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Driving Techniques

Driving Techniques

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Published by Amran Hashim

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Published by: Amran Hashim on Feb 11, 2012
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Driving Techniques
Introduction
It is very easy to get caught up in the showmanship and prestige of expensiveparts for your car, but the best investment you'll ever make in road racing is thetime you spend tuning your driving skills.
In this section, our goal is to introduce you to many of the basic driving techniques used in racecar driving. There are numerous details to be conscious of while racing on a track, and it will bedifficult and overwhelming to remember them all the first few times out. Focus on one or twotechniques each time you go out on the track. As each technique becomes second-nature, youcan work on a new one. After you have studied each of the techniques, how best to go aboutpracticing them is covered in the next tab section Practice Sessions.No matter how much country- or mountain-road hot rodding you may have done, or how good adriver you think you are, driving on a race track is an entirely new level of driving that requiresvery specific skills if you want to be good at it. Good drivers, like all good athletes, have anatural skill, and yet are also smart and/or humble enough to know that there are knowntechniques they must practice if they are to be proficient. Even if you have natural talent, don'tmake the mistake of thinking all you need is a better car to improve your performance. Yourdriving skills can always be improved. Even the Gordon's, Andretti's, and Schumacher's of thepro-driving world continually analyse their driving so they can improve.Many of the race driving techniques explained here can be practiced on the street, others simplycannot be. Where appropriate (meaning safe and useful), we will point out how to practice theseskills during everyday street driving. As with any skill, "knowing" what to do is not the same as"doing" it. Practice, practice, practice. Time in the car, on the track, repetitively performingthese techniques is the only thing that will make you good at using them. Often you'll findyourself thinking you're doing something right, only to recognize several months later, that youcould do it even better.Because there are so many things to rememeber and practice, be sure to read these sectionsoften--you will forget a lot of its content.
Seating Position
One of the first things to prepare before you even turn the key, is a proper seatingposition. This is often overlooked, or improperly immitated, resulting in poorer carcontrol and premature fatigue.
If you look at a variety of race cars, you will see a variety of seating positions. In the open-wheel CART and Formula cars, it appears that the driver is almost laying down with arms fullyoustretched (they are not). In a full-bodied NASCAR-type car, you see the driver more erect andalmost cramped against the steering wheel. Neither position is the correct one for your street carin road racing.The body of the open-wheel car is very shallow in height, and the cockpit is very narrow. Thisshape determines much of the driver's position. The driver's legs are relatively straight out witha slight bend in the knee, and the feet just barely below the hips. The pedals in many of thesecars are almost touching each other. The pedals also require little more than a flexing of theankle to go from 0-100% depression. The driver's arms have little room for movement, but thesteering requires extremely little turning input by the driver. In the open-wheel car, function(driver's seating position and controls operation) follows form (the shallow and narrow cockpit).In a NASCAR type car, many things are completely opposite. The driver sits very erect, and isvery close to the steering wheel. In fact, the driver can almost lay his whole forearm on thesteering wheel. Why the big difference? The cars themselves are larger, heavier, and have largefront tires. Additionally, on even the large speedway tri-ovals, the percentage of time spentturning is much higher than on a road course. All this adds up, and means the driver's right arm
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Driving Techniques
and shoulder is going to get tired much sooner. Sitting erect and close to the steering wheelallows the driver to utilize more of the shoulder and back muscles.In driving a street car on a road course, whether the car is stock or fully race-prepared, neitherof the above described seating positions is correct. The seat should not be "layed down" to makeyou look like a formula driver, and neither should sit as close as the NASCAR driver.There are three main aspects to setting the correct seating position. Each of these is describedunder the illustrations to the right. In a street car, it is possible that some balanced compromiseof these three parameters is needed as the fixed position of the pedals and steering wheel maynot be perfectly matched to your arm and leg lengths. In a race car, or a street car you spendthe money on, the pedal arms can be modified, and a steering wheel with a specific dishdimension (the depth of the mounting plane to the face of the handling ring) can be selected toallow a perfect match to your needs.
First
, sitting in the seat itself, the driver's back should be flat against the back of theseat with the buttocks squarley tucked into the corner created at the intersection of the seat back and bottom. The underside of the legs should be in contact with the seatbottom. The purpose of this position is to provide as much surface contact between thedriver's body and the seat. This has safety benefits as well as providing the driver withthe most tactile feedback as possible.
Second
