Speed Secrets: Where Speed Comes From – Part 2

By Ross Bentley

June 27, 2018

More on finding the “secrets” to driving faster: work on one thing at a time.

When I’m learning a new track or car, I concentrate on finding the big chunks of time first, trying to improve two or three areas at a time. There is no point in going out on the track and trying to go faster everywhere. The mind (at least mine, and most people I’ve coached) just can’t handle too much information at one time. So, I pick two or three places on the track where I think the largest gains can be made. And I work on them until I’ve gotten them dead on, then pick two or three new places or things to work on. Any more than three and my brain tends to go into overload.

Making changes to the car is one obvious way of going faster. It's also a way of going slower. Don't fool yourself. Don't pretend to feel a chassis or aerodynamic change if you don't, just to make it look like you know what you're doing. Not every change is noticeable.

And don't make changes to the car before knowing the track and getting into a flow. Take your time. Make sure you are consistently driving at the limit before making drastic changes. That way, you’ll know if it’s the car or you that’s making the difference.

Anything you can do to increase the time spent at full throttle is good. Even if it's for a fraction of a second between two turns or instead of slowly trailing off the throttle at the end of a straightaway, you come off the gas quickly (not forgetting smoothness). That's "hustling" a car.

When trying to shave that last few tenths or hundredths of a second off your lap time, you really have to look at where you are not hustling the car. It’s in those very short little sections of the track where you think 80% throttle is good enough. To be a winner, "good enough" just won't cut it. You have to use 100% throttle - flat out. You also have to be aggressive with the car - smooth, but aggressive. You have to attack the track.

The type of corner that drivers have the most problem with are the really fast ones - the ones that should be taken flat, at full throttle.

The real problem with fast corners is that the car works best - it’s balanced, “taken a set”, and has maximum grip - when you are flat on the throttle all the way through the turn. If you’re on and off the throttle, or even progressively squeezing on the throttle through the turn, the car often feels uncomfortable - it hasn’t “taken a set”, and therefore has less grip. However, it takes a lot of confidence to take a really fast corner flat out right away, so most drivers lift just prior to the corner. And that’s what upsets the car’s balance. It takes big you-know-whats to be able to drive into a really fast corner without lifting.

Driving at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, approach Turn 1 at 230 MPH, I learned another approach, and have used it a lot since, even on road courses. At first, ease out of the throttle well before the corner on the straightaway to reduce speed enough to make you confident. Then, get back on full throttle prior to turning into the corner, and continue flat through the turn. This way, the car is balanced and very comfortable through the corner. With each lap, gradually reduce the amount of lift before the corner, until you’re able to take the turn without lifting at all – you’re “programmed” to do it.

I know you’ll feel slow at first, and want to drive the car hard into the turn. But, again, that’s what upsets the balance of the car; and why you feel you can’t quite take the corner with your foot flat on the throttle, but another driver can. You may not feel like “I’m an, aggressive, super-fast race driver” doing it that way, but winning races feels better!

Ross Bentley

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