Shit I don’t understand… #3: rain-o-phobia

This is the third in a series of rants about things I don’t understand about car culture, motorsports, and racing.

1/1000 drivers

I’m going to make a very rough estimate and say that only 1/10 car enthusiasts ever drive their cars aggressively, where I define aggressive as near the limit of traction in both the X and Y directions (drag racing will have to wait for another day).

I will further guess that 1/10 drive on track and 9/10 are street-based (autocross or illegal street racing).

You know what I’ve noticed about 9/10 track drivers? When it rains, they sit in the paddock waiting for it to dry. I’m going to call these fair weather drivers dryvers just for fun.

Taken together, maybe 1/1000 drivers intends to drive their car on a wet track.

Wetter is better

To me, the whole point of high performance driving is to balance a car at the limit of adhesion. It doesn’t matter if the weather is sunny or rainy, if the track is asphalt or dirt, if the driven wheels are in the front or rear, etc: the reason I’m there is to slide the car around under some (sub-optimal) interpretation of optimal.

Rain removes grip, making it possible to slide around at lower speeds and lower g-forces. You might feel unsafe in the rain because the traction isn’t always predictable. However, if you hit something, you are moving slower, so at least in one sense, a wet track is safer.

Are there any sports that are improved as a result of rain? I think car racing is much improved. There are downsides, however. Visibility can be bad. Tire noise is less perceptible. Paddock time is less comfortable. But on the balance I would always rather have rain. The driving is more exciting and there is far less wear on the car. On my team, I’m not very selfish about seat time or running costs. But I do look at the forecast and reserve the right to race the wettest stint.

What if you’re a dryver?

There are very good reasons to be a dryver. You are definitely putting your vehicle at more risk when driving in the rain. Traction is less predictable, and it is therefore more likely you will end up off track. Also, you can’t control other drivers, so you’re more at risk from them (assuming they aren’t waiting it out in the paddock). If you’re trying to set a personal best lap time, it’s not going to happen in the rain. Similarly, if you’re doing setup experiments, rain and surface variability are probably not your focus. I get it, rain gets in the way. But if you embrace the chaos, it’s actually more fun.

Getting over rain-o-phobia

For driving in the rain, the biggest hurdles to overcome are confidence and car control skills. You need both, and they require lots of time to develop. A skilled driver who is not confident is slow. An unskilled driver who is confident is dangerous. My brother is the former. On his home track at Pineview Run, where he has lots of confidence, you would be hard pressed to beat him. I’m not sure I could without putting in some time. But on an unfamiliar track, I will be a good deal faster because he’s making doubly sure the car drives home and I’m trying to punish the tires (in case you didn’t know, all tires are bad and need to be punished).

Both skill and confidence come with time. I think it’s easier to develop these on a sim rig, but you shouldn’t always be swayed by arguments of expense or efficiency. You’re allowed to have fun! If you learn at half the rate of the other guy it means you’re having twice as much fun along the way.

6 thoughts on “Shit I don’t understand… #3: rain-o-phobia

  1. I really enjoy running on a wet track. A drying track is even more fun. The grip level is changing on each lap. I once went to an exercise where 1/4 of the track was kept wet artificially so each lap was a mix of wet and dry. Super-fun.

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    1. that would be soooo much fun!! i’ve done a bunch in the rain, usually Lemons racing and it really does separate out those that like it from those that don’t!

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  2. I’m not a fan of wet tracks. To me the worry about wrecking the car is greater than the increased fun from sliding the car around. Something I’m trying to get over, but haven’t succeeded in doing yet.

    Plus I hate being cold and wet and my track car has no windows.

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  3. As a random comment (just looking through some old articles while waiting on a job to finish), regularly driving on a wet track will likely give you more skills faster than avoiding doing so. So someone who likes driving in the rain is likely surprisingly much better at it than someone who doesn’t, but has a similar number of track hours.

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