is the arm position. When thedriver is tightly strapped into the seat as described above, the arms when fullyextended should allow the wrists to rest at the top of the steering wheel. This allowsthe arms to be slightly bent at the elbow when fully extended for a turn. Thepurpose of this position is to prevent the arms from being overextended during turns(the shoulders should not need to lift from the seat back even to do a full armcrossover). Overextending the arms will cause them to tire quickly, and will causethe driver to lose sensitivity to the vibrations in the steering wheel.
Third
is the leg position. When any of the pedals are fully depressed with the ball of the foot on the pedal (not the toes), the leg should still be bent at the knee. This isto prevent overextension as described for the arms. Additionally, given that mosthobbists are driving their street cars, be sure that the knees are not against theunderdash or steering column. In fact, there should be several inches room toprevent injury in event of a collision. The right leg in particular will need enoughknee room to allow the ball of the foot to be on the brake pedal, and the heel to beon the gas pedal for heel-toe downshifting.
Steering
 The steering wheel is where you will get most of your feedback of the track surfacefrom the front tires, suspension, and brakes. As simple as steering may seem to be,for maximum control and smoothness, there are definately some techniques youshould be aware of.
Your hands will spend a great deal of time on the steering wheel, so for both sensory input andcomfort, how the steering wheel feels in your hand is important. Depending on the size of yourhand, you may want a wheel that is thicker or thinner. The exact style, size, and construction isup to you. If you're thinking of changing from the stock steering wheel, choose one that iscomfortable gripping the wheel with your driving gloves on.
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Driving Techniques
Steering Wheel Grip
The proper grip of the steering wheel starts with the hands at the 9:00 and 3:00 positions.Contrary to the 10 and 2 o'clock positions you probably learned in driver's school, you havegreater range of motion and control with your hands in the 9 and 3 o'clock positions. The palmsshould be cupping the outer diameter of the wheel, with the thumbs wrapped around the ringand resting on top of the cross brace. The heel of the palm should be positioned to apply a slightpressure on the front of the wheel for stabilizing your arm movements--don't make your thumbsdo all the stabilizing. Most stock steering wheels in sports cars, and even sedans, today areproperly designed for the 9 and 3 positions with padded thumb detents.The grip itself should be relaxed--just tight enough to maintain control and good contact forsensory input. A tight grip on the wheel will tire your hands and arms quickly, and moreimportantly will significantly reduce the sensitivity to the vibrations needed to sense the controllimits of the vehicle.While it is a natural tendency to grip the wheel tightly while corning, no amount of squeezing onthat wheel will increase the traction of your tires! However, the more relaxed the grip (withoutlosing contact with the wheel), the more of that traction you will be aware of. It is a learnedresponse to relax your hands (in fact, your entire body) during high g-force cornering, but it issomething that you must force yourself to learn as quickly as possible. It will increase yoursensitivity to the car's traction limits, and improve your awareness of the car's handling.Something to practice to ensure your hands, arms and shoulders are relaxed before entering acorner, is to take a deep breath during the straight beforehand. Breath deep, relax yourmuscles, and exhale. Another thing to do when you're in a long enough straight and clear of other cars, is to relax one hand at a time and wiggle the fingers (leaving the palm and thumb onthe wheel). Doing this often will keep the muscles in the hand, wrist, and forearm fromcramping.
Steering Wheel Control
When turning a corner, lead into the turn by "pushing" the wheel with the hand opposite the turn(left hand for a right turn), and stabilizing the wheel with the other hand. Push the steeringwheel through the 12:00 position rather than pulling it towards the 6:00 position when turning.For large steering inputs like a turn, the pushing arm has more control because the wrist stays ina firm position. The opposite wrist becomes quite bent and will not provide smooth control."Pulling" the wheel is effective for small steering inputs such as moving across the track widthwhere the action is really limited to a movement of the wrist, and not the whole arm. If you're apuller right now, it will take a little re-training to make this comfortable, but in the long run itwill make you a smoother driver.One of the critical keys to maximizing speed through corners is smooth car control which comesfrom smooth steering. If the car is to travel on a smooth consistent arc, then the steering inputmust also be a smooth consistent turn. The purpose of this smoothness is to maximize thetraction of the tires. To understand this, take a sheet of paper, place it on a table, and place abook on the paper. Pull the paper slowly across the table gradually increasing the speed. Thebook stays on the paper. Now, start to drag the paper again, but at some point suddenly jerkthe paper. The book loses traction and slides across the paper. We'll talk more about the tire'sperspective of this later, but for now the motion of dragging the paper is like your steering input.The traction of the tire is significantly influenced by your ability to provide smooth turning.Sudden jerks in the wheel will be like sudden jerks on the paper, and the tire will slide. Thesmoother driver will have more traction, and will have higher corner speeds.It is common to think you
are
turning smoothly, when in fact you are turning on a smaller,tighter, and jerkier radius than you need to. In car video can be a great help to wtachingyourself, and recognizing where you need to be smoother. A typical tip off to a driver that needsto be smoother is when a car tends to understeer during the first half of a turn. More often thannot this is caused by the driver's lack of steering smoothness than by car setup problems.
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