Right Foot vs. Left Foot: Part 1

My recent surgery on my right leg meant that I didn’t have the use of my right foot for about 6 weeks. That prompted me to learn how to drive left-footed. I trained on a simulator for several hours and then started driving in the real world. It’s been both fun and educational. While I don’t recommend that anyone snap their Achilles tendon, I do recommend that people get out of their comfort zones.

Now that my left foot is fairly good at driving, it seems a good time to test the age-old question, “how much of an advantage is left foot braking?” Lots of people have asked and answered that. But this is YSAR, so I’m going to go one step further and test something nobody tests: “how good is left foot throttle?” Here are the four combinations.

  • Right foot only (RFO)
  • Right foot throttle, left foot brake (LFB)
  • Left foot only (LFO)
  • Left foot throttle, right foot brake (LFT)

Real World Observations

One of the things I’ve noticed while driving in the real world is that it’s easier for me to drive all righty or all lefty than to mix them. Apparently my brain is wired for one foot even when I drive lefty. While I would love to drive left footed on track, I don’t have a car that can do that. For the time being, I’ll have to test everything in simulation.

Here’s a question for YSAR readers. If you wanted to test left-footed vs. right-footed driving, what car would you use? Here are the criteria:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Ruinable/Cheap
    • I have to drill through the floor to install the left-foot adapter
    • I’d probably want to sell the car later
  • Compatible wheels (4×100 or 5×120 is convenient for the wheels I already own)

Are two feet better than one?

There are two main advantages of using both feet (LFB, LFT).

  1. Less time switching between pedals
  2. You can use both pedals at the same time

It seems obvious that the time it takes to move your foot from one pedal to another represents some kind of loss. I mean, you’re not doing anything during that moment, so it must be a loss, right? Maybe. It’s just a fraction of a second. I don’t think being 0.1 seconds later to changing pedals will result in 0.1 seconds of a lap. But I could be wrong.

The other reason to use both feet is that it allows you to apply brake and throttle at the same time. At first glance, this sounds wasteful if not stupid. But let’s look closer. What happens when you apply brake and throttle at the same time? Since your brakes are more powerful than your engine, it doesn’t necessarily make you brake less effectively. What it does is change your brake balance. Mixing brake and throttle is therefore similar to tweaking a proportioning valve.

Given that you can change your brake bias on the fly, it means you can and maybe should set up your car differently. For example, on a RWD car, you can set up with more rear bias because you can always remove some of that with the throttle. I’m not sure you would do that with FWD though.

In theory, I understand how to use both pedals simultaneously. However, I don’t have a lot of practice. So I’m probably not going to be very good at it, initially. I’ll have to train myself and see what happens.

Upcoming on YSAR

Check back for test results on the various kinds of footwork.

The team is racing at Buttonwillow in a week. I won’t be driving, but I’ll be post a race report and some video.

I started a new blog about my attempt to not suck at billiards.

10 years of Lemons

Patience… this is going to be a very, very long post.

10 years ago I entered my first car race. It was a 24 Hours of Lemons race at Thunderhill. It was my 4th time on track, and looking back on it, I sucked at racing. But I also knew I sucked at racing, so I had that going for me.

Here’s the amazing thing: we won. No, we didn’t get first place or even any of the individual accolades, but I feel like we still won. Everyone got to drive and nothing horrible happened. For a rookie team, that’s winning. The experience was life-changing and has kept us coming back for 10 years. Let me guide you through 10 years of Lemons races and my favorite 3 cars from each race. Most of the photos come from Judge Phil (Murilee Martin).

2012:09:15-16 Thunderhill

Our first Lemons build was a 1988 Toyota MR2 (AW11). We embraced the silliness of Lemons with Noah’s Ark theme. We literally built a boat around the car using a lapstrake construction. The bow was pretty long and slightly raised. While this made it look like a boat, it also made it nerve-wracking every time you went up a hill. You sort of said a silent prayer that you didn’t hit anything while you crested the wave.

We didn’t end up finishing the race. The engine died with a bearing failure. What do you expect from a 25 year old engine with an unknown history? What I remember most about the driving was my first experience with rotation. I had driven into T10 a little too deeply and had to apply some brakes mid corner. The car literally rotated around its middle. I had never experienced that before, and it would be some time before I did it intentionally.

My favorite car of the weekend was an amazing postal Jeep built on a Mustang frame. It’s one of the cleanest themes of all time. It didn’t attend many races. I wonder what happened to it.

My second favorite car was the CorVegge, which was an 80s Corvette with a Buick diesel engine that made 77 hp. It must have been horrible. I would have loved it.

Third on the podium goes to this Scion xB. If you’re going to drive a car that looks like a toaster, you might as well make toast. I’m not sure how they made the smoke. One reason I like this car is that it shares a lot of parts with my Yaris. For example, there’s a Blitz supercharger kit that fits both cars. This xB was outfitted with that in the next race… and they never got on track. This is a reminder to me to keep the engine as stock and reliable as possible.

2013:03:23-24 Sonoma

Given that we had destroyed the engine in the last race, we decided to swap the 4AGE “Red Top” with a JDM “Silver Top”. This provides a decent bump from 115 to 160 crank HP. The swap was mostly easy, although I recall that shimming 20 valves took several hours and getting the wiring harness to work was a total failure (we ended up paying someone to build one for us).

Given that we couldn’t see through the bow of the “boat” we decided to drill some big holes in it. That also inspired changing the theme from an ark to a fishing boat. We thought we had the best theme, but the Judges preferred the Tiki Bar (see next post).

