Ghosting the Aliens: part 3, driving harder

Imagine you’re heading down the main straight and the following thought enters your mind, “I want the next lap to be my personal best”. There are a lot of people who approach this problem with a solution that sounds like “I’m just going to drive it harder”. How can you drive harder?

  • Brake more aggressively
  • Hold more entry speed

If you’re a complete chicken-shit who coasts into braking zones or parks their car before the corner, these strategies might actually work. And if they do, you’ll think that by braking harder and hoarding speed, you’ll eventually become an alien. Not true. Your understanding about the nature of speed is fundamentally flawed. You can’t bluff or bully your way to expertise. It’s got to be earned.

Brake aggressively

As we did the last two weeks, we’ll load Alex Czerny’s fast lap into Lap 1 and choose Leon Jagusch (1:43.477) for Lap 2.

In nearly every braking zone, Leon is braking much later and harder than Alex. He’s also more than 3 seconds behind. Threshold braking is an important skill, especially in cars that don’t have ABS. But if you focus too much on braking, you may inadvertently also do the following.

  • Slow the car too much
  • Separate braking from turning
  • Get to throttle later
  • Cause understeer as you fight your way out of the corner

Examine Leon’s traces and see if you can find these symptoms.

Hold more entry speed

So if over-braking isn’t the answer to going faster, surely it must be holding more entry speed. Let’s take a look at what that looks like. Load up Michael Smith67 (1:46.328).

Look at vertical line in the picture. This is positioned just after the apex of T5. The speed graph shows that this is his point of minimum speed. I call this the nadir of the corner. Note where Alex’s nadir is: earlier. Michael is trying to go fast by holding as much speed as possible. Unfortunately, this means he’s still fighting the steering wheel at the apex. Meanwhile, Alex’s wheel is nearly straight and as a consequence he’s on the gas much earlier than Michael.

Practice makes perfect… not

Now let’s take a look at Hiroshi Ueda (1:42.509). Hiroshi is faster than most of the drivers we’ve been looking at. That’s understandable because he’s been an iRacing subscriber for 7 years and has over 1500 races under his virtual harnesses. The fact that he’s 2.5 seconds behind Alex suggests that he still has fundamental misunderstandings of how to drive a car.

If you look at his brake pressure you’ll see that it isn’t too bad. He gets to maximum pressure quickly and it then tapers off. It’s not as tidy as Alex, but it doesn’t look like the source of the 2.5 seconds. Now look at the throttle trace. Hiroshi is late to the throttle in nearly every corner. Why? Because he’s trying to keep too much speed. He’s fighting understeer as he works to keep the car on track. Meanwhile, Alex is completely unwound and at full throttle. Why is Hiroshi still driving like this after 7 years and 1500 races? Because there’s more to training than the number of hours. You have to train the right way. Going back through the archives at iSpeed I looked at some laps of his from 2 years ago. He’s faster now, but not in the right way. Hiroshi has been perfecting a low yaw early apex style of driving.

Summary

If you’re a slow driver and you want to drop your lap times, you can improve them in a number of ways. Pedal-mashing a high power car is one way. Holding more speed in a low power car is another way. Practicing either of these techniques will lead to good lap times but not great ones. Sadly, this is where most drivers end up: perfecting dead-end solutions. There is better way, and it’s a heck of a lot more work.

Post 99: you done fucked up

Amazingly (to me) this is YSAR post #99. Starting with #100, I will be making room for some new content aside from the usual crash analysis. At this landmark, I thought it would be useful to provide some kind of synthesis. Simply put, what advice would I give someone about to go wheel-to-wheel racing for the first time. I’m calling these rules the YSAR YDFU.

  1. I didn’t see = dangerous driver
  2. I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver
  3. Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact
  4. Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury
  5. Drive with people, not against them

Rule #1: I didn’t see = dangerous driver

You might think that driving the limit is your #1 job… It isn’t. Your highest priority on track is being safe, and that starts with seeing everything around you. First off, flags and flag stations. It’s not enough to know where they are and what the colors mean. You have to actively look for them. Judge Steve of Lemons has a phrase worth quoting: “corner, unwind, look for the next flag station”. If you miss a flag station, you may end up ruining the weekend for yourself and someone else.

If you ever find yourself in car-to-car contact and explain yourself by saying “I didn’t see” then you really have no business being on a race track. That’s your #1 job. It doesn’t matter if you have right of way. You should never be surprised by the presence of another car. If this happens, you need to work on your situational awareness in a safer environment (HPDE, simulation).

