YSAR isn’t just for crashes anymore! This week I’m introducing a new type of post: the Chalk Talk.
In California, the best way to learn track driving is with Hooked on Driving. What makes them so good? Like racing drivers, they are constantly trying to improve. As an HoD coach, I see first hand how much thought and care goes into their events. One recent improvement is that Hooked on Driving has teamed up with world-famous driving instructor Ross Bentley. Novice students now take his Speed Secrets Performance Driving 101 eCourse before coming to the track. So they already have a theoretical foundation in the basics of track driving.
Another recent change in the HoD novice curriculum was to cut a track session in favor of car control skills. While it may seem a disadvantage that students are getting less track time for their money (because they are), they are becoming better drivers because of it. Finding the limit of the car and driver on the skid pad is a lot safer than on track. Skid pad drills mean students also get instruction from more than one coach, which can be really helpful because every student has her own learning style and what clicks with one pair might not with another.
One of the car control skills you’ll find at HoD is the figure 8 drill. The basic idea is to drive a car around a skid pad in a figure 8 to experience oversteer and understeer. Extreme drifting doesn’t have much place on a race track, but it’s a very important skill to master because it helps refine your ability to manage weight transfer and recover from oversteer. While RWD cars are the champions of long, smoky drifts, AWD and FWD cars can also drift.
It’s hard for novices (or anyone really) to work on multiple skills at the same time, so I focus on just one skill per run. The last thing I say is the main point of the lesson. Here’s what I generally like to say to students the first 3 times through the drill.
- Nice car. Turn your traction control off and stay in 2nd gear. This drill requires a lot more turning than the track, so you won’t be able to fix your hands at 9 and 3. The point of this drill is to feel how the car responds at the limit. It’s much better doing that here at 20 mph than out on the track at 80 mph. You can creep up on the limit all day and never find it, so I want you to go over the limit. I want to hear your tires squealing.
- Keep your eyes up and look through the corner. It’s easier to control oversteer and understeer if your focus is farther away. You should be looking out the side more than the front.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard are you gripping the steering wheel? I want you to try 3. That’s like walking across the street holding hands with a child. Firm enough that they don’t get away but still gentle. The wheel is trying to talk to you, and if you are gripping too hard, you won’t be able to hear it.
The follow-up conversations will depend on how the student is performing. The three most common issues are (1) fear (2) patience (3) smoothness. Let’s address each one of these in turn.
Some students don’t like driving aggressively. They can’t bring themselves to accelerate, brake, or turn hard. Their tires don’t squeal. It’s hard to talk about oversteer, understeer, etc. when the car is being driven so tamely. A small part of me wants to say “stop being such a chicken shit”, but thankfully it’s a very small part. Students are there to learn and have fun. It’s no fun being yelled at. So I try to make it fun. I tell them “pretend you’re in a movie and you’re chasing bad guys”.
Highly aggressive drivers often suffer from understeer. They approach the corner fast, brake hard, turn hard, and hammer the throttle. And then they find themselves plowing through the corner unable to break the rear tires loose. The problem is that the weight of the car has shifted to the rear and the front has become so light that there is no traction left for turning. At this point, I describe trail-braking. Here’s what I say to drivers of RWD cars.
“Imagine the corner being split into 3 parts. The first part of the corner is taken with brakes on. Right now, I can see your brake lights are off before you turn into the corner. I want you to maintain a little brake pressure through the first part of the corner. This will keep weight on the front tires and prevent understeer. In the middle part, you’re transitioning your foot from the brake pedal to the throttle. Be patient here. In the last part, you hit the throttle and drift.”
At the track, I usually describe this with my hand making a semi-circle. I should probably bring a small white board. I would draw something like this.
Once a student is able to get their car to oversteer, I try to get them to smooth it out. Smooth isn’t just fast, it’s also safe (for both student and coach). Here are some of the typical conversations.
- I want you to focus on what your tires sound like. There should be a constant squeal from entry to exit.
- Nice drifting, but you’re going in like a lamb and out like a lion. I want you to be a lion the whole time. Go in faster.
- Did you hear your tires squawk and then go silent? That’s because you used too much traction too early. Patience.
- Try the drill one-handed. There is a lot more turning here than on track, and driving one handed prevents your arms from getting tangled. It will also help you lighten your grip on the wheel. But please don’t do this on track!
- Try turning traction control back on, especially if you plan on using it on track.