On the Friday practice, Thomas was climbing up T3A when the right axle broke. When we examined the metal, it looked like it had been cracked for years and less than 20% of the metal remained. We then spent the rest of the day fixing it. The Snow Speeder team had some spare parts, so we cobbled it back together in time to start the race on Saturday.

PSA: The geometry of a 1986 MR2 isn’t the same as the 1988 MR2. The parts we got “fit” but were not really compatible. As a result, the right side and left side were very different. This resulted in the worst handling car I’ve ever driven. It would lurch to the side when going down a straight. On right turns, you could unload the left side and drive normally, but left hand turns were downright dangerous. Mario got in the car and brought it in on the out-lap, saying “my life is too precious to drive this”. I actually had a great time wrestling the car around the course.

We were able to find a proper MR2 axle at a Pick-n-Pull nearby and got that installed Sunday morning. While we didn’t get much driving in, we did get the car back to normal.

All of my favorite cars from this race are motor swaps. The Doublesuck MRolla is the pinnacle of Lemons engineering. The team welded the front half of a Corolla to the back half of an MR2. The front engine was manual and the rear was automatic. On their next build, they put 2 engines in an FX16 and called it an FX32. This was a double manual transmission with a single shifter and clutch. Amazing.

The Geo Metrognome is powered by a motorcycle engine. I wish there were more bike-engined cars in Lemons. The sound of this thing revving to 10k was amazing. This was a very fast, but slightly fragile car.

One of the most famous motor swaps is this Prius with a Harley motor. It ran the whole race and performed better than it should.

2013:03:25 Sonoma

“Sears Pointless” was an unusual race weekend. The typical weekend race had a such a long wait list that the organizers decided to add a second race on Monday, which was called “Sears (even more) Pointless”. We entered both races and finally got a chance to complete an entire race. We ended up in the top 20, which was a pretty good showing for a boat. At some point during the race, we lost the fish. Amazingly, the corner workers returned it to us at the end of the race.

The Judge’s Choice for the main race was won by the Tiki Bar Jetta (we won it on Monday). The attention to detail on the build is astounding. The entire roll cage was wrapped in bamboo. They served drinks out of the back. Lemons themes don’t get much better than this.

The Scrubbing Bubbles Beetle is a surprisingly fast car. While I didn’t know the owner at the time, Mike Kimball is now an important part of my team, being both an excellent driver and mechanic.

The IROC Maiden was a mainstay of Lemons racing for years. They had come close to winning several times and in this race decided to hire a professional racer to do the driving. All of it. They didn’t win.

2013:09:14-15 Thunderhill

For this race at Thunderhill, we changed the theme to Lamborrari. The left side was painted yellow and themed as a Countach, while the right side was painted red and themed as an F40. It was one of my favorite themes. We even had stickers and patches with our logo.

We ended up finishing 9th overall, which is pretty good considering we had a 10 gallon fuel tank and 185 other teams to contend with. Getting a top 10 finish felt like winning. This was the highlight of the MR2 platform. From this point onward, it was all disappointment.

We weren’t the only “F40” MR2 in the race. I think they ended the race with an engine fire.

The TinyVette is an Opel GT rescued, built, and maintained by Mike Meier. Mike has been in Lemons a long time, and used to live in Davis (where I live). The TinyVette is one of the iconic non-shitty cars of Lemons. I got to drive this on a practice day at Thunderhill West. The inside is as cute as the outside.

This event was made famous because of the surprise dyno test. They took the top cars and put them on a dyno. Each team had to declare their HP and then the judges gave them 1 penalty lap for each HP they were over their estimate. The Southworst claimed they had a junk yard motor and then the dyno recorded 246 HP. Consequently, they were buried in penalty laps. I heard later (confidentially) that they had a $20k race motor installed. At the time, I thought that it wasn’t really in the spirit of Lemons. But looking back on it, it doesn’t bother me anymore.

2013:12:07-08 Sonoma

We went into this race thinking we had a good chance to actually win it. Our car was performing great and our drivers were improving. Sadly, it died in the first stint with a head gasket failure. A better team would have swapped that out at the track, but we decided to pack up and try another day.

Pure awesome. Words fail.

The two teams that dominate the West coast are Cerveza and Eyesore. Cerveza runs an e28 BMW with a modern engine. They aren’t always the fastest car on track, but they do everything so well that they are always a threat to win.

Eyesore runs an NA6 Miata with a cobbled together turbo. It often sets the fast time of the day. Somehow, it’s also really reliable. In the old days, before they were encumbered by kids, the team had some of the best themes of all time. Really spectacular stuff.

2014:09:13-14 Thunderhill

This race was a landmark for 2 reasons. It was the first Lemons race on the Thunderhill 5 mile track. It was also the largest closed course road race in history. I have the Guinness  Worlds Record certificate to prove it. Our theme for this race was Royal Mail. We dressed up the are in the Royal Mail livery and had it deliver a giant letter to the Guinness World Records. Despite the theme being mostly stickers and tape, I thought it worked pretty well.

This was the first race for our Miata. The MR2 couldn’t make it because it needed engine work (again). The Miata ran flawlessly. I don’t remember what place we got. It was a great weekend no matter what.

My favorite car of the weekend is Saanda: a Saab powered Honda 600. Look at this thing. It’s straight out of Mad Max.

My next favorite car was this 911 with a diesel motor. The team posed as umbrella boys and hammed it up all weekend. It was brilliant.

For the third favorite, I couldn’t decide between the squeaky clean 871 and the Toy Story Pizza Planet. Both are incredible builds.

