Q: Just wanted to tell you I thought your column in Winding Road on how to know when you’re driving on the limit was especially powerful. The insight that the way you drive affects the theoretical limit ought to be drilled into every race driver. But for me, the really critical element was the section about corner entry. Corner exit is relatively easy, and I’m there or thereabouts at the apex. But the really good guys still carry more speed than me down to the apex. (The other issue in Spec Miata is that you have to commit to the throttle before the car takes a set, which requires a certain amount of confidence.) I really make a point during practice of forcing myself to go fast enough so that the car loses grip on turn-in, then dial it back a notch. Unfortunately, I don’t have the stones to do this in the really fast, high-commitment corners. Speaking of which, I was talking to Josef Newgarden at the Phoenix test this year, and I asked him how he worked up to speed in Turn 1. He told me that his approach on ovals is to go flat, and if the car starts to move, then he slows down. It’s a good thing I can make a living as a journalist… but how do I know what’s the right corner entry speed?
A: I think what Josef talked about is one of the most difficult things for a driver to do. Human instinct agrees with the old advice, “Go in slow, and come out fast,” and yet it’s not always the fastest way to drive. Trusting that if you go in fast (even too fast), that you can respond appropriately, and even use that to your advantage, is the key, right? This really applies to driving in the rain, too. Many drivers go into a corner at something just below the limit, and then gradually increase their speed through the corner until the car “steps out.” At that point, they’re reacting to it. If, instead, they go into the corner slightly above the limit, they know that the car is going to “step out,” and then the response is expected – even planned. It’s the difference between being reactive and being proactive.
How many times have you entered a corner too fast? I suspect it’s more than once! How many times did entering too fast result in a crash? I suspect very few, if any. When you think about that logically, it makes you trust yourself more, knowing that if you carry too much entry speed, it’ll be okay. The worse case is that you’ll be slow; the best case is that you find out that speed works – not only works, but is the right speed. So do the analysis – statistically, how many times have going into a corner “too fast” resulted in a crash? Then let that sink in. It’s okay to enter a corner too fast – just as Josef does.
Of course, having lots of time to practice this helps…