Speed Secrets: Maximizing Wide Open Throttle Time

By Ross Bentley

June 20, 2016

Peter Krause and I have worked together often, and I'm always impressed with the way he approaches driver coaching. I'm also surprised at how often we both end up with the same conclusion regarding what a driver needs to do or work on, but how different a path we take to reach that conclusion. -Ross
Going too slow upon corner entry creates more problems for the driver than going too fast. Throttle action is smooth with good entry speed, and traction increases. But when entry speed is slow, throttle action has spikes, which presents many challenges that would otherwise not arise with a smooth continuous throttle.
If you trust your natural instincts, you are preprogramed (when entering corners that require little brake) to go too slowly and turn in too late. In corners requiring harder braking, you over-slow, turning in too early. You have single-minded reactions to a primal fight or flight syndrome; your realization that more throttle is available after turn-in is, therefore, delayed.
The skill execution we want to focus on (one of the greatest differences between a talented, experienced amateur and a top-level pro driver) is commitment to throttle and the time it takes to get there, particularly from the end of the last control input. The car is usually on the correct (or near-desired) trajectory, but MOST drivers "pick" a throttle position level and WAIT until they can see their way out of the corner to finish the job, instead of "driving to the grip" on the exit.
I spend a lot of time reviewing instrumented video (driver inputs overlaid real-time) and while there are several recurrent themes that show straightforward opportunities for improvement, some are more "profitable" than others. Throttle application is number one. I've often said that the best drivers go to WOT (Wide Open Throttle) before it's absolutely clear that their resulting trajectory will allow them to stay on the track! THIS is the goal!
T1 TPS Good: Throttle position is a window into the driver's mind and is a measure of conscious (and sometimes subconscious) confidence in the car placement, car response and surety that the driver will "make it." Here, blue is less than 10% (or off), green is 50-60% and red is above 90%. There are several stages of throttle, first off, then more suddenly on, but the progression up to 100% is not gradual, but sudden.

T1 TPS Better: In this lap, four-tenths of a second quicker than the "Good" lap from application of brakes to track out, off-throttle (darker blue) continues longer (indicating more efficient trail-braking), then the transition to throttle is quicker. Most importantly, the green and short yellow section of the "Good" lap throttle position is MUCH shorter, progresses to orange (closer to red, nearly 20% more throttle at the same point over the "Good" lap) and up to red. Very nice progression!

To improve and pick ONE task or concept, our "evaluation and execution" scope will be confined to only one transitional area, brake to throttle time! We can use video from Harry's, a GoPro, a SmartyCam or a full-house MoTeC, Bosch or Cosworth system, but a simple video is all you need. You're just going to count... "One-thousand, two-thousand," and so on.
Attending an SAE-sponsored seminar at PRI many years ago led by a chief engineer for an FIA GT team, Jorge Segers, triggered one of my epiphanies. Segers posited (and supplied copious examples) that one of the clearest indicators that both correlated with and tracked improved lap times was "average percentage WOT over the lap." "WOT" was really >85% throttle position (out of 100%), but you get the idea. Even a small rise (tenths of a percentage point over the lap) made a difference and this measure was one of the only objective ways to evaluate and validate setup changes to the car.
A caveat. We're talking about drivers functioning at a very high level, turning laps almost always within tenths and often within hundredths, lap after lap. While there are other common skill executions that are important (such as braking, and braking late and into the cornering phase often), throttle application tends to be less risky and more easily fixed (hence safely reversible) than "pushing the brake zones." This assumes that drivers are taking care of all the basics like driving each corner in the properly selected and most efficient gear! If in doubt, take SMALL bites. 
When the door is open at my Driver Development office at VIR, I can hear the level of commitment demonstrated by both track day and DE drivers and pros who are testing, often as they leave the pit lane. I can hear braking efficiency by the time it takes (or lack thereof) to slow the car, the efficacy of the shifts (both down and up), but the BIGGEST variance is the presence (or lack of) what I call "dead time." Dead time is when the car has actually DONE the hard work and is now waiting on YOU, the DRIVER!
"Dead time" is not waiting for the car to take a set (in my opinion, the misnamed phenomena; "coasting") during brake release at the onset of the corner or approaching the apex, it's the amount of time when the car is below a demonstrated tractive "limit" as expressed in gSum (the measured total amount of grip in all axes). Yes, you CAN put a number on this and I CAN tell someone nearly EXACTLY "how much room they have left." 
The easiest way to fix this, IF the car is pointed in (or done rotating towards) the proper direction, is to ADD POWER...
The ingredients that go into a driver's willingness to execute this commitment vary and are many, but that willingness always benefits from a clear plan on where to go next and what to do when you get there. Hence, track knowledge is key. But for many drivers who have hundreds, sometimes thousands of laps, what next? Roll video...
Our minds are powerful things. When many drivers review their videos, they usually remember doing basic skill executions better than they actually did. This past weekend, working with a intermediate level, successful driver in a factory-supported, entry level pro series, I used the following procedure to help him understand how much he was leaving on the table. The light bulb came on and from the first race to the second race, he dropped SECONDS (after we'd been pleased with TENTHS, until then) when the "light came on" and he adopted this simple methodology from our video review of his performance.
The Technique: From the time the brake was off at the entry (or just past the entry) to EACH corner, even if the throttle came up partially, I counted "one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand" and so on until the green throttle bar (or JUST audibly, it was that CLEAR) that he was at wide open throttle. Typically, most drivers select a partial throttle setting and keep it there until it's too late, THEN go abruptly to WOT. This technique is how to quantify the extent of this partial-throttle state.​​​​​​​

Turn 1 in-car: Decisive steering, very good car placement and commitment all pay off! 
In reviewing his performance in Turn One at Watkins Glen, we counted five, FIVE seconds (count it off for yourself, "one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand, five-thousand") between those two points (brakes off to more than 85% throttle). 
My driver was DUMBFOUNDED. He asked, "what should it be?" I said, "half that," and then added the caveat to just reduce this "dead time" a half-second at a time. I asked him to count off in his helmet, if he had to. I asked him NEVER to go to a throttle position that would require "a correction" (reduction) while in the corner, but instead make CERTAIN there was always a steady, progressive application to WOT.
He did it! And he did it at nearly every other corner... His improvement was dramatic, and he learned a new technique he will use on his own in review and while we are at the track together in the future. Any car, any track.
An added benefit was that he felt that the car was more stable with the continuously progressive application of power. 
But you already knew that, SSW readers... <grin>.
- Peter Krause
Web: www.peterkrause.net
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