2014:12:06-07 Sonoma

We changed our theme nearly every race, and this one was no exception. We decided to try to make the Miata look like a CanAm car with a blocky rear and a wing. I dubbed it “Can’t Am”.

A Miata with a pretty minimal theme can still look fantastic. It’s just a couple of fins and a great paint job but the overall effect is really fun.

The Chotus (Chevy-engined Lotus) has been around Lemons a very long time. It rarely finishes a race. It looks great while it lasts.

OK, so I love pickups as race cars.

2015:09:12-13 Thunderhill

In this race we entered 2 cars, the Miata, which we had also been driving in Lucky Dog and ChumpCar, as well as the MR2. This was a great opportunity to drive both cars back to back and see which platform was superior. We raced this time under the name “Iron Flutterby”. We put graffiti on the cars. It wasn’t a very engaging theme.

Here’s a shot of the MR2 #314. It had a roof scoop feeding an oil cooler. Sadly, the engine died again. This time the culprit was a clogged oil pump from using too much sealer.

The Miata ran all weekend. It was faster and more reliable. This was the nail in the coffin for the MR2. We ended up giving to a team with the expertise to keep it running. That said, it hasn’t entered a race since.

The video below is queued up to the Miata passing the MR2. I haven’t watched that video in years. It shows me passing a lot of the fastest Lemons cars despite having a very simple and inexpensive Miata build.

Let’s look at some of the cool cars from the race. The Coyote is at the top of the list. This is a Miata with a Honda V6 swap and a couple hundred pounds of extra body work.

No, this isn’t an El Camino, but rather a Del Sol dressed up like one. This car has become a Lemons regular and puts down some really fast laps.

Keeping with the Ute theme, the Bavarian Ranchero is based on an E30.

2015:11:24-25 Loudon

This was the first race where I was an arrive-n-drive, and also my first time at NHMS. The car was an E36 318is. Team orders were to keep it below 5500 RPMs. Here’s some video of me driving. I get faster as I get more acclimated to the car and track.

The best theme for this race was the tribute to Mad Max.

The best build of the race is this MR2. Yes, you read that correctly. This van is actually an MR2.

Bert One is a Volvo 262 Bertone with a Sesame Street theme. Great car, great drivers, great people. I was chatting on the side of the track with a East Coast Lemons regular and he was pointing out all the dangerous drivers. When he pointed to Bert One, he had nothing but admiration for them.

2015:12:05-06 Sonoma

This was the first race where I registered as crew rather than driver. We brought 6 women drivers and 3 guys for “eye-candy”. The team was called “XX Racing” and sported a pink helmet with a “ponytail”.

The Model T GT is one of the most famous Lemons builds, both for its successes and its concept. I think I would love it if it wasn’t so damn fast.

Mike Mercado’s fastback Miata is routinely in the top 5 but has yet to win. They really deserve to win a race one of these days.

Just the usual German brands fighting it out: Porsche, VW, BMW. This van is way faster than it ought to be. The team shows up with about 6 of these. I think I would love to be one of those guys.

2016:02:13-14 Sonoma

Another arrive-n-drive, this time in a 240SX with the Bert One team (but not in their 262).

The car sprung a leak while I was driving, so I drove less than an hour. Here’s the entire stint.

The Faster Farms Plymouth Belvedere has been driving to the track, racing, and driving home for years. How? It doesn’t even look like should be able to move under its own power.

This diesel Mercedes coupe dressed up like a Dalek is pretty neat. I would drive that in a heartbeat.

This crazy build is all Yuzu. The driver sits behind the B-pillar. Spectacular even if I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.

2016:04:30-2016:05:01 Kershaw

This was my first time at CMP but the car was very familiar to me. It was my E30 track car that I gave to Ben Dawson to start a team on the East Coast.

It felt really great to be back in my old car again.

There are a lot of great cars in the East, but not as many great themes. Here’s an exceptional exception.

This is a great looking car.

You don’t see too many Datsun B210s in Lemons. At least I think that’s what this is.

2016:05:21-22 Thunderhill

In this race, we decided to race on Douglas tires and call ourselves “D-Spec FTW”. Honestly, I think Lemons should have a 400 treadwear rule and make us all drive on all season tires. Alternatively, they should have a D class for those brave enough to race that way (they actually did do that for this race, but just this once). The Douglas tires we got were 185/60/14, and were under $40 each. I mounted them myself with a Harbor Freight tire mounter. That’s some real Lemony shit right there.

So how does a Miata on Douglas Xtra Trac II tires drive on track? Like a fucking boss. This may have been my favorite theme because the driving was so much fun.

Lemons doesn’t love E36s. That is, unless you dress them up like a garbage truck.

The first time I saw a Bricklin at a museum in Ottawa, I was enchanted by the safety concept. But it’s a terrible car in every respect.

This is just a plain Nissan Sentra SE-R with no theme. It’s here because I’ve always loved racing against this car. The team has good drivers and the car is plenty quick.

2016:07:30-31 Thunderhill

Our Miata’s engine died early in this race. I don’t have good pictures or video of the car in action. So let’s look at the others instead.

This Porsche 914 dressed up like a CanAm car is pretty great. They have been around Lemons a long time. This used to race in the A class, but it’s probably C class now.

This Jeep thing is pure awesome.

Highway Robbery is an FD RX7 with an LS motor. In the hands good drivers, this car would win every race. But they race for fun and look good doing it.

2017:09:30-2017:10:1 Buttonwillow

This race I did an arrive-n-drive with NSR in their Ford 5.0 swapped Celica. This was a terrible car in just about every respect. OEM suspension, OEM brake pads, but 230 V8 HP. The brakes faded every corner. Apparently the owner’s strategy was to use the automatic transmission to slow the car. I hated it on Saturday but found the fun on Sunday.

