Ask Ross

Q&A with Ross Bentley

 

Q: How do I prepare to drive at night time in an endurance race?

Q: I am relatively new to your podcasts and advice columns and have already benefited greatly from the fantastic information you share. I have been doing HPDE type track driving for a handful of years and just got my SCCA competition license this year. I have the opportunity to join a Champcar team for a 24-hour Enduro and anticipate some nighttime duties. I have only one weekend of experience at VIR from six years ago. What are your thoughts on the added challenge of nighttime visibility especially with my limited track knowledge? What do you suggest as the best way to prepare and what other difficulties might I expect to encounter?

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Q: What is slip angle & how do I use it?

Q: I’m really having trouble understanding what slip angle is and how it works. Is it something you should feel? Is it like or does it feel like oversteer? How do I know what slip angle I’m at? What differences does it cause to my lap time? And most importantly how to do it?

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Q: How do I rotate my car into a corner?

Q: In one of your Chalktalks (thanks for those!) I asked you to describe car rotation, which you did. But what I didn’t ask was how do I get the car to rotate – how I can initiate rotation in a corner? What techniques to try and practice to do this, on track and maybe on some empty roads?

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Q: When visualizing driving a track, what view should I be using?

Q: On several occasions you have noted the value of visualizing a lap around a track. I have been a “visualizer” for years. It started when I was pole vaulting in high school and it has carried through to just about every sport (and other activities) I have taken part in over the years. I had a thought and realization recently that I never considered before. Where are you located when you visualize a lap on a track? I realized I was not in the car, I am about 5 feet above the rear of the car. Unless I make a concerted effort to “look” from inside the car, outside and above is where I “observe” the lap from. I am still going through the “motions” of shifting, braking, steering, etc., and feeling the dynamics. But I am just not in the car. I would be curious if you (or others) have thought about this, and what is your “vantage point” when visualizing a lap. Isn’t it odd the things that come to mind sometimes?!

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Q: How can I use the anti-roll bar to reduce understeer?

Q: “My question is what effect does stiffening the front sway bar have on a front wheel drive car. My Mini Cooper is a track-only, highly-modified over-sized go-kart and I have the ability to stiffen the aftermarket front bar, however I am curious as to what effect it will on handling. If it will make it understeer more I don’t need that. If, in theory, it will tend to make it rotate better, that would be a good thing. There is not a lot out there on how to make your FWD (front-wheel-drive) work better so I thought I would ask you.”

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Q: When should I add more safety equipment to my car for track use?

Q: “I have been told at the speeds I am going I should either be adding significant safety equipment (seats, harnesses, roll bar), or simply pick up a used race car like a 996 spec racer that has already been prepped and sorted. I have a good idea of what happens when a street car hits a tire wall at 130 – and the same thought has been on my mind for some time. My question: at what point do you recommend HPDE drivers make this transition to a more purpose-built car, and how to approach making a choice? Obviously, budget is a big factor, and I suspect many drivers with an expensive and relatively new street car are reluctant to pull out the seats, etc., and add a roll cage.”

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Q: How much does your advice about cornering technique apply to oval racing?

Q: “I’ve been reading your book and I was wondering how much certain techniques, such as the ideal line through a corner and reducing steering angle with rotation and others, translate to NASCAR-type cars on ovals. I know that isn’t the kind of racing you did; however I do know you coached Colin Braun who did race in NASCAR for a bit so I was wondering if you could give me any guidance!”

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Q: How do I know what gear to use in corners?

Q: “In a recent webinar you said you should be done with all your downshifting before you turn in, but how about when your car only uses 3rd and 4th gears and 3rd over-slows you, and 4th is too tall? Sometimes I feel I need to downshift as late as possible (sometimes in the trail braking zone with a big heel and toe) to gain some entry speed, what do you reckon?”

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Q: What does “rotating the car” mean?

Q: “I get annoyed when people talk about rotating a car in to a corner. To me rotating is something it does when it is out of control, as in “I rotated the car 720 degrees or the car rotated under hard braking.” I’d rather think about differing slip angles. What am I missing?”

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Q: What do you think about an instructor distracting a driver while driving?

Q: “A friend of mine watched a video of me with an instructor in my car, and thought the instructor was a distraction to me as we talked about all sorts of things (corner workers, the weather, etc.). The instructor felt I drove better when my mind was somewhat off of the track since if I focused too hard, I tried too hard, and it seemed I would start overdriving the car. If I just let my intuition and instincts drive, I drove better. He advised me to just have fun driving after this. Another time I had an instructor asking me about things I had done to the car in previous times and complimenting the looks, style, performance, etc. while we were climbing uphill Esses at VIR. He apparently felt the same way.

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Q: How do I stay motivated after racing the same car and tracks for many years?

Q: “How can I still find motivation to continue after 15 years of racing the same car on the same regional tracks against the same people – it’s gotten stale. I enjoy racing and I have that as an identity, but unfortunately I’m not sufficiently well-financed to afford a second car or race at tracks more than a day’s tow from my home state. I suppose I could sell my current car to buy another, but sentimentality is kind of preventing that. I wondered if you had any advice for me.”

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Q: Can you give me some racing career advice?

Q: “Can you give me some racing career advice? I want to race frequently, win regional championships or qualify to drive for a PWC team, dreams of winning a national championship or PWC season, and fantasies of what I want to do in motorsports. So what’s next? I know my limitations as I have a full-time job, and I can’t sacrifice everything for the dream, but I am willing to work for advancement. Should I run different race series every year? Race at more tracks? Or instead, try to race different cars at the same tracks? Take time off from racing to get sponsors with what time I have available? Stop racing and spend my time/money at racing schools to get better before I compete again? Help!”

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Q: Can you advise how to set up a good home driving simulator?

Q: “I thought you might have some information to share regarding a good basic home simulator. I tried the sim at the Atlanta Porsche Experience Center, for 15 minutes… and I got motion sickness. I’ve had the condition since childhood as a passenger, but not as driver. Now, prior to track time, I take Meclizine in case I ride with someone, and it works.”

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Q: How do I know when to compromise momentum speed to get back on throttle sooner?

Q: “I race a Spec E30 so every ounce of momentum is extra vital. How do I determine the best trade-off between maintaining momentum, but at the same time braking enough so I can keep the throttle to the floor through the next set of corners? An example is turn 3 and 3A at Sonoma. In my car it is possible to lift (no brakes) just before turning into 3 and the car will make it through the corner, but will require going on and off the throttle through 3A. The alternative is a slight brake before turn in to 3 and floor the throttle all the way through 3A and down the short straight. I know option two is faster, but how do I determine how much I should brake? How do I determine the exact entry speed that will bleed off enough speed that I can barely keep the car on the track at the exit of 3A and still not lift off of the throttle going over the crest of 3A?”

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