Rule #2: I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver

In some ways “I didn’t expect” is an even worse response than “I didn’t see” because it shows a lack of judgement. It’s like saying “I could have avoided the incident but I chose not to”. You have to expect other people to suck at racing and drive accordingly. You also have to know your own abilities and not drive beyond them. Everyone has lapses of judgement. Try not to let the excitement of the moment ruin the weekend.

Rule #3: Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact

The most common cause of car-to-car contact occurs when a driver tries to improve time or position by aggressively braking. With all of the grip going to slowing, there’s none left for turning. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, go buy any racing book and look at the friction circle. Locking your wheels pretty much guarantees you’ll be ending someone’s weekend. Let’s see a couple examples.

A less common type of late braking occurs when a driver hits their brakes mid-corner. This results in sudden oversteer. The situation is exacerbated in front-wheel drive cars and in downhill corners where the weight is already biased towards the front of the car.

Almost everyone knows the adage “in slow, out fast” but knowing doesn’t equate with doing. The key to going faster isn’t braking later, but getting on throttle sooner. That means moving the braking and turning earlier in the cornering process, not later. The only people who benefit from braking later are rank novices dealing with the initial fears of high G-forces. If you’re a rank novice, you don’t have any business racing yet. And if you’re not, late braking isn’t going to get you anything but trouble.

Rule #4: Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury

As soon as a car puts even part of a tire off track, it loses grip. In these situations, holding the steering wheel in the same place pretty much guarantees you will spin. It’s critical that all drivers understand how to leave the racing surface and how to return. In both cases, the wheels have to be running nearly parallel to the track. If you’re about to run off track, zero your steering and go off track intentionally and under control. Otherwise you may find yourself spinning uncontrollably.

Other people who go off track are some of the greatest dangers you will face. They often collect other cars in their attempt to regain control.

If you see another car kick up dirt, expect something bad to happen. Hopefully, trouble doesn’t come looking for you.

And when you’re ready to come back on track, make eye contact with a flag station to make sure it’s okay. When it’s safe to proceed, do so gently. Tires don’t turn so well on dirt/grass, and a common mistake is to steer too much. Racecars don’t like going off track, and often break something when they do. It’s easy to tell if your suspension is crooked, but torn brake lines or radiator hoses are not so obvious. Try to evaluate if something is wrong before going full speed.

Rule #5: Drive with people, not against them

Hey, this is amateur racing we’re talking about. If you have professional aspirations, what are you doing slumming on this blog? There are no cash prizes or racing contracts in your future. Take a fucking chill pill. Don’t endanger other drivers, protect them. Damage to cars and drivers is unacceptable. If you see someone spin in front of you, don’t try to rush past. Make sure that you and those behind you aren’t going to make a bad situation worse. Slow down, control your car, and position yourself to maximize safety. It’s a lot better having someone come over to your pit and say “thanks, you totally saved me” rather than “fuck you asshole”.

If you’re a fast driver in a fast car, your closing speeds with less capable cars can be really high. Less experienced drivers might not see you. Don’t assume they will. Make yourself as visible as possible and get around them with minimal fuss. Yes, it can be frustrating to follow a slow and oblivious novice for a couple corners. Please, don’t be a jerk who tries to teach them a lesson unless that lesson is how to drive with courtesy.

ToS: PVP & OHD

One of the most common sources of contact is the punt. This occurs when the trailing car hits the lead car and sends it off track. Often, the cause of the incident is a faster car trying to squeeze through a gap left by a slower car. Passing via punting (PVP) is pretty dishonorable stuff. In the clip below, note the one-handed driving (OHD).

 

In his defense, the driver of the faster car may say “he should have checked his mirrors”. Yes, that’s true. Nobody wants to get hit. But most of the time, the lead car has right of way, and it’s the responsibility of the trailing car not to hit the leading car. The faster car may also say “rubbing is racing” or “that’s racing”. No, cars aren’t supposed to hit each other.

What can you say about the lead car? Well, if he was trying to teach the trailing car a lesson about right of way, it’s a costly lesson. On the other hand, if the lead car had no idea he was about to be passed, it’s hard not to say “learn to drive”.

Here’s what the NASA rulebook says about punting.

25.4.2 Punting

The term “punting” is defined as nose to tail (or side-of-the-nose to side-of-the-tail) contact, where the leading car is significantly knocked off of the racing line. Once the trailing car has its front wheel next to the driver of the other vehicle, it is considered that the trailing car has a right to be there. And, that the leading driver must leave the trailing driver enough “racing room.” In most cases, “racing room” is defined as “at least three quarters of one car width.” If adequate racing room is left for the trailing car, and there is incidental contact made between the cars, the contact will be considered “side-to-side.” In most cases, incidental side-to-side contact is considered to be “just a racing incident.” If, in the case of side-to-side contact, one of the two cars leaves the racing surface (involuntarily) then it may still be considered “a racing incident.”

