Offseason Training: Part 2 – Hands

It’s January and time to get to work on our off-season training. Where do we start? At the beginning.

Skid Pad

In the real world and the virtual world, the Skid Pad is a great place to practice some fundamentals. We’ll use the Skid Pad 0.5 track, which isn’t included with Assetto Corsa, so you’ll have to download and install that first. The car is the NA Mazda Miata that comes with the game, so there’s nothing to download there. For all the exercises, we’ll be leaving the car in 2nd gear.

Enter a practice session and turn right at the sign post to get to the skid pad. Start circling the skid pad on the 50m radius. Go as fast as you can while staying on the 50m line. Once your tires are warmed up, you should be able to maintain 44 mph.

Max Corner Speed

While circling on the 50m radius, try to add throttle slowly and get up to 48 mph. You can briefly, but it can’t be maintained. In fact, when you try, you end up on a larger radius. While this may seem an obvious circumstance, it’s worth studying. Every radius has a maximum cornering speed. It is impossible to go 48 mph when the maximum is 44. You cannot bully your way to a faster corner speed. Precision is the name of the game.

Go back to circling at 44 mph. Try steering more. A lot more. It doesn’t work. Once you’re cornering at maximum speed, adding a bunch of steering input doesn’t make you turn more. That’s because you can’t get on a tighter radius when your speed is 44. The speed of the tighter radius might be 40, so you’ll have to get down to 40 before you can maintain a tighter radius. Adding steering will slow you down some, but it’s not an efficient way to turn or decelerate.

Steering with Feet

Let’s get circling at max speed again. What happens when you add or remove throttle? Adding throttle makes you go outwards. Removing throttle makes you go inwards. Braking gently also makes you go inwards. When you’re cornering a maximum speed, deceleration is a great way of steering. In fact, when you decelerate, you do 3 things: (1) add traction to the front tires (2) slow down (3) remove traction from rear tires. Adding traction to the front makes the steering wheel work better. Slowing down allows you to get to a tighter radius. Removing traction from the rear lets the car rotate (slide) to contribute to turning. Win, win, win.

You can also steer with the throttle pedal. But should you? Let’s say you’re cornering at maximum speed and decide you want to turn outward. Should you (a) turn the wheel (b) press the throttle? If you add throttle, the car will naturally change to a larger radius. But this is a form of understeer. The wheel will feel heavy as you fight for lateral grip. You’ll go faster if you just reduce steering lock.

In a RWD car, you can use the throttle to steer with the back wheels if you use enough to get the tires spinning. Massive oversteer looks cool, but is slow. Why? Because you’re sharing turning and accelerating. You’re also reducing the overall grip of your tires. If you want to go fast, you have to keep as much grip as possible, and drifting reduces overall grip.

Understeer

Let’s say you’re headed down a straight and about to enter the corner. Your goal is actually really simple. You need to get down to 44 mph (or whatever the maximum corner speed is). What happens if you end up above or below 44 mph?

If you’re too fast for your target corner speed, you will end up on a larger corner radius than you want. You want to go tighter, but your speed makes you go wider. You turn the wheel and nothing happens. That’s understeer.

If you’re too slow for your target corner speed, what will you do? Probably add throttle in the middle of the corner. What happens when you add throttle? Weight shifts off the front tires making them less grippy. In other words, understeer. Let’s write this in stone.

You can get understeer from entering a corner too fast or too slow.

Lots of people blame a car or its setup for understeer. But most of the time it’s the driver creating understeer.

Drifting?

Of course, you can create your own oversteer, and that’s a really great car control skill. But we’re saving that for another day.

Hands Positions

Regardless of your current habits, you should practice more than one way of holding the steering wheel. On a racetrack, you’ll be using 9-n-3 most of the time. But off road you’ll need more steering lock than that. So it’s a good idea to practice several hand positions.

  • 9-n-3 – put your hands on the sides of the wheel and don’t move them ever
  • Shuffle – don’t let your hands cross the middle of the wheel (right hand stays on right side, left hand stays on left side)
  • One-handed – use your left or right hand only regardless of whether the turn is left or right
  • Hand-over-hand – mimic the driver animation in Assetto Corsa

Slalom

The skid pad has some numbers marked on it at intervals (10, 25, 50, 75, 100, etc.).  Use those as cones and do a slalom, weaving in and out of the numbers as fast as you can. Use all of the hand positions. Which hand position works best for slalom? For me, it’s 9-n-3.

Figure 8

Use two 50m markers as cones for a figure 8 drill (cross over in the middle). Go around one side turning left and then the other side going right. Use all of the hand positions. Which one works best for figure 8? For me, it’s hand-over-hand, although one-handed is also good.

Getting Dirty

One of the best ways to wreck your car (real or virtual) is to drive off track. The skid pad is surrounded by dirt. Drive around the skid pad and then go for a spin in the dirt. I mean that literally. Try to spin. Also try to recover from a spin. One of the most important things you can learn from sim racing is how a vehicle behaves when it goes off course. While the dirt model in AC isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to demonstrate the dangers of off track excursions.

Reflection

Let’s spend a moment reflecting on the concepts in this post.

  • Speed affects radius and vice-versa
  • You can steer with your hands as well as your feet
  • Turning is often accompanied by deceleration
  • Unwanted understeer is often created by the driver
  • Different hand positions work for different situations
  • Driving on dirt is hazardous

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