Ask Ross

Q&A with Ross Bentley


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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Q: Should I trail brake more or less in a fast corner?

Q: “This season I’m working on corner entry speed. Briefly, my general approach has been on tight, slow corners, go in deep, brake hard and rotate the car to get to gas before the apex. On high-speed corners, brake early but lightly to get the car balanced and myself comfortable so I can carry more speed through the corner and get on the throttle before the apex.

“I’m thinking of trying a subtle adjustment on the high-speed corners; i.e., maybe trail braking a little longer and carrying more speed to the apex so that I don’t get to the throttle until or very slightly after the apex. In other words, if I get to the throttle early, then I took off too much speed on entry. I realize a book could be written on this, but I would love your general thoughts for my guidance.”

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Q: When lightening my car, is overall weight more important than balance?

Q: “This is a question I have been wondering about for some time now. I do informal track weekends in my 2011 BMW M3. I’m starting to add lightness and adding track parts through replacing things like the battery, lighter brakes, removing the rear seat, and adding aero. For this particular car, it is much easier to take weight out of the rear of the car than the front of the car. Is having less overall weight in the car more beneficial than a more weight-balanced car? Can aerodynamics be used to compensate for a car starting to lean towards a front-weight bias?”

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Q: Should I raise or lower tires pressures in the rain?

Q: “I did a track day at NCM in the rain – not damp, but RAIN. Rain, as in standing water many inches deep against curbs, little rivers flowing, no visibility when following… you get the picture. Years ago, I thought you would lower your hot (coming off track) tire pressure to soften/make more compliant tires as you do for sway bars, shock settings, etc. However, a pro who’s name I won’t mention (but he’s won a “few” races in BMWs), suggested that lower pressure was flat wrong. He said you should increase your hot pressure significantly to help pump the water from under the contact patch. Since then, I’ve tried raising a couple of psi a few times and it didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t obviously better either. What’s your take? Raise pressures, lower pressures or the same in the rain?”

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Q: What is the End-of-Braking point & what squeal do tires make at their peak?

Q: “After your recent Improve Your Braking & Corner Entry webinar, I have two questions:

“1. Where is the EoB (End-of-Braking) point? Could it be defined as “when the car is under control and pointed where you want it to be”?

“2. Listening to tire squeal… first, in relation to the Slip Angle curve, where does tire squeal begin, near the peak, at the peak, or on the downslope? And when tires squeal, are we close to (or already in) pushing/front and/or getting loose/rear?”

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Q: What are the right steps to begin racing?

Q: “Where does one start to begin racing? I have looked at the Trans Am series (starting at the TA4 class) but there are so many series. Which does one chose? Is there a progression one should follow – maybe we start with HPDE days, then time trials, then getting licensed to race, then pick X organization to go with to race. What’s your advice?”

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