Ghosting the aliens: part 5, fast is fast

This is the last of the Ghosting the Aliens series of posts. Not to fear, we will return for more telemetry analysis in 2019.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

— said no alien ever

In this post, I’m going to argue that an overemphasis on “slow is smooth” results in “slow is slow”. If you truly want to be fast, there are some techniques that require you to move quickly. From the outside of the car, everything looks smooth, however. How does interior violence become external elegance? As we did the last couple weeks, let’s load up Alex Czerny’s fast lap in iSpeed. This time, let’s add the second fastest lap of the season, Riku Alatalo’s 1:39.842. Time for a closer look at alien anatomy.

Braking

Both Alex and Riku have similar braking profiles. They hit the brake pedal hard and fast. The release is slow, however. I think I’ve talked about “hard on, soft off” nearly every post in this series. It’s that important! Next time you’re on track, try to spend a little mental energy to examine your brake release. Do you get to maximum brake pressure quickly? More importantly, do you snap off the brake pedal or ease off? Hopefully you’re running telemetry and can look at the traces when you get home.

Clutch

There is only one way aliens use the clutch: fast. Look at the traces below. The clutch pedal is in and out instantaneously. If you find that you’re easing out the clutch, it’s because you didn’t match revs. The fix is pretty simple: wait. As you approach the corner, apply the brake pedal only. Wait. Wait some more.  Step on the clutch right before the shift.

Gearbox

There really isn’t a slow vs. fast argument in using the gearbox. If you’re sprint racing, you shift as quickly as possible and don’t care about abuse. If you’re endurance racing, you shift gently to ensure longevity. What’s interesting in the trace below is that these two aliens don’t agree on the best gear choice. Alex shifts briefly into 5th before T2 and Riku shifts briefly into 3rd in T10. If you’re looking for those extra tenths on track, your gear choice is probably the last thing to optimize.

Throttle

In a low powered car like a Miata, the throttle can often be used as an on/off switch. Note how many of the traces look rectangular. However, this is not true in the middle of the corner where the drivers are balancing weight to optimize grip. It would also not be true on a wet track.

Steering

The thing that separates aliens from the rest of the pack is that they can drive on the ragged edge while under complete control. The initial turn in to a corner is pretty gentle. At this time, their foot is still on the brake. The combination of steering and braking causes the back to lose traction and start rotating. This is intentional oversteer whose role is to point the car towards the exit. The car is now exhibiting excess yaw, and unless something is done about this, the car will spin. That something is a steering correction, and it is very, very quick. In the image below, I’ve put red dots where the steering wheel is moved with great speed. After the correction, the steering becomes slow again (unless another correction is required).

Aliens make steering corrections all the time. If you overlay multiple laps from the same driver, you’ll find that not all corrections are in the exact same place or have the same magnitude. The ragged edge isn’t always repeatable.

Let’s take a look at a couple videos featuring fast and slow corrections. The first video features me driving my brother’s Miata. If the video doesn’t queue up to the right spot, go to 1:30. Or just keep watching. I make steering corrections in a lot of corners.

Here’s what happens when you don’t make fast corrections…

Slow vs. Fast

So let’s review which parts of driving are slow and which parts are fast.

  • Brakes on is fast (assuming you’re traveling in a straight line)
  • Brakes off is slow
  • Clutch in is fast
  • Clutch out is fast if you’re rev-matching
  • Clutch out is slow if you’re not rev-matching
  • Throttle off is fast (usually, but not mid-corner)
  • Throttle on is fast after mid-corner balancing
  • Steering in is initially slow
  • Steering correction is fast
  • Steering out is slow

Final Thoughts

If you want to be a faster driver, telemetry analysis is a really useful tool. While comparing your laps to each other is helpful, the most gains occur when you compare your laps to someone faster. The cheapest way to go down this path is with a simulation rig. The telemetry is already built into the software and you’re not going to do any permanent damage along your bumpy performance driving education journey.

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