Intermediate Topic #3: gear choice

This series of posts is aimed at you, the intermediate driver. Let’s identify and fix some common errors. If you’re not an intermediate driver, welcome to YSAR, but what the heck are you doing here?

The out-fast mindset

Last week we began by stating that the in slow, out fast mindset is something that holds back the intermediate driver from improving. If you recall, we focused on the in slow part, and discussed how braking softer can help. This week let’s discuss the downsides of the out fast mindset.

What’s the #1 thing someone asks you when you tell them you drive a car on a race track? “How fast do you go?” The less you know about racing, the more you focus on speed, acceleration, and power. And so it is with out fast. The reason we downshift is to put the car in the gear that will get us the most power coming out of the corner. But that focus on the second half of the corner robs of us of our focus on the first part of the corner.

The exercise: don’t shift

To move your focus to the first half of the corner, I want you to try cornering without shifting. Choose a corner where you usually downshift one gear. Instead of driving it in 2nd, drive it in 3rd (or whatever). Your mind will automatically try to drive the corner as fast as possible, and knowing you have less power coming out of the corner, you brain can’t help but optimize the start of the corner. Downshifting and braking together is a difficult skill to master. In this drill, you only have to brake, so your braking will become more precise and you’ll be able to keep more momentum. As you begin to optimize the line with the higher gear, you may find yourself taking an earlier apex. This is normal, and to some degree desirable. But watch out that you don’t take too early an apex. That could see you running out of room at the exit.

Let’s see what the telemetry traces say about this experiment. As usual, I’m using Brands Hatch Indy, Assetto Corsa, and Race Studio Analysis. The panels are RPM, speed, throttle position, and time differential. Looking at the RPM traces it should be pretty obvious that the blue line is the downshifting trace. What else do you notice?

  • The speed traces of the red line have a more gradual descent and ascent. Last week we talked about V-shaped and U-shaped speed traces and here they are again. When you focus on keeping momentum, the speed trace becomes U-shaped.
  • The downshifting driver has to do a lot more work. Not only is there the heel-toe downshifting dance, but being on throttle sooner, in the middle of the corner, requires some balancing.
  • The blue line loses speed at entries but makes up for that on the following straight. That’s what we expected. But we probably also expected that the later apex, more power-focused line to be faster.
  • All the lap times are nearly identical.

Try putting together both exercises so far: brake softer and drive a higher gear. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or french fries and gravy. Or tea and biscuits. Or suck and racing. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

2 thoughts on “Intermediate Topic #3: gear choice

  1. This blog reminded me my second HOD event. After observing me driving for a few laps, you asked me to use 3rd gear only to drive around Thunderhill East. It indeed helped me to focus on maintaining entry speed and braking point. Now, driving 328, at Turn 9 (a pretty fast uphill left turn), I would stay on 4th gear and focus on braking and turning. I would downshift to 3rd at the crest of the turn 9.

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