One thing you can be sure of. Performance driving is not easy. A lot of folks assume that since they drive every day, and knowing they themselves are good drivers, of course, well… how hard can it be? It is fairly easy for some folks, at least initially. They will eventually hit their own personal wall somewhere along the line when their innate ability is exhausted. The vast majority of people will arrive at the end of their first day at the track utterly exhausted, both physically & mentally. Driving this swiftly is not a natural thing, and it is much harder than it looks! This is all a way of saying that when you entered into this endeavor, you were in the First Phase of learning. You had no idea how much you didn’t know. The fancy way of saying it is that you were an Unconscious Incompetent. That is not a slight, just a cold fact. Now that you’ve discovered that track driving isn’t easy, you hopefully will admit this, and open your mind to learning. Congratulations, you’ve already entered the Second Phase. With a little luck and a lot of humility, you have quickly transitioned into the realm of the Conscious Incompetent; you now know full well how much you don’t know! You need to embrace these two phases, and allow them to be your reality, for failing to accept them will slow your learning dramatically. If you let your ego get in the way, you will have a hard time opening your mind to the intensely internal process that awaits you. Most of the turns we take are such that our cars can exceed the corners ability to hold them. Put another way, we cannot go as fast through the turn as the car will go. As we begin our driving pursuits, we learn to mitigate this largely through brakes & geometry. At first, what your instructor will be doing is teaching you how to drive by geometry, and by rote. You probably will not be going that fast, not nearly to the limit of your car or the track. Since you will likely not know much of what to do yourself, they will be teaching you how to drive the turns by more or less telling you what to do, how much, and when. Underlying these simple lessons, they will be trying to set good conscious patterns and develop some consistency in your method that can be used as a foundation for further construction. Creating this conscious consistency, and reinforcing it through repetition, will eventually see these good habits sink into your subconscious. There, they will show themselves instinctively when and where they can assist you, and your conscious thought can be used for more important tasks. These subconscious building blocks will be used to create your driving structure. If you have a very proactive instructor – like myself – they will seem to be nit picking, not letting you get away with things you don’t even know you are doing. Things that you cannot understand are wrong. At the speed you are going, these things they are whining about seem trivial, as there is no negative result as far as you can see. They may get excited over nothing, as it may appear. You must trust that they know more than you. They are again trying to set good patterns for you now – even though they don’t count yet – because someday, when you get more confident and are going faster, they will, perhaps in a big way! In other words, there’s no sense cementing habits in your subconscious that you will have to unlearn later. I like my students to do it all right, right from the start! One thing that you will not know is when you are in trouble, or at least not setting things up optimally. You don’t know enough yet to know exactly how much to brake, and from what point. You aren’t too sure where the correct turn in point is, or how much to steer, or when to get on the throttle. Here we come to our First Stage of cornering difficulty. In the Conscious Incompetent phase, it is most often the case that drivers will find their greatest cornering discomfort at track out. They simply will not realize that what they are doing is not really ideal until it is “too late” to do much about it. This is why you must listen carefully to your instructor, and trust them to give you the information you need to be successful. It is worth mentioning that if for whatever reason you are not understanding what the instructor is saying, you should come right out and tell them so. There may be a communication problem afoot. They may not be offering their advice in terms that make sense to you. It is up to them to realize that, to some extent, and find different ways of framing the structure that make sense to you. And at once, it will be helpful if you make them aware that you do not understand in a more proactive way than by not getting it and continuing to drive poorly! People learn in different ways, and figuring out what works for you as a student can be a Herculean endeavor. It all works far better when the student and instructor are working together as a team, and each can play an important role in helping to achieve that. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, when the lessons of basic geometry and control input start to gel, speed happens all by itself. If the basic lessons have been well learned, and consistently repeated, the driver will have some solid subconscious skills to rely on. Transitioning into the intermediate stage is an exciting time for the driver, and a crucial one as well. When we seek to go faster, we enter all manner of esoteric and continuously variable parameters into the mix. Grip, slip angles, etc., are mixed in with how much to brake, when to let off, when and how much to turn in, and so on. They are all inter-related, as one can effect another, or all, at the same time. Beyond driving in a simple linear geometric fashion, we are now transitioning into the realm of the dynamic. The driver has now reached the Third Phase of learning; that of the Conscious Competent. The driver now has a healthy (if still maturing) level of realization as to what is going on, and is now thinking intently about what they are doing, and how it is effecting the outcome. This new level of experience tends to shift cornering distress forward in the sequence. The higher cornering speeds put the well-setup car into a slight drift as we begin to accelerate past the apex. Car control is learned in this phase, for one cannot expect to always have a perfect situation, given the aforementioned jumble of new dynamic variables. Higher entry speeds force the driver to find new and different ways of managing the car's trajectory for success. Sometimes these setups work well, and sometimes they are less than ideal. You know how to get into the turn fairly well in terms of braking, shifting, and turning, but the speed you have created by learning the basics is changing not only your reference
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.
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points, but how the car reacts. One more mile-per-hour of entry speed or turning five feet later changes all of what you knew. This can be distracting and unsettling. Fear not. Stay focused and remain determined.
