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Old 09-01-2017, 08:33 AM   #1
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How to Drive Faster

I am posting this in the General section because I think that the lessons discussed are of interest to almost everyone on the Forum, not just the track junkies.

I am not the author so all credit needs to go to Mr. Fred Pack from Vail, Colorado.

Whether you're a weekend canyon carver, a Spec Boxster racer, or somewhere in between, I think that you'll find this advice helpful.

Drive it like you stole it.


Inches by Fred Pack

Even at the amateur level of DE driving, small speed differentials have a big effect. Lime Rock’s lap is about 1.5 miles. If my car and yours start a flying lap side-by-side with my speed only one mile per hour faster than yours, and I complete my lap in one minute, five seconds, I will be ninety-five feet ahead of you at the end of one lap. That is about five car lengths!

So every inch counts, big-time. How do we find those inches on the track? The answer is that they are everywhere, but the most effective way to find them is to look for the easiest and safest ones, first. I believe that these are to be found in the areas of:
• Coasting
• Ineffective braking
• Unnecessary throttle lifting
• Late throttle application

COASTING is the practice of lifting off the throttle before applying the brakes for a period of time while approaching a turn. After many years of track driving, I can safely claim that almost everyone does this, including me. It is a psychological reaction to the rapid approach of the turn and is completely irrational, yet we (mostly) all do it. I’m sure that if you think about this, you will agree that it makes no sense. In reality, we all could keep our foot planted on the throttle a bit longer and then immediately begin braking when we want to start slowing down, yet we don’t. Our self-preservation reflex gets in the way and we coast for a bit.

SUGGESTION: On your next track day, begin your session with the firm resolve to hold the gas pedal down until your braking point and then immediately begin braking. Do this lap after lap until you have begun to break through this phobia. (Amusing – ‘brake’ and ‘break’). There are many inches to be gained here. Continue to work on this forever. I was doing it pretty well at the end of last season but then I lost my new good habit and reverted to coasting at the start of this season; I had to start to re-learn the good habit all over again.

INEFFECTIVE BRAKING is using the brakes at less than their maximum capability. I can’t begin to tell you how many students treat the brakes as if they are so delicate that they will disintegrate if called upon to slow the car NOW. (Even substantially more advanced drivers do this). The truth is that modern brakes are excellent and they will happily withstand your maximum efforts if you have adequate pad material remaining, good fluid, and have bled them recently.

SUGGESTION: As you approach a corner requiring serious speed reduction, look in your rearview mirror to make sure no one is right behind you, then begin slowing the car by pressing with moderate force for a moment (to minimize the upset to the car’s balance) and then press HARD with great force on the brake pedal. Stand on it! I think you will be astonished at how effective the brakes are. There are many more inches to be gained here. (Of course, you must not press with great force on a wet track).

UNNECESSARY THROTTLE LIFTING is a cousin to coasting before braking. I know I do this; as an example, I’ve done it at Watkins Glen before Turn 2 and again in the esses at the transition between Turns 3 and 4 a moment later. What you lose by this maneuver isn’t inches; it’s feet – many feet. (See some actual numbers at the end of the article). Unlike the previous examples, there is a real, as well as psychological, element to this behavior because sometimes throttle lifting is not unnecessary, so attacking it needs to be subtle.

SUGGESTION: Just try to do less of this; you’ll earn some inches with each step. After a while they will grow into feet. (I do believe that for my car, at least, the lift between Watkins Glen Turns 3 and 4 isn’t needed; I will attempt to keep my right foot firmly planted when I’m next there and to fight against that invisible string which seems to pull my foot off the gas pedal).

LATE THROTTLE APPLICATION is waiting longer than necessary upon corner entry before getting back on the throttle. Curing this is a very effective way to find inches and lower lap times. In most turns, you should be somewhat on the throttle well before the apex, with full throttle by the time of the apex.

SUGGESTION: As Nike says, "Just Do It." Get on the throttle a little earlier than you usually do; you’ll probably soon realize that the car retains its full stability. Keep at it. You will be amazed at the speed you gain on the next straight.

THOSE INCHES – with some numbers....
Studying my Traqmate data from a recent visit to Watkins Glen, I observed that lifting off the throttle for a moment between Turns 3 and 4 in the esses slowed my car from 106.6mph by 1.7mph. That loss in speed over the 2600 feet until the Bus Stop braking point (at an average speed of 122mph), resulted in losing 42 feet – more than two car lengths, just in that one segment of the track. It also cost me .23 seconds. Consider that: almost a quarter of a second of lap time was lost because of one momentary throttle lift!