An actual Lancia.

Anton’s Volvo is well-engineered and plenty quick. Perfect for Lemons.

Lemons needs more wagons.

2019:03:09-10 Sonoma

I stopped racing Lemons for a good 18 months. For some reason, I decided I wanted to do things a bit more seriously, and did more Lucky Dog, ChampCar, and SCCA stuff. I did eventually come back to my senses. Here I’m in an arrive-n-drive MX-3 with an MX-6 motor. I had never experienced torque steer before. I found it to be a lot of fun.

ReStart Racing is made up of actual corner workers. It’s appropriate that their racecar is carrying a car in the bed.

It’s not very often that you see an MR2 SW20 non-turbo on a race track. It looks fast but isn’t.

This Accent had an engine suspended in front of it at the start of the race. But it was wet and the engine ended up drooping into the driver’s vision. That driver would be Jay Leno.

2019:05:25-26 Thunderhill

This was the first Lemons race for the Yaris. An unexpected rain storm turned this into my favorite drive. During the storm, I might have been the fastest car on track, while driving a smog-legal Toyota Yaris.

In the video above, it took a long time to pass the Supra below. It’s a fast car with a good driver. It’s sporting a 2JZ engine, of course.

Ranger Road Motors is a team made up of war veterans with limb injuries. They have various driving assists so they can drive with 1 leg or with hand controls.

I love this Plymouth Scamp.

2019:08:10-11 Thompson

I had back problems this Summer and couldn’t race. I did a couple practice laps and that was it. The car I drove (briefly) was an Odyssey with a Mr. Rogers theme.

I’m a sucker for a good pun. This works.

This Mustang looks fantastic.

This car has a very tidy paint job, but it’s really not very Lemony. At one point I would have not approved of this car, but I’m all for it today.

2021:05:29-30 Thunderhill

We were in contention for a win this race, in C class under the team name Toyota Virus. It was a pretty good theme with a giant syringe sticking out of the car. The needle bent on the main straight and it flew off the car, causing some panic for the cars behind. I should have used a more durable pipe. Here we are at tech inspection with our hazmat suits on.

 

We were swapping the lead all day Sunday with a Saab 9-3. The Yaris kept overheating. Later, we realized this was because the head was cracked. We probably could have added more water and it would have survived the race, but I drove it until it died, about 1 hour from the finish.

2021:09:25-26 Buttonwillow

I joined Lemons staff as a Judge this race. It was a lot of fun. The Lemons moment that I will always remember is when team Dickass tried to go on track using the track exit rather than entrance. Kristen picked up the bullhorn and yelled “Hey Dickass, you’re going in the out hole”.

2021:12:04-06 Sonoma

I bought a JDM 1nz-fe engine and with the help of Tiernan and Mike we resurrected the Yaris. The engine worked perfectly. Unfortunately, we fucked up a bunch of other things. The car handled like shit and didn’t stop. Tiernan bounced the car off a wall and I earned my first black flag (I had no brakes and should not have been on track with a car behaving so poorly). I don’t even have any pictures or video of this race.

2022:03:12-13 Sonoma

We switched the name of the team to Toyota Kazoo Racing because we like the pun (the official Toyota racing team is Gazoo). There is a giant kazoo on the top of the car and also in the front (although people thought this was a hash pipe). The co-driver is so realistic that the safety marshals tried to wave us off track for having a passenger in the car.

Unfortunately, we were still fighting some problems associated with suspension and hubs. We did get some racing in though. Here’s Danny having a bit of fun.

2022:05:28-29 Thunderhill

Given my recent back problems, I decided I was going to slide into a team manager role, and didn’t even sign up as a driver for this race. Here’s MIke finishing out the race.

Thanks

Lemons has been 10 years of great memories. I’m not sure how much racing I’m going to do in the next 10 years, but Lemons has always and will always be my racing home. From the bottom of my oil pan, thank you Lemons. And by Lemons, I don’t just mean the organization, but the whole ecosystem.

Four reasons you may be stuck at the low intermediate plateau

Today, I want to talk about veteran drivers who have plateaued at the low intermediate level. How do I define low intermediate? Partly by lap time, but also by driving technique and knowledge. The intermediate stage is sort of like teen years in driving development. Some skills/knowledge may be at a surprisingly advanced level yet others are severely lacking. Intermediates primarily drive for fun. Given a couple hours of track time, their focus is on passing the other cars on track and setting their personal best lap time. This is in contrast to advanced drivers who use their time for training, testing, and tuning.

Low-intermediate veterans represent an interesting challenge.

  • One of the great things about coaching intermediate drivers in general is that some of their problems are easily fixed because they simply have the wrong facts in their heads.
  • One of the problems with coaching veteran drivers is that some of their bad habits are hard-wired into their brains. They depend on their bad habits, which make them very hard to fix.

1. Not every corner is a Type I

One of the first things novice drivers learn is the typical racing line through a Type I corner. Largest radius, highest speed, blah blah blah. This lesson can be so impactful that they think every corner is a Type I corner. So they drive outside-inside-outside regardless of the shape of the corner. There are many corners where it’s better to take the shortest path. For example, when driving through esses, just take the shortest path. And in a decreasing radius corner, it’s fast in, slow out.

Here are two suggestions to fix the Type I problem, which most low intermediate drivers don’t even recognize as a problem.

  1. Take the shortest path. Make sure to time yourself and record data. You may find that the shortest path is a lot faster.
  2. Drive off line. By intentionally driving off line, you may find a different line. Also, if you’re a Type I robot, you really need to explore the space of the track.

