Rotation Q&A

I was watching a YouTube video on Miata vs GR86 and stopped when they started talking about handling. The video is queued up to the point where they talk about rotation.

90% of car enthusiast who talk about rotation have never experienced it and have no idea what it actually is. I’m sick of hearing people misuse the term, so in this post I’ll explain.

What exactly is rotation?

Rotation is a form of oversteer. It is better described as off-throttle yaw.

What exactly is oversteer?

Oversteer occurs when your rear tires are sliding more than your front tires. If none of your tires are sliding, you’re not experiencing any kind of oversteer. If you’re doing some spirited driving on backroads and think you’re rotating the car, you’re probably not. In the video above, the car steps out a couple inches. Was that rotation? It was the start of it, but like lots of enthusiast drivers, that’s where it ends. If you’re driving on public roads, that’s where it should end.

What exactly is yaw?

There are 3 axes around your car. There is the pitch axis, which you experience as fore-aft movement when braking or accelerating, the roll axis, which you experience as side-to-side movement in cornering, and the yaw axis, which you experience during a spin. If you haven’t spun your car, you’re probably driving too nice a car or driving on public roads. Get yourself a beater and learn to drive on a skid pad. If you still haven’t experienced a spin, you’re not trying hard enough. Spin not, win not.

Is drifting rotation?

No. Like rotation, drifting is a form of oversteer, but drifting happens with throttle on, and rotation happens with the throttle off. It’s that simple.

Is a donut rotation?

No. A donut is a form of junk food. Also some media house that makes videos about car stuff.

What about FWD drifting?

The only way a FWD car can oversteer is with the throttle off. There is no way to sustain oversteer. Does that mean FWD cars can’t drift? Yes, technically they cannot. But let’s take pity on those drivers (like me) and call their form of extreme oversteer “drifting” anyway.

Do you need to trail-brake to rotate?

No, but it helps. Any time you decelerate while turning, you have an opportunity to rotate. Lifting off throttle in the middle of a long sweeper will point your car tighter into the corner. That’s a form of rotation. Braking lightly in the middle of a corner will do the same thing even faster. However, the most common way to induce rotation is via trail-braking at the corner entry.

How do I trail-brake?

Most intermediate drivers hit their brakes hard, and jump off them equally hard. Focus on a soft release. Watch your brake pressure trace. What if you don’t have a brake pressure trace? Get a sim rig? Plug an AiM Solo DL into a modern car? If you don’t have these things, try using my counting method. As you approach a brake zone, get your threshold braking up to 8 or 9 (out of 10). Then try to release it as 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Once you have the soft release wired into your habits, try mixing some steering in at the 1. And then later at the 2.

Can I use the hand-brake to rotate?

Yes. Using the hand-brake even a little bit will swap some of your cornering traction for deceleration. You don’t need to lock your wheels to create rotation with the hand-brake, although that’s what a lot of people do. However, using the hand-brake is cheating in my opinion.

What about flicking?

The Scandinavian Flick can be used by itself or in conjunction with other techniques to induce rotation. By briefly steering away from your intended direction, you can create a little extra weight transfer. Flicking isn’t very useful on track, but it is used frequently in Rally racing. It is rarely the faster way around a corner, but the reason rally racers flick isn’t really for speed, but safety.

How do I prevent myself from spinning?

First off, if you drive around trying not to spin, you will never learn how to control a spin. You must experience spinning to control spinning. It’s sort of like swimming. In order to swim, you have to get in the water. The question you should really be asking is…

How do I control yaw?

  1. Turn off stability control. In many modern cars, it cannot be completely turned off without pulling some fuses. If you can afford to track a modern sports car, you can probably afford to buy/rent a POS Miata for training purposes.
  2. Go to a skid pad. Don’t train on a live track. Don’t practice in the street. Alternatively, invest in a simulation rig.
  3. To increase yaw, put all season tires on the rear of your car.
  4. Practice. Fall down. Get up. Dust yourself off. Practice more.

How do I know if I’m rotating?

A rotating car will feel like it’s steering itself. The first time it happens, it will feel strange, like you’re in a swivel chair. The easiest way to experience this is to snap off the throttle while going around a skid pad. Provided the car was near the limit of grip, it will step out in the rear all by itself. It will feel like magic.

9 thoughts on “Rotation Q&A

  1. Hear hear. “Rotation” is probably the most over used track term by people who have no idea what it actually is. However, I’ve always disagreed with the notion “you have to spin to win.” I’ve never spun a car on a track, and have won more races then I haven’t one, and have set track records along the way. Granted I’ve been at this for 16 years so I had time to gently push the limit along the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah the All Season Tires idea is really good. I have a “race car” stripped down STi, caged, and prepared by a real Race Car Team before I bought it. It even has big white numbers on the side so it must be fast… but I’m not, yet. First thing I did was take off the slicks and put on All Season Tires in order to learn car control. Best to learn the subtle art of driving at the limits of adhesion on the track at half a g instead of 1.5 g’s!
    Thanks for all your great info, your writings are eagerly awaited.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. One possibily useful addition to the Q&A might be something like, “What will it look or feel like from the driver’s seat when I’m actually getting the car to rotate?” I definitely used to think that it was when the car felt like it was on rails (which, ironically, is a sign that the car is not rotating), and when the car was responsive and would change direction with very little steering input. I think a lot of people still hold those ideas. That’s what it sounds like the guy in that video is experiencing when he says it is rotating.


  4. I saw a video where driver had brakes failure on the track and making flick saved him. So it’s a good thing to know how it works.


  5. I haven’t watched the video yet so maybe it’s mentioned there, but in the article you don’t talk about why we try to rotate the car. Isn’t it the method to get all four tyres up to the optimum slip angle, where the grip is maximum, and hence, maximise cornering speed?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s