27.10 The Punt

Whenever a driver makes nose-to-tail (or side-of-the-nose to side-of-the tail) contact that causes the lead car to spin, or otherwise leave the course, it is considered that the trailing car “punted” the leading car. In almost all cases the trailing car is at fault and is usually disqualified. There may be some argument, in some cases, that the contact was only a light tap, and the leading driver did not have enough experience to control the slight deviation of the back end of his car. While this may be a valid argument, this is not a valid excuse. Drivers should be reminded that even the slightest tap on the bumper of a car driven by a rookie might result in a crash.

27.10.1 The Punt (exceptions)

There can be exceptions to the punt rule. If the offending driver can prove that he/she was hit and forced into the car in front, then this may be grounds for dismissal. If it can be proven that the leading car purposely or inadvertently used his/her brakes in an area that is not a normal braking zone, this may be grounds for dismissal. However, if a driver brakes a little early going into a braking zone and there is contact and a punt results, this is not grounds for dismissal. The trailing driver should be aware that following too closely when approaching a brake area might result in contact.

 

 

The four temperaments

Most crashes in amateur racing are the result of late braking. If the car is going straight, it tends to plow into the vehicle ahead. If it’s in a turn, you get an oversteer spin that collects vehicles behind. The best way to avoid these situations is to brake earlier. Unfortunately, many drivers have the misconception that the easiest way to go faster is to brake later and harder. Late braking is actually the easiest way to get in an accident.

In my day job, I’m a professor, so one of the important parts of my job is teaching. Students have different ways of learning. Some are comfortable with abstractions while some aren’t even comfortable with the word abstractions. Some are auditory learners while others like to experience things through touch. The best teachers figure out what kind of student they have and instruct in the learning style of the student (this is made difficult in a lecture class of 180 students but that’s a topic for another day and another blog).

There are a variety of ways to describe personality types and learning styles. Two of the most popular are Meyers-Briggs and OCEAN (big 5). These are a bit too complicated to go into in a simple blog post, so I’m going to recommend the Temperament Sorter, which sorts people into only 4 categories: Guardian, Rational, Idealist, Artist: The category depends on 2 scales: concreteness vs. abstractness and utilitarian vs. cooperative.

Here’s a description of the 4 temperaments from the website.

  • As Concrete Cooperators, Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of, and they’re careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.
  • As Abstract Cooperators, Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics.
  • As Concrete Utilitarians, Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules.
  • As Abstract Utilitarians, Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be.

For Harry Potter fans, you might recognize these as Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw. More classically, they are Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Classifying people into one of four categories may bring peace of mind to some and horror to others. Regardless, everyone has each of these characteristics in them to varying degrees.

Back to the topic of late braking, here are four ways of saying “brake earlier”.

Guardian/Hufflepuff/Earth: Late braking is unsafe. Since every racing series has rules against unsafe driving, you are violating the rules by braking late. To prevent late braking, remember these two rules: (1) always brake 1 marker earlier than you think you need to (2) always leave at least 1 car of room in front of you. By following these two simple rules, you will make the track safer for yourself and everyone around you. Your safety record will be something you look back on with pride.

Idealist/Gryffindor/Fire: Racing is really dangerous. It’s our responsibility to make it safer, and to lead by example. Due to varying track conditions, car performance, and driver experience, it’s necessary to give everyone a little extra room for safety’s sake. While it may make your car slower than optimal, it’s a small price to pay for safety (not to mention sanity). Others may take advantage of the extra room you give them, but it will only hurt them in the long run.

Artisan/Slytherin/Water: A friend of mine lost traction because his brakes overheated and he T-boned another driver. Later, in the paddock, that driver tracked down my friend and threatened to beat him up or sue him if he didn’t pay for damages. I would have kicked that dude’s ass, but my friend became a chickenshit and stopped racing. I’m braking a little earlier these days because it’s helps me optimize my corner entry speed and actually go faster.

Rational/Ravenclaw/Air: Getting a black flag in an endurance race can easily cost you 3 laps as you sit in the penalty box. You can’t make up that loss by driving faster. Paradoxically, driving 0.5% off pace is faster on average because you minimize high risk driving. I can show you the calculations if you’re interested.