2. Loose is not fast

The phrase “loose is fast” isn’t actually true. Try the following experiment: put all season tires on the front of your car and time yourself. Then put them on the rear. With the slippery tires in the front you will experience a lot of understeer. Your lap time will be 1-2 seconds off pace. With the slippery tires on the back, your best lap will be 2-3 seconds off pace. Oh yeah, and you’ll probably get kicked off track for spinning every lap. So maybe do this experiment in simulation. Assetto Corsa doesn’t let you switch compounds, but you can pump up your tires absurdly high. Alternatively, use Gran Turismo, where you can change compounds.

People who believe oversteer is faster try to use their rear tires to help them turn. Seriously, they believe that by breaking the rear tires loose under throttle they will get through the corner faster. No, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t add throttle until most of the turning is done. Oversteer should happen in the first part of the corner, when the speed is lower. Also, corner entry oversteer is created from braking, not throttle.

If you have a car tuned for understeer, you can use trail-braking to restore balance. Sometimes the car will understeer so much that you can’t get it to rotate at all. Even in this case, trail-braking is useful as it adds weight and grip to the front tires to help them steer. On the other hand, if the car is tuned for oversteer, you can’t trail-brake at all. There’s already no grip in the rear, and trail-braking makes the matter worse. Since you’re always at the risk of spinning, you end up entering the corner slower. While the car may rotate pretty well by itself, you’ll be fighting oversteer the entire way out of the corner. Not only is loose slow, it’s also dangerous.

For those of you thinking “what about FWD?”, the same behavior applies to FWD: understeer is both safer and faster.

3. Downshifting doesn’t matter

There are a lot of drivers who think that the most important part of high performance driving is the engine. As a result, they make sure to downshift before every corner. But here’s the thing, nobody uses all of their engine in the corner. While cornering, you spend some time trail-braking, some time coasting, and some time at partial throttle. You’re not at full throttle until the corner is basically done.

One of my favorite exercises is the “3rd gear, no brakes drill”. This is just what it sounds like: drive the entire track in one gear and don’t use your brakes. Although it sounds impossible, you may find that you’re faster in the drill than when you drive with brakes and shifting. The reason why is simple: you brake too much. And the reason you brake too much? Because you are downshifting. If you enter a corner 5-10 mph off pace, you will end up in a situation where you can add a lot of power. This will either cause unwanted understeer or oversteer through the remainder of the corner.

While this may sound strange, it would be faster for many drivers to downshift after the corner. Staying in high gear through the first part of the corner will result in a higher entry speed. And being in a high gear won’t affect anything until you’re on the straight after the corner. Not that any self-respecting intermediate driver would ever do this. They need to show off their improper heel-toe technique. You know where they rev immediately, brake while the revs drop, and then ease out the clutch. Hint: if you have to ease out the clutch, you didn’t match revs. If you’re not going to heel-toe properly, just don’t do it.

4. The racing line is a result, not a goal

The racing line isn’t something you’re supposed to achieve, but rather the result of having the correct cornering technique from the entry to the exit. Let’s use tennis as an analogy. Take a look at the position of Andy Roddick’s serving arm. His palm is facing outward, away from his body. If your goal was to serve like Andy, you might look at this picture and attempt to get your arm in that position. That would probably send the ball into the neighboring court. The tennis serve is hit with the arm rotating as it extends (aka pronation). Having the palm facing outward is the result of follow-through. It’s not something he, or anyone else should intend to do.

Similarly, connecting the cones from entry to apex to exit isn’t going to give you proper cornering technique. The typical HPDE curriculum that focuses students’ attention on the racing line is putting the cart before the horse. I think it’s one of the dumbest things we coaches do. That’s partly why I made this snarky video.

Here’s what I suggest to fix this problem: drive the car. Listen to what it’s telling you. Sure, you can set up on the outside of the track as normal, but try different ways through the corner after that. Try moving everything earlier in the corner and then let your throttle application naturally push yourself to the exit. If you end up mid-track at the exit, that’s okay at the beginning. You’ll get there eventually. Don’t force the line, let it come to you.

Rotation Q&A

I was watching a YouTube video on Miata vs GR86 and stopped when they started talking about handling. The video is queued up to the point where they talk about rotation.

90% of car enthusiast who talk about rotation have never experienced it and have no idea what it actually is. I’m sick of hearing people misuse the term, so in this post I’ll explain.

What exactly is rotation?

Rotation is a form of oversteer. It is better described as off-throttle yaw.

What exactly is oversteer?

Oversteer occurs when your rear tires are sliding more than your front tires. If none of your tires are sliding, you’re not experiencing any kind of oversteer. If you’re doing some spirited driving on backroads and think you’re rotating the car, you’re probably not. In the video above, the car steps out a couple inches. Was that rotation? It was the start of it, but like lots of enthusiast drivers, that’s where it ends. If you’re driving on public roads, that’s where it should end.

What exactly is yaw?

There are 3 axes around your car. There is the pitch axis, which you experience as fore-aft movement when braking or accelerating, the roll axis, which you experience as side-to-side movement in cornering, and the yaw axis, which you experience during a spin. If you haven’t spun your car, you’re probably driving too nice a car or driving on public roads. Get yourself a beater and learn to drive on a skid pad. If you still haven’t experienced a spin, you’re not trying hard enough. Spin not, win not.

Is drifting rotation?

No. Like rotation, drifting is a form of oversteer, but drifting happens with throttle on, and rotation happens with the throttle off. It’s that simple.

Is a donut rotation?

