Driver's Ed. Education - A Series of Specifics for Success
by John Hajny
All Text and Graphics herein are Copyrighted (C) 1995-2015 by John L. Hajny
I have striven to make this an extremely well written and accurate series on a subject that is not to be taken lightly and can obviously be dangerous. To maintain the accuracey and proper presentation of that message, I would ask that absolutely no use whatsoever of any text herein be made without my express written consent.
I would ask you to please abide by this request. Thank you.
There is an old axiom about performance driving that says “Accelerate till you see God, then Stand on the Brakes.” Ha Ha, Tee Hee, Wuh Wuh Wuh, and all that. It is all quite humorous and macho. The kind of thing the guys laugh about and kid themselves that they do lap after lap while bench racing. The reality is that it is a great way to train yourself how to be SLOW and RAGGED! There are so many notions that are derived from wheel-to-wheel racing that simply do not apply to driving swiftly and cleanly. Quite apart from being the fastest way around the track, many of these ideals – like “going deep” - are actually used to stay just far enough ahead of your opponent to keep him at bay entering a given turn. Ever notice how 2nd and 3rd place cars racing each other furiously automatically gives the 1st place guy a comfortable lead? That should prove to you that going deep enough to See God is not fast, but merely necessary to maintain your place ahead of the guy you are competing against. Confusing fast and necessary is quite problematic, and all too common. I have always felt that many people put too much emphasis on braking, especially early on. My experience as a driver and instructor has shown me that braking is usually a distraction to novice drivers, and even intermediates. Judging the point where you reach the right cornering speed to release the brake and turn in is tricky, and larger decelerations exacerbate this. It takes experimentation to get this point right. You need to make time slow down so you can soak it all in. What you don’t need is any distractions. Heavy eye-bulging deceleration hypes you up and makes you jittery. It compresses your subconscious time frame and makes you pull the trigger before you should, after you should, and often too abruptly in any event, even if you do manage to time your brake release and turn-in correctly. Braking savagely not only gets your brain out of kilter and takes concentration away from setup and transition, but it also unsettles the car. Yep, that old axiom is probably the WORST advice anyone ever got and is actually the kind of thinking that all we instructors must battle against all too often. The way to fine tune your entry timing is to ease up on your braking a bit. Instead of standing the car up on its front bumper, try braking from farther back and with less pedal pressure. You are extending your braking zone, but ultimately reaching the same terminal velocity because you are not braking as hard. This has many benefits. It is easier on the brake system. It allows the car to stay more balanced, and therefore be more ready for effective cornering. It also keeps the driver more at ease. You and your car only have 100% to give. If you use this up in braking, you won’t have any left for the all-important transition to cornering. When you have worked out the basic riddles and are driving consistently, you will reach a plateau where you feel you need to make some changes. In order to improve, you need to go faster, but how? Straightaway speeds are governed by one thing. No, not horsepower. That is a myth. They are governed by cornering speeds. Equal cars of equal accelerative potential will only differentiate themselves at the end of that straight by how fast the driver can get through the corner preceding it. The only way to increase your cornering speeds is to brake less. That sounds patently obvious until you try it and find that it is definitely not something easy
to accomplish. You can brake in two basic ways. 1) The "normal" late brake and scrape off the front license plate to reach a given speed and then release immediately and transition to acceleration. Or 2) Earlier and softer transition to full forward g-load with less overall pressure but ultimately the same amount of deceleration. The first feels fast. The second is fast because it holds more potential for future increases in cornering speed.
The difference is in balance, both in the chassis and the cerebellum. Where it concerns timing your entry properly, the drastic compression of time that takes place in the first model will make it very hard to judge the speed at which you actually can transition. The 2nd model offers you more subconscious serenity, and allows you to remain more focused on a point where you could transition instead of trying to keep the car in line with only the front tires on the ground! The following quote is from the December 2004 issue of Panorama magazine, published by the Porsche Club of America. Rick Bye is a long-time professional racer who has run every imaginable type of car to its limits, and also has vast experience as an instructor and developer of high speed driving schools. Although it specifically references Porsche’s high tech and mucho-expensive carbon brakes, I find this quote – in its essence - particularly relevant to this article.
“... I find it common for DE drivers to think that whoever brakes last going into a corner is the fastest. When in racing, the really fast drivers rarely brake last because that leads to premature wear on, and failure of, the braking system. That's not what car control is about - we have to preserve our cars. (...) I believe that if all drivers adopted this point of view, ceramic brakes likely would last for most of a DE season"
In private discussions with Mr. Bye, he agreed whole-heartedly that this also applies to the general braking and corner setup that this article references. When you reach that aforementioned plateau, stepping up and going faster is about carefully approaching and then breaking down mental barriers. Initially, this often takes the form of the dreaded search to “See God” which unfortunately often leads to the loss of focus and the onset of raggedness. You might likely note at this juncture that – if you are lap timing – your times are in the sewer. If you get used to driving this way, you will at some point realize that your new driving style only seems fast. The difference between seeming fast and being fast is mental. You can’t approach your personal limits by being out of control. You need to stretch your comfort zone gradually and progressively, not cause any big moments that might set you back, or worse, put you in the fence. The 2nd model above allows you to feel and assess the transition phase more intimately, and more easily approach, surpass, and eventually reset your comfort threshold. Since the car will be better balanced, the transition will be more manageable, and more effective as a result. This is absolutely key! In case you were a bit confused, no, this article does not refute or run counter to the “Don’t Brake Backwards” theory. You can still do most of your heavy braking early in the cycle, and ease up as you approach turn in, it’s just that you are braking less overall all the way through the event.
If you are racing, you have to go deeper than the other guy to keep him behind you. If you’re not racing, there’s no sense in being uptight and stressed out entering the braking zones. Relax, kick back, chill out, go with the flow. Long & Light is the ticket to more effective corner entry!