Ask Ross

Q&A with Ross Bentley

 

Q: When do I stop trying new approaches to performance driving?

Q: “When I listen to your podcast, a question always pops up to my mind. I know an open mind is very important in all the learning process and I am always trying to keep my mind open. But sometimes other drivers will introduce their method to me, for example, a very different line and braking technique in a certain corner. I tried a few times however it didn’t work as good for me or I didn’t see much different. But I did see some other very reputable drivers also do that. So my question is that in these cases, should I keep trying until it works for me (open mind) or go back to my original driving (not so much open mind?)? Is there a boundary like open mind and too open mind? In this case I want to go back to my original driving, however I am afraid that I am just being closed minded. Thank you!”

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Q: How do I stay focused on improving my performance driving?

Q: “I’m not a racer, just a guy who tries once a month from May through September to do open tracks days. This past summer, I’d go into a track session planning on working on a particular thing, but a few laps into the session I’d get lost in the moment and stop working on what I wanted to improve.  Any suggestions on how to stop this?”

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Q: How do I adjust my suspension & driving to reduce understeer?

Q: “How does the Bump/Rebound/Spring Ratio settings in the rear suspension affect a cars handling? I’m driving a FVee with zero roll suspension. So I don’t know how the suspension basics differs from a more conventional suspension. My main struggle with this car is that it turns in well, but mid-corner when I try to get back on the throttle it understeers a lot, so I end up having to release/accelerate a few times during the corner to get the car to the line I want. A few times I managed to get the car in the perfect mini-drift that rotated the car just enough to be able to get on throttle and exit cleanly. But it wasn’t easy to replicate. So how much of this can I improve with my driving and how? And what can I do with the setting to help out?”

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Q: Why do drivers drive over apex curbs?

Q: “I have seen on some racetracks sometimes driver skip the apex ‘kerb.’ I mean they do not go for those red and white kerb. Instead, they turn far away from the apex and quickly back to straight line. Does this supposed save time and make the car go faster? I have seen it in Formula One sometime as well. It might be in Hungary Grand Prix. Could you please clear the idea for me? Is it always necessary to touch the kerb in the middle of a corner (apex)?”

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Q: How can I improve my corner entry speed?

Q: “I keep hearing that corner entry is the most important part of the corner, and how you come off the brakes will dictate how much speed you can carry. What are some good drills we can do on track or on the street to try and improve our braking and turn-in phases of the corner? I’ve found with practice, I can match mid-corner speeds of some of the top guys, but they’re killing me on entry. I’m doing something wrong during application of the brakes and turn-in that’s losing me a good chunk of time.”

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Q: Is it okay to lift off the throttle & coast before braking?

Q: “I just listened to your latest podcast, which reminded me of an instructor I had around 7 years ago who discouraged me from going full throttle and jumping onto the brakes. Whereas your podcast with Kenton Koch said this was the optimal time to apply brake pressure. I’d originally learned this technique watching races on TV where drivers jump on the brakes pretty dramatically. This instructor’s comment, along with “smooth is fast,” and watching Indy car races where they identify fuel savings when a driver coasts the car into the braking zone made me develop the habit you describe where you are slow to switch from throttle to brake. Now that I only run in Chump Car endurance racing, I figured the coasting into the brake zone was ideal for making the car last (I brake about 7/10 pressure), extending the life of the brake pads/rotors and fuel. Am I wrong?”

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Q: How do I avoid getting frustrated when trying to drive faster?

Q: “Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with frustration and break out of the vicious cycle that sometimes develops as a result? I’ve found on occasion that if I run into an obstacle—say, a particular corner that I’m just not able to get right no matter what I try, I start obsessing about it and can get frustrated to the point that all other learning and improvement stops. Eventually, I can force myself to give up on whatever that is for the time being and focus on other parts of the track, but that might take a couple of sessions or even overnight and until then, it’s no fun for anyone, especially me.”

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Q: What makes one track more technical than another?

Q: “I heard a comment that professional racers often remark that VIR is one of the most technical tracks they drive. Thinking about this remark my mind came to this question: What defines a ‘technical track’? I really don’t have an answer and I’m curious what makes one track more technical than another, and then perhaps you could address how one prepares for a more and a less technical track.”

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Q: Is setting a goal of beating my competitors wrong?

Q: “I’m a big fan, and believer, in your ‘mental game’ stuff, but I’m struggling with one thing! I totally get it that we should focus on our own performance and not that of others, based on the fact that one we have influence over (ourselves) and the other (our competitors) we don’t. BUT, if I make a goal to beat an individual competitor/team (or indeed, all of them; i.e., win a race/championship), am I making a mistake by focusing on the performance of others?”

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Q: Should I skip gears when downshifting?

Q: “Following up with a question on Heel & Toe that was asked recently. My question is about downshifting through a corner and the correct timing. My example is a corner where you begin braking from 5th gear and want to exit in 3rd.  My current method is brake, clutch, shift into 3rd, release braking, blip, release clutch and accelerate out of the corner, never having used 4th gear. I have noticed in car videos of drivers, in the same corner, rowing through 4th gear and finally into 3rd. There are also multiple blips involved. You can also hear multiple blips listening to cars while standing as a spectator at the same corner. This seems to me a lot of extra work when a lot of concentration is need for cornering.”

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Q: What does “taking a set” mean, and how do I use it?

Q: “I’ve been track driving for a good while and don’t understand the car “taking a set.” How do we sense when the car sets, why do we need it to set, how do we take advantage of car set? My Tahoe does what might be described as taking a set on entrance ramps, and when it does it will take more throttle. My V8 944 with Moton suspension never seems to “set” when running on track.”

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Q: Why do I sometimes go slower in the afternoon?

Q: “Sometimes I go to the track and set my best time of day on my third or fourth lap in the first session of the morning. It makes for a discouraging afternoon. I suspect tire pressure build up might be part of it, or maybe track conditions, but I think it has mostly to do with me. I usually don’t see lap times till the session is over. Any suggestions?”

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Q: Do drivers talk about getting into an altered state?

Q: “What I’d like to ask you is, do drivers ever talk about the altered state of being while behind the wheel? I love it, it’s total focus, no drifting of thought, time is irrelevant, here/now/input/output blazing away. I like to think it’s getting in touch with Fight or Flight, eat or be eaten. 99.9999 percent of our lives is not in that realm, thankfully. But it feels so wonderful to pull into the paddock, drained, mentally and physically.”

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Q: How do I know if I’m over-slowing by left-foot-braking?

Q: “I am very comfortable using left-foot-braking and have found many situations where it seems to be an advantage, but other than lap times, how can I know if I’m really using left foot braking too often or too much? I switch between right and left foot, depending on the corner, and sometimes I feel that I over-slow the car when braking with my left foot.”

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Q: How far ahead should I be looking on track?

Q: “The brain takes 1/4 second to process and recognize visual images from the eye. At 100 mph you’re traveling at 146 feet per second, or 37 feet per 1/4 second. What you “see” is 1/4 second in the past. So, at 100 mph, when you “see” your tire at the apex, you are actually 37 feet past the apex. We are essentially driving in the future. This doesn’t take into account the time to send a signal from the brain to body to control the car, around another 1/4 second. There is something going on here rather mysterious to me. Experiments show brain wave activity occurs prior to consciousness and movement. When we look ahead at where the car is going maybe we provide input to allow the mental calculations of position. Maybe when we are in the zone, groove, rhythm, we are in some predictive state allowing driving in the future. So do we need to look 1/2 second ahead?”

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