No. A donut is a form of junk food. Also some media house that makes videos about car stuff.

What about FWD drifting?

The only way a FWD car can oversteer is with the throttle off. There is no way to sustain oversteer. Does that mean FWD cars can’t drift? Yes, technically they cannot. But let’s take pity on those drivers (like me) and call their form of extreme oversteer “drifting” anyway.

Do you need to trail-brake to rotate?

No, but it helps. Any time you decelerate while turning, you have an opportunity to rotate. Lifting off throttle in the middle of a long sweeper will point your car tighter into the corner. That’s a form of rotation. Braking lightly in the middle of a corner will do the same thing even faster. However, the most common way to induce rotation is via trail-braking at the corner entry.

How do I trail-brake?

Most intermediate drivers hit their brakes hard, and jump off them equally hard. Focus on a soft release. Watch your brake pressure trace. What if you don’t have a brake pressure trace? Get a sim rig? Plug an AiM Solo DL into a modern car? If you don’t have these things, try using my counting method. As you approach a brake zone, get your threshold braking up to 8 or 9 (out of 10). Then try to release it as 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Once you have the soft release wired into your habits, try mixing some steering in at the 1. And then later at the 2.

Can I use the hand-brake to rotate?

Yes. Using the hand-brake even a little bit will swap some of your cornering traction for deceleration. You don’t need to lock your wheels to create rotation with the hand-brake, although that’s what a lot of people do. However, using the hand-brake is cheating in my opinion.

What about flicking?

The Scandinavian Flick can be used by itself or in conjunction with other techniques to induce rotation. By briefly steering away from your intended direction, you can create a little extra weight transfer. Flicking isn’t very useful on track, but it is used frequently in Rally racing. It is rarely the faster way around a corner, but the reason rally racers flick isn’t really for speed, but safety.

How do I prevent myself from spinning?

First off, if you drive around trying not to spin, you will never learn how to control a spin. You must experience spinning to control spinning. It’s sort of like swimming. In order to swim, you have to get in the water. The question you should really be asking is…

How do I control yaw?

  1. Turn off stability control. In many modern cars, it cannot be completely turned off without pulling some fuses. If you can afford to track a modern sports car, you can probably afford to buy/rent a POS Miata for training purposes.
  2. Go to a skid pad. Don’t train on a live track. Don’t practice in the street. Alternatively, invest in a simulation rig.
  3. To increase yaw, put all season tires on the rear of your car.
  4. Practice. Fall down. Get up. Dust yourself off. Practice more.

How do I know if I’m rotating?

A rotating car will feel like it’s steering itself. The first time it happens, it will feel strange, like you’re in a swivel chair. The easiest way to experience this is to snap off the throttle while going around a skid pad. Provided the car was near the limit of grip, it will step out in the rear all by itself. It will feel like magic.

Actual left-footed driving

Racing/wrenching buddy Tiernan came over to help install an Able Motion left foot accelerator pedal. These kinds of devices come in 2 forms: fixed and portable. The fixed ones have to be fastened through the floor of the vehicle, while the portable units are mounted to a heavy plate of steel. I decided not to get a portable. I feel like it wouldn’t be stuck down very well, and in the case of an accident, it would turn into a 15 lb steel missile.

The install required some customization. Two of the bolts went through the floor, but didn’t have enough thread to tighten all the way. Of course, I have lots of old vehicle hardware lying around, so we swapped those out no problem. The other 2 bolts were not easy to locate on the underside of the car. So for these, we used some pretty large machine screws. It’s now very stable.

If you look at the picture, you’ll see two red clamps. These allow the unit to be removed easily for right-footed driving. The design of the clamps isn’t all that good because once again, the threads ended too soon. That said, it’s firmly in place and nothing is going anywhere.

I took a drive around the neighborhood and was pleased to find that my Assetto Corsa practice paid off. I can drive smoothly left footed. Mission accomplished.

In slow, out fast, and other lies of the racetrack: part 6 of 6

6 Big Lies

It’s time to wrap up this series of posts on the suspect advice of so-called experts.

  1. Drive the racing line
  2. In slow, out fast
  3. The first driver to full throttle wins
  4. You should be on throttle or on brake, never coasting
  5. Imagine a string connecting your steering wheel and throttle pedal
  6. Separate braking and steering

Separate braking and steering

One of the first things I heard in my high performance driving journey is that one should separate braking and steering. As a novice, that was probably a good thing to hear because when you mix the two, you may end up spinning. However, once you’re beyond the rank novice stage, mixing braking and steering is exactly what you’re supposed to do. Trail-braking is probably the most important skill to master. It serves several purposes.

  • Smoothly transitions from a front-heavy braking stance to a balanced, corner stance
  • Adds grip to the front to aid steering
  • Lowers grip in the rear to aid rotation
  • Provides resistance on the steering wheel to help you estimate speed and grip

As a coach, I teach trail-braking from the first lesson. Not the aggressive form of trail-braking where you’re rotating the car, but the soft release of the brake pedal to keep the suspension quiet. Once you learn that, it naturally transitions to a bit of coasting, which is an essential, if brief, phase of cornering. The rotation-style of trail-braking is the curriculum of the high intermediate.

Separate throttle and steering

I think an alternative, and better lesson would be to tell people to separate throttle and steering. Cars turn better when you lift off the gas. As soon as you add gas, the front gets light and loses grip. If you keep adding gas, you may find you need to lift to prevent running off track at the exit. On the other hand, as soon as you lift off the gas, the steering becomes very responsive and you can really point the car where you want. Next time you’re in a corner and you feel the steering is a little heavy, get off the gas and let the car turn in by itself. Then add throttle and watch as it miraculously straightens out.

