Speed Secrets: Questions and Answers

By Ross Bentley

November 30, 2015

Okay, it's the Q&A issue again. The questions that I've received (by email and through my Facebook page), have been piling up, so it's time to cover off a few of them in one issue. ​And please...keep the questions coming! –Ross
Q: A discussion developed in class that the techniques of Fangio, Moss, Stewart, etc. should be dismissed. The performance street cars of today are far beyond the race vehicles of that era. I think we can learn from the past.... What do you think?
 A: I definitely do not agree that they should be dismissed. Most of what they did still applies - physics haven't changed, and we drive cars based on the laws of physics. Having said that, there are things that we need to adapt.
 As one simple example: Jackie Stewart claimed that he won more races in his day because of how he released the brake pedal. That still applies 100% today. The difference is that most F1 drivers today are left-foot braking, rather than right-foot braking, like Stewart did. The concept or goal is the same - release the brakes with the right timing and rate - but how you do it will be different (using a different foot, and the brake zones are shorter today due to aero downforce and tire grip).
There are other examples, but the bottom line is that we should not totally dismiss what they did. In fact, we should learn from them, and then adapt to modern cars.
Q: I feel as if my skill is getting hung up on turn-in. I'm still about one to two seconds behind the top guys, depending on the track. I've noticed a big difference between us is how they brake and turn in. I'm finding it extremely difficult to carry as much speed as they can through corners. They seem to be able to find a few extra MPH that would normally cause me to understeer.
Where should I be initiating maintenance throttle? Should I trail upon turning in and initiate maintenance throttle at the very end of turn-in? Should I get all my braking done early and initiate maintenance throttle immediately upon turn-in? Is all of this platform-dependent?
Should I shy away from threshold braking and extend my braking zones slightly to allow myself a little bit better stability upon turn-in?
A: I need to start with some assumptions (I hope they're right!). I assume that the line you drive is very similar to what others use, so the speed isn't going to come from there. I also assume that you begin accelerating as early as you can to maximize your exit speed, so that's not where it is, either. So, as you say, it's probably mostly going to come from around the turn-in point to the apex of the corner. In fact, that's the place that most drivers lose time - at least if they're beyond the novice-to-intermediate stage.
I suspect it has more to do with how you're releasing the brake pedal than anything else. I did a video tip on this a while back, so watch this: ‪https://speedsecrets.com/.../the-key-to-speed-brake.../. The take-away is that it's the timing and rate of release of the brakes that allow you to carry speed into the corner, and still get back to power as early (and sometimes earlier) as before (without that understeer). If you come off the brakes too quickly or too slowly or if you come off the brakes too soon or too late, these will require you to enter the corner slower than if you get the timing and rate of release just right. Unfortunately, there is no magic way that suits all cars, all corners. Yes, it's somewhat platform-dependent. So my recommendation is that you first become aware of your timing and rate of release of the brakes. Go on track and simply be aware of when (in relation to when you begin turning into the corner), and at what rate (how quickly or slowly) you release them. Then, begin playing with that timing and rate of release. Experiment - try different timings, and different rates, and see how that affects your car's ability to carry entry speed and how it responds.
My guess is that if you get this right, you'll find yourself carrying three to five MPH more into most corners, and yet still being able to begin accelerating just as early as before. And that will add up to more than a second a lap.
Oh, and there's one more critical piece of this. Spend less time focusing your eyes on the Begin-of-Braking point as you approach a corner, and focus more on your End-of-Braking point - the point where you'll finally come completely off the brake pedal. This will force you to look into the corner more, and help you judge how much speed you can carry into it. Is the End-of-Braking point for "that" corner right at the turn-in point, almost at the apex, somewhere in between - where? Use looking for it to help you look into the corner when approaching it. And yes, there is not one single right place to always end your braking.
That's where I'd start with what you've told me. Once you get the hang of what I suggested here, there will be other areas you can find more, but this is the place to start.
