Speed Secrets: Racing In The Rain
By Ross Bentley
February 14, 2017
Yes! My favorite! Racing in the rain!
This week, James Chartres shares his experience and knowledge of driving in the rain. Being a racer of Spec Racer Fords, he's literally in the rain when he races, but his lessons apply to any type of car.
Enjoy! - Ross
P.S. - (I like the new promo video from James at www.kangamotorsports.com - there's something to be learned here...).
Most drivers dread the rain (some won't even run), but others get excited. With the winter season approaching in the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to get prepared for inclement weather. Here are some tips to help you get excited and improve your lap times.
Use a Clear Visor
If it's raining, you don't need one of those fancy tinted or colored visors; go with the standard clear visor. Most new helmets come with a plain visor. I get a tinted visor for dry weather and use the clear visor as my rain visor. If you have extra cash, you can buy a new clear visor, as well. Then you'll have one without a lot of stone chips or scratches (as water will tend to stick and pool in those areas). You can also apply window cleaner with hydrophobic elements, such as Rain-X, to help the water bead and clear quickly. The same is true for a windshield on a closed-cockpit car. A little Rain-X can help bead and clear the water faster, especially at speed.
Avoid the Shiny Stuff
Now that you can see, you need to know what to look for. Smooth or slick surfaces in the wet can pool water and will end up creating areas of standing water or puddles. Obviously, you want to avoid these. Common slick areas include paint, large rubber build up or concrete-repaired sections of the track. When driving on your out laps, you should be able to spot these areas of the track; they will look shiny. The sections of the track with more grip will look more matte.
(Click here to watch some wet laps featuring James in his Spec Racer Ford)
Not the Traditional Line
The traditional racing line on the track doesn't always work in the wet. The racing line tends to have oil and rubber on the track, making it slippery when water is present. The main reason the line can have less grip is that the aggregate in the track surface is less sharp; it's been polished. Similarly with street courses, the road is polished by all the cars and street tires passing over.
In the wet, you sacrifice the traditional line for grippier parts of the track. Often this means driving on the outside of turns or mid-track in some sections. Try to keep your braking in a straight line and take the grippiest line you can that will allow you to get on the throttle as soon as you can (in a straight line, if possible).
So why don't people drive those lines in the dry? Because they don't always result in the smoothest arc or highest speeds. Yes, the lateral grip achievable might be higher, but you have to compromise the turn or cornering speed and, therefore, turn a slower overall lap time.
Racing in the rain is great practice for driving in the dry. In the rain, you want to be smooth with your inputs of gas, brake and steering. You want to drive smoothly, managing the balance and weight transfer of the car. Jerky quick movements should only be used to react to slides or save the car from a spin.
Depending on how wet the conditions are, you might want to change the setup on the car. If it is just damp and you expect it to dry up, don't change the setup. If it's really wet out, you'll want to soften it up. As an example, for the Spec Racer Ford we extend the sway bars to maximum or disconnect them completely.
Wipe That Visor
This one applies to open cockpits only. Each person does it differently, but find a way so that you can wipe your visor during the race. Tear-offs are next to useless as water gets between the layers. Wiping with your gloves can often result in smearing dirt, oil or grease across the visor. I have seen some drivers tape a strip of microfiber towel to the back of their glove. I, like many other drivers, tend to just put a microfiber towel in the cockpit, where I can reach it.
The warm-up lap and start tend to be very dirty, as cars kick up a lot of muck in the spray before they start to spread out. I put a single tear-off strip on my helmet for the start and get rid of it before it's covered in dirt or water gets underneath.
(Click here to watch another Spec Racer Ford video)
Wet or Dry Tires
Sometimes the risk-takers ones are rewarded with a drying track or sudden downpour. Other times, they are left behind, struggling for grip. In general, if you are seeing standing water on the track or increasing rain, then it is time for wet- weather tires. If the track just looks damp but there isn't standing water, then you can get away with slicks and being smooth. (A weather radar map is another tool you can use to predict rain). After a few times in the wet, you'll get better at reading the surface, but sometimes it comes down to luck as you can't always predict what the weather will bring.
- James Chartres