Ask Ross

Q&A with Ross Bentley

 

Q: When & how should I develop different driving styles?

Q: “A friend of mine and I have been discussing driving styles lately. We both work in motorsport as technicians/engineers and don’t mind cutting laps on a sim. He has been telling me to try using the brake as a turning tool; i.e., if I’m accelerating out of a corner and I was too greedy on the throttle and have introduced understeer, I should continue accelerating and tap the brakes to not upset the car’s balance too much. This got me thinking about different driving styles. In many racecraft books and tutorials we talk about the ideal line and standard techniques, but when do different driving styles develop in a professional driver and how do you adapt as an engineer when going over the data with the driver?”

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Q: As an aspiring driver, when should I contact the teams I want to drive for?

Q: “I’m an aspiring rally driver who just finished reading your book Speed Secrets 5: The Complete Driver. In Chapter 5, “Career Steps,” you discussed getting started in racing as well as choosing a series. As a driver, I have done a season of competitive karting, a season of rallycross, and been to two racing schools. I plan to attend one more school and do some rally sprints before eventually getting my full competition license, but the question I have is: When is the right time (if there is one) to contact a team to show your interest in joining them for the next season? Should I wait until I have more experience later in the year and a race license, or is it best to let them know as soon as possible?”

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Q: How can I get up to speed faster during a race weekend?

Q: “After 1.5 years of club racing, I find that on a good day I can fight for 3rd. The problem is, I can only get to that level of performance on Sunday afternoon, after a three-day weekend. There are points on Saturday, and I have neither the time nor money to put in all those Fridays. What can I do to be fast on my third lap out?”

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Q: What should I do differently when racing on a street circuit, rather than a permanent road race track?

Q: “Are there any substantial changes to driving technique, vision focus points, driver inputs, etc., that you would recommend when going to a street circuit rather than a “typical” racetrack? Obviously, there are walls instead of gravel traps so you don’t want to focus on them, but are there many changes you make to the actual driving?”

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Q: Does what I learn on a skid pad feel the same as what I experience in a fast corner on a race track?

Q: “Okay, you’re on a skid pad and you begin to under or oversteer at a certain speed, say 40 MPH. Now you’re in a big fast corner on a race track. Does it feel the same in the seat at 90 as it does at 40 when things start to get a bit unsettled? I’m asking because at a track like Big Willow I don’t like leaving speed on the table due to intimidation.”

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Q: How can I learn to trust myself when performance or race driving?

Q: “How can I learn to overcome anticipating what the car is going to do instead of reacting to what it IS doing. I am too much of a technical/comfort driver that wrongly anticipates how much grip is in a corner, entry speed, or tenses up when really pushing, expecting the car to slide. I am still improving but a lot slower than people that go out and spin or go off course and have to dial it back. How can I learn this aggression?”

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Q: How do I know if I’m the one causing my car to understeer, or whether I should adjust my car?

Q: “I recently saw your Speed Secrets Quick Tip on a car’s weakness (https://youtu.be/4MSsc99y2VU), and I can relate to one of your specific examples of a car understeering. I’ve been having a terrible time getting my car to rotate into one corner in particular at my local track. Last time I was there, I determined that I was upsetting the car’s balance by either poor brake or steering management. It happens every time, though I’ve tried many different approaches to the corner. How do I determine whether it is my car, or my lack of skill? Is it me, or do I need a stiffer rear anti-roll bar? I felt like a chump for blaming it on the car this year, but now that I’ve started reading your autocross book, I’m starting to wonder if I’m justified in making a change to the car in my first year of driving.”

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Q: What is & how do I use the End-of-Braking (EoB) point on the race track?

Q: “I have been pondering EoB (End-of-Braking) after attending your Improve Your Braking & Corner Entry webinar. You said we should focus on the EoB, rather than BoB (Begin-of-Braking), just like we are driving on the street and trying to stop before the traffic light. I’m still not sure if I understand that completely. On the street, when we brake for the traffic light, we probably use 20% to 50% of the braking power of the car. There is a lot of room for us to modulate the braking, harder or lighter, during the entire process to get us to stop perfectly at the white line. On track, we are probably using 95% to 100% of the braking power right from BoB. There is not much room to adjust the braking distance if we brake too late so we can still come down to the optimal speed at EoB. The question still in my mind is how we can focus on EoB and still consistently hit the brake at the right BoB point that leads to the optimal speed at EoB. Could you share some more insight? Thanks a lot! The webinars were all very inspiring. Please keep them going!”

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Q: How can I determine the right line so I can accelerate sooner on autocross courses?

