Things that rule #1: driving the limit

Reading the last series of “things that suck” posts, you might think I’m a negative person. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon about things I’m particularly curmudgeonly about, but as a general rule, I’m a very positive person who is more half-full than half-empty. So let’s flip the script and talk about some things that rule. The logical place to start is the emotional place to start. What do I love most about high performance driving? That’s easy…

Driving the Limit

First off, what does it mean to drive the limit? Exactly what limit are we talking about?

Driver: Everyone has their own limit. So part of driving the limit depends on the driver’s abilities. Two drivers may be a couple seconds apart and both could be driving their limit. The slower driver might be having just as much difficulty extracting more performance from the car as the faster driver. The slower driver could also be having just as much fun as the faster driver. On the one hand, you don’t have to be driving the car as fast as physically possible to be driving the limit.

Grip: On the other hand, there is a limit defined by how fast it’s possible to drive. And that’s really dependent on the grip of the vehicle. So one important definition of driving the limit is using all the available traction.

So how does one know one is driving the limit? Here are some thoughts.

  • You can’t really know you’ve hit the limit until you go over the limit
  • If you’re 100% in complete control of the vehicle, you’re below the limit
  • If you never make steering corrections, you’re below the limit
  • If you never make throttle corrections, you’re below the limit
  • If you can go from brake to full throttle immediately, you’re below the limit

Do you really have to go over the limit to know where the limit is? Yes, I think so. If you don’t go over the limit, how will you know you’ve seen it?

How do you know you’ve gone beyond the limit? Because you’ve lost control of the vehicle to an extent. That doesn’t mean you’re spinning out of control and about to crash. Racing drivers go over the limit all the time, they just recover quickly. Recovery is the key to driving the limit. The faster you can recover from going over the limit, the closer you can drive to the limit. The raison d’être of driving (for me) is walking the tightrope between control and out-of-control. There is no feeling quite like it. I absolutely love it, and I put up with a lot of shit to experience it.

Practice

In order to drive the limit, you have to practice driving the limit. It’s really not practical to do this on the street because it’s illegal to drive like that. Also, you might hit something like a curb and ruin your car (or worse). An HPDE track day is also not the place for novices and intermediates to practice driving the limit. Losing control of your vehicle may endanger the other people on track. Autocross would be great if you could get an hour of driving per day, but a half dozen 1-minute runs isn’t training. You need a place where you can practice loss of control safely for a decent amount of time. I have 4 suggestions

  • Private track day – expensive though
  • Skid pad – ideal if you can find one
  • Kart – that’s how the real racers started
  • Simulator – better on high-end equipment

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