On a related note, if you’re trying to get some drift out of a corner, don’t mash the throttle to break the rear tires free. While that might work a little, you’re not using the weight transfer and suspension to help you out. Instead, lift off throttle and a wait a moment for the weight to transfer. Now add throttle and the rear will have an easier time breaking free. Plus you’ll have the weight on the front, which will help you with the steering correction to prevent spinning.

It’s a conspiracy!

Let’s summarize this whole series of posts, because it’s all a conspiracy to keep you safe slow. The typical expert advice you’re given is intended to keep you safe, and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re going to get good at driving, you’re going to have to go through some unsafe shit. This is the hard truth. There are only two things that matter.

  1. Driving the limit
  2. Rotation early in the corner

You can’t experience the limit without sometimes going over the limit. You can’t experience rotation without sometimes over-rotating. Practicing this stuff will get you into trouble. Make peace with that one way or the other. Meaning decide (a) that you’re not going to do this shit, or (b) that you are and you will pay for your consequences.

In slow, out fast on the racing line with separated inputs and nannies on is a safe way to experience a high performance car. It is not high performance driving, however. Muscle memory can’t be bought. It has to be earned, the old-fashioned way, with lots of falling down and getting back up. Is it worth it? I think some people see a mountain and have to climb it. Others can admire its majesty without conquering it. Enjoy your driving however you like it. Don’t let some fucktard on the internet tell you how to have your fun. That said, if your fun needlessly endangers other people, then you’re the fucktard.

Review: City Car Driving

I recently had surgery on my right Achilles, and have been on a quest to improve my left-footed driving in the virtual world in preparation to driving left-footed in the real world. Towards that end, I decided to buy City Car Driving (Home Edition) because it’s supposed to be a realistic traffic simulator.

Not Kansas

I’ve driven in the US, Canada, and UK, and have been a passenger in cars in various parts of Central America and Western Europe. The traffic patterns in CCD are a little different from what I’ve seen, and I’m guessing the setting for this game is Russia.

Vehicles

CCD gives you plenty of vehicles to choose from right away, which include some familiar looking Japanese and European models as well as some that are probably Russian. Sorry, what I know about cars in the US is small, and anything outside of the US mostly non-existent. The Steam Workshop is full of additional vehicles. I paged through them and subscribed to a few favorites: Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford Crown Victoria, Honda CRX, Mazda Miata, and a 1990s Toyota Corolla.

Graphics

The graphics are charming. Meaning they are pretty low resolution and look on par with original rFactor. I have a pretty good graphics card, but on high resolution (which was still low quality) the game delivered about 85 fps rather than the 144 I was expecting to sync with my monitor. There is a lot going on in the game, however. This isn’t a racing sim with 10 cars on track. It’s a city sim with hundreds of vehicles as well as people. Maybe that’s the reason. Anyway, this is city driving and one doesn’t need more than about 30 FPS to be playable.

Controls

Setting up the driving controls was pretty straightforward. I’m using a Thrustmaster wheel and pedals, so I don’t know how difficult it would be if they were different devices. That said, the game had no problem recognizing and using my external hand brake.

The viewing system can use buttons, hat switches, keyboard, mouse, or even VR. I used buttons on my wheel for looking left, right, and back. Unfortunately, 3 buttons isn’t really enough to view around your car. The game really needs VR or a head-tracker (e.g. TrackIR) because operating the vehicle controls and the view controls at the same time is awkward.

Realism

The reason I got the software was for the realism. How realistic was it? If I had VR or TrackIR or something, I think it would be highly realistic. The other drivers act a lot like drivers in the real world. There are people who will cut you off and blow their horns. There are people who drive too slowly. There are confusing intersections with confusing signage. It felt a lot like driving in a foreign country. Also, like city driving, it wasn’t much fun. Just a lot of stop-n-go with your head on a swivel. For someone who has never driven before, I think this might be a decent training tool because the driving situations are complex and varied. I think the developers have done a really great job of making something that feels like actual driving. I don’t mean this from the perspective of physics, but from the behavior of the other drivers. I didn’t drive in such a way that I could really test the physics.

Refund

In order to get a refund via Steam, you have to stop playing before the 2 hour mark. So that’s what I did. I can’t imagine playing this for more than a few hours. But for someone who has never done any real driving, I think 10-20 hours would be a fun and practical introduction to real driving.

In slow, out fast, and other lies of the racetrack: part 5 of 6

6 Big Lies

We’re half way through 2022 in the middle of the racing season. Let’s continue to talk about the expert advice that’s holding you back.

  1. Drive the racing line
  2. In slow, out fast
  3. The first driver to full throttle wins
  4. You should be on throttle or on brake, never coasting
  5. Imagine a string connecting your steering wheel and throttle pedal
  6. Separate braking and steering

String Theory

The advice goes like this: imagine a string connecting your steering wheel and throttle pedal. When the wheel is straight, you can depress the throttle. But when you turn the wheel, it pulls on the string and raises the throttle pedal. This is supposed to get novice drivers to open the wheel as they accelerate. I think. I’ve heard this advice called “String Theory”. Hey, let’s take a really complex physics model that has nothing to do with racing and borrow the name for attention! Once again, the emphasis is on the corner exit. Yes, if you mash the shit out of the throttle when your wheel is turned (even slightly) you could spin. Watch this dumb fuck turn off his nannies and then nearly kill himself and his passenger in T1 at Willow Springs. I guess this is what “string theory” is trying to prevent. If you want a thrill ride where you provide the gas and the car does the work, leave the nannies on. If you want to learn how to actually drive, you’ll need more than “string theory”.

