The Four Fundamentals of Driving a Race Car Fast
By Ross Bentley
November 25, 2014
Allen Berg knows the advanced stuff as well as anyone, both having raced Formula One and teching at his racing school for years. He's trained countless numbers of race drivers to be fast. But the best, most knowledgeable drivers and instructors also never forget about the basics.
After spending a lifetime driving as fast as possible for a living, as well as operating a racing school for the past several years, I guess I am qualified to provide my opinion on the basics of driving fast!
We spend a lot of time in our school ensuring that drivers learn the importance of technique in all aspects of driving the car. As with most other sporting endeavors, if you don't acquire the fundamental skills right away, you will develop bad habits that will be harder to change later on. However, drivers who come to our schools have already learned the basic skills. It is our job to improve upon those, identifying and assisting to break any bad habits that are already set.
One thing that I have noticed is how some drivers methodically try to learn the correct techniques, but later in the program, they forget all the basics theyʻve learned and simply try to go fast. Obviously, this strategy is usually short-lived, as the car often ends up stopped and facing backwards on the racetrack!
Lesson One: Never forget to implement the basic skills when you are trying to go faster! Work on DRIVING WELL - not driving fast. Learning how to make the racecar do the work properly is the ONLY way that you will ever go fast.
When you watch a road race, youʻll note that the cars are all driving on the same part of the racetrack (usually in single file), because there is typically only one fast driving line around the track. There are many theories on "the line" and how best to determine it, but I wonʻt cover that here! But one way we assist our drivers is with track markings to learn the fast line around the track. We always begin with the drivers riding with an instructor around the track in a support vehicle, then our students follow an instructor for several laps driving our cars. Then the students have the opportunity to drive on their own.
Participants often comment that once they are driving on their own, following the correct line becomes a lot more difficult, with many drivers making mistakes in their first few laps. It is a lot different to be driving on your own versus following someone around the track. But the "Follow the Instructor" step is a necessary and important component of our training.
Lesson Two: If you deviate from the driving line, you will NEVER be as fast as if you follow it. Even if it means driving at a slower pace initially, learning the line, and following the same line each lap, it will ultimately lead you to faster times.
(Pro Tip: If I am at a new track and having a hard time determining the correct line, I will walk the track backwards to figure out where I need to be at the exit of the turn, then work it all back from there.)
Once again, much has been written on types of turns and the best approach to each kind of turn. My personal approach has always been to plan on the quickest exit possible onto the straight, following the series of turns. This usually requires a slow in/fast out approach, getting the car to take a set, and progressively applying the throttle as quickly and smoothly as possible, without having to lift or modulate off the throttle. Once this is established, I would work on my braking to move the brake point as late as possible, with pedal pressure as hard as possible, then trail braking as much as possible into the turn - all this without affecting my driving line or compromising my corner exit speed.
Lesson Three: Slow in - Fast out - Think ahead. Donʻt just try to brake as late as possible for a turn.
I personally feel that not enough emphasis is made on vision placement. In my view, one of the deciding factors between a good driver and a great driver is the strategic use of his eyes. The best drivers have the ability to take in a greater amount of information through their eyes than others. (In an upcoming article, Iʻll tell you about my encounter with Ayrton Senna which altered my perception on the importance of vision).
By looking further ahead or through a turn, you will automatically improve your performance and chances of success by:
- Better anticipation of situations that could arise in front of you
- Greater likelihood of driving the correct driving line
- Increased sense of balance - driving a racecar on the limit is about feeling the balance of the car, so looking ahead gives you more sensitivity to the racecar's state of balance
- Greater sensitivity to changes in driving line or yaw in the racecar. The best drivers are constantly correcting, making little adjustments to the steering and pedals throughout the turn. The best drivers make it look easy, with virtually imperceptible changes; they appear to be driving on rails, yet they are working the controls.
- More accurate direction - your racecar will go where you are looking - so make sure you are looking at the right places! Never look where you don't want to go!
Lesson Four: Keep your focal vision as far ahead as possible.
I hope this review of the basics will set you on the right track if you are new to the sport or refresh your memory if you're an old hand at this. Keep learning!
- Allen Berg