Here on YSAR, one of the more common themes is that crashes are avoidable. The source of crashes ranges from inexperience to red mist to bad luck. However, even really good drivers in well-built cars find themselves in difficult situations. You can’t really control what other drivers are doing. With that in mind, let’s briefly turn YSAR into YRAR: You Rock at Racing. It goes against the theme of the site, but let’s look at some excellent decision making.
Downhill corners are some of the most dangerous areas on a track because the weight of the car shifts forward. A car that has neutral handling will become prone to oversteer simply because of gravity. If the car happens to be FWD, it has ~60% of the weight on the front wheels in the paddock. Mix that with a fast downhill corner, like the Laces at Watkins Glen, and you have a perfect storm for uncontrolled oversteer. Watch the driver below see the tankslapper develop and get on the brakes just long enough to ensure safety.
A more aggressive driver would see the loss of control as a passing opportunity and tried to pass immediately. Surely the driver could have done this and improved their position, but there is risk to both cars. In a 2-day endurance race, the wise thing to do is to keep your car safe (which has the added benefit of keeping the other car safe too). You can brake and still make the pass, as this driver shows. Superb decision making and great driving!
Last week we talked about weight transfer and the somewhat paradoxical notion that braking causes oversteer (by transferring weight and grip to the front of the car). So once the car is an oversteer stance (i.e. pointed into the corner more than necessary), what next? Well, if you do nothing, you will spin. The something you absolutely have to do is to open the wheel, which is often called counter-steering. Simply holding the steering wheel in the same place for too long will lead to a spin. In the following clip, the driver waits too long to open the wheel and spins.
How far do you turn the wheel in the other direction and for how long? It depends on how much you are oversteering and how much you are accelerating (or braking). Controlling oversteer requires a delicate balance between hands and feet. I’m sure I could come up with an equation for that, but it wouldn’t help anyone. Once you are in an oversteer stance, you have to control it with muscle memory. Thinking takes way too long. It’s got to be a habit born from hours and hours of repetitive training. In the next clip, the driver steps on the gas too hard and starts to oversteer. His lack of training is evident.
In both videos, the car ends up fish-tailing. In motorcycling, that’s called a tankslapper (because the handlebars slap both sides of the fuel tank). It’s such a great term that even car people also use it. What causes tankslappers? It’s a combination of extreme oversteer and late reactions. Even experienced drivers sometimes get into tankslappers when caught unawares, but the oscillations get smaller each side. Inexperienced drivers sometimes end up making matters worse as they try to recover.
So what can you do to prevent oversteer spins, tankslappers, and mass carnage? You could drive purposefully well under the limit of the car. That way it won’t oversteer. But what happens if there’s dirt, water, or oil on the track? What happens if you drop a wheel or 4 off track? It would be far better to learn how to control oversteer, right? Unfortunately, the only way to get that wired into your nervous system is by experiencing a lot of oversteer. There’s no amount of listening, reading, or watching that will make your reactions automatic. Talk about fun homework! I suggest simulation. I’d say it’s 90% as good as the real thing and virtual cars are a lot cheaper when you wreck.
“Tank slapper” (TS) is originally a motorcycling term that describes a violent shake of the front wheel that causes the handlebars to slap the sides of the tank. Car drivers have adapted the term to mean an abrupt oversteer and recovery. The motion can be so violent that it flips the car (often with the help of road features but tall cars like SUVs can roll even on a flat surface).
The following clip shows two camera angles of a TS that leads to a frightening incident.
It looks like the oversteer was initiated by a lift throttle oversteer and possibly a slippery berm. FWD cars tend to oversteer having little weight in the rear, so that didn’t help. Ultimately, the countersteer wasn’t big enough or fast enough to prevent the TS and the high berm did rest. Pacific Raceways isn’t high on my bucket list.
Christianity brings us the seven deadly sins.
- Lust: Uncontrolled desire, often in a sexual or monetary context.
- Gluttony: Overconsumption and wastefulness, usually with food.
- Greed: Hoarding of material possessions. Opposite of generous.
- Sloth: Laziness, mostly in a spiritual context (e.g. not praying)
- Wrath: Hatred, anger, range, often against other people.
- Envy: A desire for what others have or sorrow for their successes.
- Pride: A belief that you are superior to others. This is considered the deadliest of the 7.
In the church of racing (which I just made up), there are seven deadly spins (the links below refer to previous YSAR posts).
- Lust: Your uncontrollable desire to go faster clouds your judgement about when to brake. By the time you realize you’re going too fast, you’re fail-braking out of control.
- Gluttony: You overuse the clutch. It’s not a brake, and using it as one makes you prone to down-shitting all over the track.
- Greed: Your oversteer recovery uses the whole track: left-right-left-right. Around here we call that a tank-slapper.
- Sloth: You’re lazy and rely on hope/faith instead of experience/skill. As you begin to run out of track, on-track-praying isn’t nearly as effective as opening the wheel.
- Wrath: Your anger in the slowness or incompetence of other drivers causes you to stomp on the throttle and spin out of control. Enjoy your instant karma-supra.
- Envy: When you see another driver spin, your immediate reaction is to take advantage of their misfortune by passing them as quickly as possible. Doing so, you walk straight into a dope-a-dope.
- Pride: You’re a little too enamored with yourself and your driving ability. You can’t help but show off. You love donuts, burnouts, and drifting. Hey everyone, look at me!
FYI, the team was banned for the season.
Earlier on YSAR, we saw the motorcycle term highside and its car equivalent. Motorcycling also gives us the term tank-slapper. This is violent steering wobble that causes the handlebars to slap the sides of the fuel tank as the front wheel snaps from one side to the other. Cars don’t really have that behavior, but tank-slapper is such a great phrase that car enthusiasts have adapted it. The 4-wheel tank-slapper is an oversteer and recovery that oscillates several times. It’s also called fishtailing.
I absolutely love the excitement. The only thing better than balancing a car at the limit is the occasional trespass and safe return from well beyond. It wouldn’t be YSAR without a mishap so…
In the future, cars will steer themselves. Until such time, it’s probably a good idea to hold onto the wheel and correct the oversteer yourself.
Some driving terms cross over from motorcycles to cars. One of those is highside. A highside is generally preceded by a lowside. The high and low describe which side of the bike you fall off of (which is why I don’t ride a motorcycle).
If you’re going around a corner in a car and the rear suddenly loses traction, you get oversteer, and a spin. On a motorcycle, the bike slips away and the rider falls on the ground. This is a lowside. The distance might not be very far, but a high speed crash has to suck no matter how far you fall. The causes of a lowside are what you expect: mid-corner braking, power oversteer, oil, etc.
The correction for oversteer in a car is to countersteer. Perfectly executed, the rear of the car steps out and steps right back into line. But if the steering lock is held too long, the rear slingshots back to the other side, possibly making matters worse. The highside is analogous to this situation. In an attempt to recover a lowside, a rider may regain too much grip. This can violently slingshot the rider over the high side of the bike.
Did you see/hear the rider whack open the throttle just before the incident? That caused the rear of the bike to slip away and enter a lowside. As the rear came around it regained traction and flipped the bike and rider. Double ouch.
No, this blog didn’t suddenly become yousuckatmotorcycling. It’s rare, but a car can also highside with a sudden change in direction. It helps if the car has a high center of gravity and hits a berm.