Brake string theory

There’s another version of string theory where the focus is on the brakes. During threshold braking, the string is taught and the steering wheel is straight. Good. But then as you release the brakes, you have an opportunity to add some steering. What happens if you mix braking and steering? You get oversteer. That’s what trail-braking is all about. At the end of the braking zone, mixing some braking and steering will cause the car to rotate. This is where the magic happens. The car turns without hardly steering. This is also where the danger happens. It’s very easy to spin.

Spinning is generally looked down on when you’re on track. Some organizations will kick you out after 3 spins, and others will do it at 2. Is this a conspiracy to keep you from learning the deep secrets of driving? Yes. The faster drivers don’t want you to learn how to properly steer a car and so they make rules to prevent you from learning.

In order to prevent yourself from spinning, you have to counteract the excessive rotation with a steering correction in the opposite direction. It must be fast and the magnitude might be kind of large. If you do too little, too late, you will spin. If you do too much, you may find yourself fish-tailing and possibly making matters worse. At the end of the day, your muscles must be able to make the corrections automatically. It’s not something you can learn from a book or by imagining a string connecting your wheel to your foot. It takes training, hard work, perseverance, etc.

Imagine corrections

Instead of imagining a string connecting your dick to your ass, or whatever, I think intermediate drivers should use their imaginations to make steering corrections. Even if you don’t have the muscle memory to save a spin right now, it might be a little closer to the forefront of your mind if you think about the actions you’ll need when the time comes.

Here, I made up a rhyme so that you can remember it more easily.

Light feel? Counter wheel!

Hopefully you can get to a skid pad or a simulator to work on this. The moment you feel the steering go light is the moment you have to act. The actions are:

  1. Steer quickly in the opposite direction
  2. Wait for the car to “settle”
  3. Steer back to neutral
  4. Drive your way out

More Lefty Practice

I’ve done some more practice on Karelia Cross. On the first day I was surprised and happy to hit 1:05. On the second day I was hitting 1:05 routinely and even got a high 1:04. Today, I’m hitting 1:04 routinely and am only a few tenths from 1:03.

I really thought that muscle memory would be more in the muscles, but it’s more in the brain. I don’t yet have good habits about how to anchor my heel to the floor. So I sometimes end up with a floating foot going back and forth between pedals. But even with this difficulty, I still find I’m able to modulate the pedals okay. At this point, I don’t expect to get much faster. That said, I still feel I have a lot of work to do to make my motions automatic. Street driving is full of stop and go traffic that isn’t anything like racing. I need to practice that before I drive for real.

City Car Driving

There is a simulator for driving cars in traffic. I’ve never tried it. Normally, I would wait for a Steam sale and pick this up for whatever discount was available, but given that I might be driving in a week, I thought I’d pay the full $24.99. Honestly, that’s not much if it actually gives me some authentic practice.

Here’s what their website says.

Our company designs software and hardware products for car driving education and entertainment: smart AI systems, virtual models of cities, car simulators, special vehicle simulators, industrial car driving simulators etc. We also design car driving computer games, on the basis of our own technologies and experience.

 

The car driving game named “City Car Driving” is a new car simulator, designed to help users experience car driving in а big city, the countryside and in different conditions or go just for a joy ride. Special stress in the “City Car Driving” simulator has been laid on a variety of different road situations and realistic car driving.

Check back soon for a review.

Lefty: day 1

Today is day 3 after surgery but day 1 of trying to drive left-footed. I decided I would use 2 typical test scenarios: Brands Indy and Karelia Cross. As usual, the car is NA Miata with default everything. There was a slight wrinkle this time, which is a left foot setup. That was simply turning off the throttle, turning the clutch into the throttle, and then setting the transmission to automatic. 3 clicks later I was ready to roll.

I know from previous experience that my benchmark times are approximately as below. My goal was to reach a “fast” time.

  • Brands
    • Personal best: 1:01.7?
    • Fast: 1:03
  • Karelia
    • Personal best:  1:02.8
    • Fast: 1:05

Brands Indy

First stop, Brands Indy for 20 laps. My first timed lap was a 1:05.34, which is not that bad. I then put in several crap laps before a 1:03.9. I was very surprised at that. Towards the end of the session I got better and more consistent, and my fastest 3 laps were 1:02.84, 1:03.26, and 1:03.63. Not a very tight group, but much better than I expected. But Brands Indy isn’t all that demanding of either pedal. Here’s a graph showing brake pressure, speed, and throttle position. Red is right-footed and blue is left-footed. This isn’t my best right-footed lap, but it’s a pretty good one. As you can see, my braking technique on the left side isn’t all that great. I brake gently at first, then too much, and then don’t modulate the pressure very well.

Karelia Cross

I love Karelia Cross and other dirt tracks because the low traction makes you really have to work. Unlike Brands, you can’t just drive from memory. Every lap is a little different. I had to jump back and forth between pedals quite a bit and a few times I think I was going for the clutch. My fast lap was a 1:05.42, which is faster than I thought I would go. I was thinking I would get there eventually rather than on the first session.

Muscle memory?

I have never actuated a throttle with my left foot before. I don’t have any muscle memory on my left foot for how to modulate throttle to prevent from spinning. And yet I found I was doing this automatically. Trail-braking was harder, but I could still do it a little. Shocking stuff. I’m not going to say I’m glad I have an Achilles injury, but I don’t think I would have done this experiment without an injury. If you’ve got a sim rig, you might give it a try. You never know, you might get into an emergency situation where you have to race left-footed and you’ll be glad you trained for it.