yourself you felt some car change or a positive line change is no good - you will just end up further down the wrong road. I can tell you from experience - it is hard to get back on the right road when you get too far down the wrong one. Be honest - we can't tell our race engineers that we felt a difference EVERY time we've made a change to our race cars. You have to be honest with yourself and/or your crew. You have to focus on making "quality" changes to your car and driving - not just guessing and making up fancy-sounding words. This racing thing is very simple IF you keep it that way and approach it that way. Focus on what you actually feel and not what you think it should feel like or do.
On-track tips. When I'm coaching a driver, I tend to go out and do a few laps to sort of set a baseline lap for data and lap time to work off during the day. I want to touch on a few things I see specifically with the driving techniques of club racers vs. my style (now this isn't to say you do or don't fall into any of these categories, but I see these tendencies quite often):
- The classic carry-too-much-minimum-speed driver. This driver will brake fairly late (which is good), but then quickly release the brakes and rolls a lot of "min" speed through the corner, thus delaying the point of acceleration dramatically. If he compounds this program by a quick brake release (that "popping off" the brake pedal), it sets him up for a big understeer all the way to the apex. I see this more times than not, compared to my driving technique. I always use this example: Would you rather be 3 MPH quicker in the center of the corner (for maybe 30 feet) or would you rather be 2 to 3 MPH quicker down the entire straightaway from corner exit to the next corner entry? Sure, there's a balance here, but most of the time I am rolling a bit less min speed, and getting back to the throttle pedal SO much earlier, that I carry a lot more MPH down the straightaway. Then I come in and the driver I'm coaching says to me, "You went 2 seconds quicker than I have ever gone. There is NO way I can go 2 seconds faster." Which is probably true! They would slide off the race track carrying more min speed - but that isn't how I am making up lap time on them. Sebastian Vettel could not carry enough min corner speed to make up for the fact they get to the gas pedal 100 feet later than I do. I carry so much more "free" straight-line speed by getting to the throttle pedal sooner! Yes, you get to the point eventually in your driving career where carrying a bit more min speed is important, but we are talking the nitty-gritty stuff, here.
- Being smooth with the brake pedal, plus very sensitive to release and how you release the brake pedal. I think most drivers don't give the brakes enough thought. It blows me away how much car control you have just using the brake pedal. But to do this successfully, you have to really raise your awareness of your brake pedal foot (whether you left- or right-foot brake in your specific car - it applies to both). Having a smooth brake pedal release can really change the balance of your car on corner entry. Are you having trouble with a little bit of understeer on corner entry? Well, how are you releasing the brakes? Are you popping off them? Are you carrying too much brake pedal and using up too much of the grip available for braking? Different cars are sensitive to the things you can do with the brake pedal: some turn better by trailing more brake to the apex; some turn better by getting of the brake completely and not trailing at all. Find what works best for your car, but be aware of this.
- It isn't how early you touch the gas pedal, but how soon you can get to full throttle. Yes, as Ross talks about in his books, the "Schumacher throttle trace" is great and really helps squeeze out that last little bit of lap time. Touching the gas pedal at 20% really early in the corner is good, but it CANNOT delay the point you get to full throttle. Getting that little bit of early throttle at the expense of delaying full throttle is bad! It's so easy to think you are doing a great job because you're getting to the gas pedal really early, but you really need to focus on getting to FULL throttle really early.