This is the Second Stage of cornering distress. What you will likely find is that most difficulties resulting from the less-than-ideal corner setup are encountered at the apex now. It is critical at this stage that you work closely with your instructor to identify the areas in which you are deficient, and also to have some understanding of what to do to mitigate less than desirable outcomes. There are things you can and should do to minimize the chances of a nasty result. If your corner setup is not quite right, you will likely hear about not making radical changes to your inputs, to ease your throttle slightly, maintain your current control settings and cornering arc, and ride it out. In other words, don’t make a less-than-desirable situation worse by making major changes. If your instructor has been on top of things, or you haven’t pulled a total hair-ball move, this is all that is called for most of the time. In the extreme, your instructor will advise you on how to straighten and brake as much as you can while still on the track surface. Many times, this is all it takes. Sometimes there is not enough room, and so they will help you to take the car off the track and try and delicately maintain control from there. The key is to try and maintain control no matter where you are. If you have already lost control, the rule is always BOTH FEET IN. Lock’em up! Instructors should be consciously seeking to keep their students reigned-in in corners that represent a threat, only allowing their students to probe their limits in corners where evasive strategies can be employed with a high probability of success. This is a good tip for would-be hot shoes of all levels to follow. The best you can hope for is to be vigilant and aware enough to allow yourself to make conscious choices about where, when, or how to take evasive action, or to go off course. In the event of a loss of control, your choices are more limited, but you can still help your cause if you are mentally prepared. All good things to know, but hopefully not have to use. Once again, through consistency and repetition , with solid technique, you will eventually learn the how much, when, and where that will have you driving nice consistent laps at a goodly pace, under complete control. You can incrementally raise the stakes at this level to a very high degree, and still remain within a comfortable margin, driving very swiftly indeed. If at this point, you can drive lap after lap in this mode, set the car perfectly at corner entry, get right on the gas full bore, and the rest of the turn is just riding out a dead-bang setup. If you are carrying on a conversation, reacting instinctively and deftly to hiccups or variations in the cars attitude. If you’re dealing with traffic seamlessly, signaling the first car at the apex, grabbing the next gear as he goes by while you signal the next car as you track out… you’ve arrived! You have now reached a final destination. The realm of Unconscious Competence. You can do it all with nary a thought as to how it came to pass. It just happens by pure instinct. Is this the final destination? Perhaps. You could quite possibly be content here for the rest of your driving days. Nothing wrong with that. It was a long hard road getting here, and no one would fault you if you sat back and enjoyed your success… for a while. But… at some point, you’ll likely start to have those sneaking feelings. There’s more out there. You’d best be prepared. Prepared to once again set your ego aside. You, my friend, have to go back to school. “I’m already going through the turn right on the money and accelerating as hard as I can. Where can I find more speed?” If one seeks to move yet further, into the realm of The Shoe, there is really only one place left to find significant time. No, not at the speed shop by spending money on go-fast goodies. It’s with what you have right now, and it can be found at corner entry.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to start thinking again. You’ve got to go back to being a Conscious Competent… and in a big way! This is the hardest cornering plateau of all to break through.
On turns where the car can exceed the geometry of the turn, going faster means an earlier turn-in in most cases, as the turn simply will not hold the type of entry speed you seek to carry if you use a late-turn-in DE line. This driver will be initiating the drift very much earlier, late-apexing very much earlier, as has been said. You quite possibly have already learned this to some degree, or at least wondered about it. As we look back through, the car's vector has been changing in each of these stages, from linear in the novice phase using the late turn in and straight exit, to slight-to-moderate four-wheel-drift in the intermediate, to a much earlier turn in for a lot of turns with a very early and more pronounced tail-out attitude in the advanced state. The slip angle is gradually being approached as you improve, and in the advanced stage is often exceeded to varying degrees, and then managed, well before the apex. As the driver pushes harder and harder at corner entry for those last tenths of speed, it stands to reason that most losses of control would happen before the apex. This is the final Third Stage of Cornering Distress. If you get it right on entry, the rest of the turn is as it used to be; just sailing on through. If you’re on the hairy edge, you need to be right up on top of the wheel to keep things together. You probably don’t want to drive like that all the time… if you don’t have to! Certainly not at a DE. Save that for racing, when you are battling for position. Truth be told, if you are always seeking to learn and gain more speed, you won’t spend a lot of time as a true Unconscious Competent. If you are constantly trying new things, that means you will have to be thinking all the time, even though much of what you do will remain instinctive. If you are racing, while a lot of what you do is indeed subconscious, you need to have an acute awareness of everything you are doing, and of what is going on around you. That is why racing is so exhilarating… and draining. Constant vigilance. This article is not intended to help you avoid all the difficulties that you will be encountering as you work your way through the maze that is performance driving. It merely seeks to make you aware of some of the things that you are not aware you will be encountering so that when you do, you can more easily recognize them, and be prepared to work through them with greater insight. Not going to give you the answers to the test, I’m just going to prepare you for the questions you’ll face!