And remember, it will take a little time for all of this to become part of your mental programming, so it may feel a little difficult at first - it might feel a little "mechanical," rather than something you "just do." Keep at it, and practice it. Be aware of how you can use your brake release to help you carry more entry speed - the speed from the turn-in point to apex. Would you rather begin accelerating out of that turn from 61 MPH, rather than 58? I bet this is where you're going to find a second or more in lap time.
Q: How can I work on being more consistent in lap times? I struggle backing up my fast laps times.
A: There are two ways to look at this: First, why are you inconsistent, and second, what can you do to improve consistency (which I'll get to shortly)?
Sometimes, the reason for being inconsistent is because it's taking your brain a little time for all of what you're doing now to sink in - to become part of your mental programming. If you've been making some changes to your driving technique, or recently stepped up your overall speed, it could be that your brain is taking a little time for all of those changes to become part of your programming. That's natural, and you may just have to be patient and let it. Of course, the more programming time (time behind the wheel on the track, and doing mental imagery), the more it will be programmed. I know, patience is not something we care for when driving on the track! But sometimes that's what it takes, and you need to remind yourself what's happening - and let it happen.
If it's not just your brain taking time to let new things sink in, what can you do to improve your consistency? Probably the most effective strategy is to use what I call Sensory Input Sessions.
The number one reason drivers are not as consistent as they could be is because they don't have enough reference points around the track. I know some drivers who can tell you every minute detail of what they see, feel, and hear about a track; others who have a general sense of it, but don't have many more than just Begin-of-Braking, Turn-in, Apex, and Exit points. The best drivers have many, many references in between those four that tell them whether they're on line, when they should adjust, what they should be doing, etc. And remember, reference points are not just all visual - there are many that you should feel (i.e., a bump right at Turn-in; you get back to throttle just as you feel the inside tires clip the curbing; begin braking just over the hump in the track, etc.) and hear (i.e., the tires make a different sound after they cross a seam in the pavement; you unwind the steering when the tires make "that" sound; you hear the engine revs increase as you unwind the wheel as you pass the apex, etc.).
So, if you go out for a session and only focus on hearing more than you've ever heard before, then a session focused on feeling more than you've ever felt before, and then a session focused on seeing more than you've ever seen before, you will pick up all sorts of additional references. Write them down on a track map after each session (drive fast during these sessions, but don't worry about your lap times - focus solely on soaking up more sensory information about the track). With more references, you'll have more "waypoints" to let you know whether you need to adjust, and when you do that, you'll be more consistent. I did a Quick Tip about this strategy at ‪https://speedsecrets.com/.../how-to-drive-fast-sensing.../.
Then - and this is just as important - do mental imagery (what is usually referred to as visualization) of you being consistent. See, feel, and hear yourself during this mental imagery (use your arms, hands, legs and feet, and move them as if you're actually driving; imagine the sounds of the engine, the wind noise, the tires...), picking up more reference points, and being consistent. Use a stop watch and time your mental laps. If you're able to mentally drive laps within a second or so of your real lap times, then you're going to be consistent. Doing this, you're mentally programming two things: The ability to be more consistent, and the belief that you're consistent.
Then... program being consistent when driving on the street. If you drive with one hand on the steering wheel on the street, and then with two on the wheel on the track, it's using some brain power to make that change - brain power that should be used to be consistent. And the way you drive on the street is mentally programming that for when you drive on the track. So if you practice being smooth with your brake release (for example) on the street, you'll be more consistent doing that on the track.
Finally, one last thing to do: Let go of the "illusion" that you need to be perfect with your driving. The best drivers make better compromises with their driving than other drivers do. The less-than-great drivers fight the car to get it on the perfect line (for example), whereas the great driver will accept that he/she is off line a little, and adapt, letting the car go where it wants (to some extent!). Ironically, oftentimes when you fight to be perfect and consistent, you're not; when you learn to adapt and adjust and let the car tell you where it wants to be, you're more consistent.