Speed Secrets: Where Speed Comes From – Part 1

By Ross Bentley

June 20, 2018

If you had the opportunity to analyze in great detail some very sophisticated computer data acquisition information from a variety of drivers of different levels and cars at numerous race tracks around North America, you would learn a lot about driving yourself. Fortunately, over the past few years, I’ve had that opportunity.

Here are some conclusions I’ve come to:

  • The difference between a back-marker amateur and a winning amateur: the LINE – whether the driver has chosen the most appropriate line for the particular car and track conditions, and whether they can drive it consistently.
  • The difference between an amateur and a low level pro: the ACCELERATION PHASE – how early and hard the driver begins accelerating out of the corners.
  • The difference between a mid-pack pro and a winning pro: corner ENTRY SPEED – how quickly and consistently the driver can make the car turn in to the corner, while maintaining the acceleration phase.
  • The difference between a winning pro and the greats/champions: MID-CORNER SPEED – how fast the driver consistently gets through the mid-corner phase, which is primarily dictated by the corner entry speed, how the driver makes the car “take a set”, and the acceleration phase.

Time after time, the data acquisition shows the fastest straightaway speed comes on laps with the fastest mid-corner speeds (unless it delays when the driver gets to full throttle). To have a fast mid-corner speed, you need to enter the corner as fast as possible, balance the car so it takes a set early in the turn, and begin accelerating early, smoothly, and hard.

Now, before you get any ideas that all you need to do to become the next F1, Indy or Le Mans champion is just maximize your mid-corner speed, realize that every champion had to perfect the line, then the acceleration phase, and then corner entry speed first. And so will you.

But, this may be a pretty good clue as to how to approach learning a new track. It’s a good priority list.

Start with figuring out what the ideal line is for your car and your driving style. Then, concentrate on accelerating earlier in the corner and harder.

Next, corner entry speed. Using data acquisition and a lap time simulation program, I’ve calculated that if you can enter every turn on an average road racing circuit just one MPH faster, you will save about ½ a second per lap. That’s not a lot faster corner entry speed to improve a whole lot lap time. Of course, that means doing it without it negatively affecting the line you’ve determined to be the best, or when and how hard you begin accelerating.

This is one of those compromises you need to make in your driving – deciding whether you’re better off entering a corner slightly slower and getting on the throttle earlier, or carrying more speed into the corner. Usually, if your increase in corner entry speed delays where you’re able to get back to full throttle (and not just beginning to squeeze it on), you’re better off slowing down slightly to get back on the throttle early.

If you perfect the line, acceleration phase, and corner entry speed on a consistent basis, you will automatically be working on your mid-corner speed. But, if you get that far, I doubt whether you’ll need my advice anymore.

Ross Bentley

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