Some final words: As always, safety must be our Number One concern. That is why I haven’t even mentioned cornering speed in this article. I’ve discussed only "low hanging fruit." If you want to improve your lap times in a safe manner, these are good places to start.

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Old 09-01-2017, 09:00 AM   #2
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good stuff. i have all the bad habits listed and try to consciously work on them whenever i am at the track.

one other thing i have determined ... people talk about driving 10/10th. or driving at the limit. in that spirit i used to approach the limit cautiously. drive faster and faster until my car hit the limit, oversteer, then i would pull back. the oversteer would always come as a surprise, and my response would be reationary.

then i did a few laps in my car with a better driver driving. he would go out, find the limit, then immediately, consciously exceed it. the car would oversteer but he would know it was coming because he initiated it; he could anticipate it and be ready to respond. his line through the corner was a series of small oversteers and corrections.

driving this way, oversteer becomes the norm not something scary to avoid. you get a lot more practice responding to oversteer situations. realise that this can put you offline (wide) through a corner, so anticipate by aiming inside the apex a bit.

eventually you and your car hopefully get to a point where the oversteer is balanced against the understeer and you are working the full slip angle of your tires at all four corners.

otherwise, re your note on late throttle application, note also throttle lag - pushing down on the pedal takes a second or so before it turns into power at the wheels, which means you have to get on the throttle well before you actually want to have the power on which can be a bit unnerving until you get to know your cars habits.
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Old 09-01-2017, 12:28 PM   #3
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Thanks Tom. I must plead guilty to several of those points!
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Old 09-01-2017, 05:51 PM   #4
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Thanks Tom for sharing. Very good article for self-assessing one's habits. Without question my biggest area for improvement is accelerating sooner, esp on a track that's new to me. I'll watch my videos and make lots of mental notes where I could be on the gas sooner. I'm getting better at new tracks at trying to accelerate at the apex or sooner, but it takes some getting used to. I tried to honestly evaluate the coasting / light lifting and I don't think I do this but will be sure to keep an eye out for it next time I'm on the track (may be a while as I may have 2nd gear synchro going out). I think I'm braking well and feel I sometimes out brake faster cars than me. I did make the mistake of driving a friends 981 Cayman S - man the brakes were miles better than mine. Guess there's been lots of progress in 6 yrs.

I taught my first student this last w/e. She is an 18 yr old just starting college. I also found out in our pre-session interview that she's had an instructor for 2 yrs, so she really wasn't a novice. She just hadn't been thru novice training to drive at a PCA event. She was a real treat. The car she had on Sat was a 2001 Mercedes e420. She had amazing car control. Since she already had a feel for proper lines thru the corners, we worked on finding the proper braking points, what causes a missed apex, and how / where to pick up speed. She was very good at self-analyzing (I missed that apex didn't I?, or that brake point was too early, wasn't it?). There were several corners where I encouraged her to accelerate at the apex and some I suggested smooth and precise was the best approach rather than more speed. By late Sat afternoon, the other instructors said they were thinking of letting their students go solo and if I was ready to. I said she was ready, but I enjoyed riding with her so much I didn't want to let her go by herself. She ran the penultimate session by herself, set a time that was well over a second faster than she'd ever done, and then ran out of brakes on the Merc.

She came back the next day with a 2012 Mercedes C class. She said she didn't want to drive it hard and I said that was OK. I suggested she take the first few laps to get to know the car on the track. By the 3rd lap, she had her brake points figured out and found she could drive more of the "Porsche" lines thru corners. Amazing. She started to catch an older red 911 and I could tell her driving started to pick up. She caught the 911 and was pointed by. A lap or two later we got the checkered. On our cool down lap she said she hadn't planned to drive that hard. I laughed and said yeah, but you hadn't planned on catching that red 911. I explained the red mist theory to her. Later that afternoon during a solo session, she knocked 4 sec off of yesterday's time. She has set a very high bar for my next students to clear.
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Old 09-01-2017, 06:25 PM   #5
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Thanks for sharing Tom, I am guilty on all counts, but working on them all! VIR at the end of October will be my next opportunity!

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