Q: “I’ve been autocrossing for about 20 years. I’m not a national champion, but I generally run slightly behind the national champs that run with our club and I usually finish in the top 10%. Last season I took on a co-driver of national caliber and ran data (SoloStorm) the whole season. Initially what I learned from the data was that we did many things in a similar fashion, but he made much more use of the throttle than I did. Trying to force myself into using more throttle closed the gap with him a little, but also resulted in a lot of spins. After looking at things more closely, I realized that he was putting the car in better positions to be able to use the throttle more, but the distinction is subtle enough that I cannot usually tell much of a difference in our line from the data. So, my question is… what is the best way I can learn more about car position and how to know if I am positioning the car in the most efficient way?”

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Q: How do I learn to be a faster sim racer?

Q: “I have a question as someone who is a sim racer, and not a real racing driver, but I still want to ask how I can practice to become a faster driver? I’ve read your book and it has been very useful, but I’m still not where the fastest drivers are since I’m around 2-3 seconds off the fastest times. I feel like I’m doing everything they are in terms of braking, lines, etc., but still can’t get to their times. Is this all due to me just needing to practice more or is it over for me in terms of getting faster? If it’s due to needed practice then how exactly does one practice getting faster? I’m willing to put in all the time and effort that I can since my goal is to be as fast if not faster than the top guys (also some racing drivers have said one of the ways into racing is e-Sports because some events offer a race season as a prize). I just need to know how to get faster.”

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Q: In racing & performance driving, when is it not worth it to use more track if it means driving a longer distance?

Q: “We are taught to use 100% of the available track, to increase radius to increase mid-corner speed for a given lateral G capacity of our tires. At what point are there diminishing returns for using the entire available track versus the shortest distance? I have always wondered this. Turn 7 at Portland International Raceway is a good example, as they widened the track a few years ago and I see some drivers use it all, and some not. You can keep imagining if we open up the track more and more, eventually there must be a point where it is no longer beneficial to use all the track available, right?”

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Q: Tell me about the priorities when performance driving – the line, exit speed, braking & mid-corner?

Q: “I am an instructor with PCA and often suggest that students review your work. One particular article, that I can’t find, described your analysis of thousands of hours of data and your conclusion that lap speed was affected by 1) line, 2) exit throttle, 3) braking, and 4) mid-corner speed, which is probably taken care of it if you get the first 3. I thought that it was very useful for novices that seem to want to work on everything at the same time. Is there a link somewhere to this article?”

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Q: What’s the best way to deal with cold track temperatures?

Q: What is the best way to deal with cold temperatures on track? I recently drove in the second group at a Super Tour event at Road Atlanta, with temps around 40 degrees. It took me several laps to get the tires up to temp, and in the first few laps I had to make two big corrections. The top drivers, though, were able to drive within a couple tenths of their best time from the day before (when it was warmer), by the second lap.

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Q: Should I use ear plugs/protection when race driving on track?

Q: “What is your opinion on hearing levels and controlling them? In my Radical, I usually don’t wear ear plugs. Even though I don’t think I am picking up on all the sounds available, I do notice that if I do use ear plugs, I think I’m missing something. But I do feel calmer while driving. I did say “feel,” as I don’t have anything to back that up. What is your opinion?”

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Q: How do I stop myself from choking in a race?

Q: “I seem to do well in practice and qualifying but when it comes down to competition, I choke. The only time when I actually did well was when I was extremely dehydrated and on the point of passing out. All I wanted to do was finish the runs and get out the car. I’m guessing I was in the mindset of fight or flight and not really caring about the results. But in turn I podiumed with the best drivers/cars in my series. Do you have any tips, podcast, books or just some insight you can recommend on driver mentality? I seem to get too into my head and it’s tough to get out.”

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Q: When racing in the rain, how do I know when to start slowing down for the first corner if I can’t see?

Q: “I’m struggling with how to find reference points and maintain good vision (and stay calm!) when starting a race in the rain. I’m usually pretty far back in the pack, and the spray/mist thrown up from the other cars sometimes completely obscures my vision (regardless of windshield wipers, Rain-X, etc.). Here’s my in-car start from a recent PIR race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWwsea8PXts. In this case, I backed off way early because I just plain couldn’t tell where I was or when the chicane was coming up. Plus, I didn’t want to come in too fast if there was a pileup. Do you have any advice for how to handle this kind of situation?”

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Q: How do I know if I’m causing under/oversteer, or it’s the car that’s doing it?

Q: “Specifically, on the entry phase, how does one determine whether it is steering (amount of steering or rate of input) or braking input (or more generally the rate of deceleration in a linear sense) that is the cause of over/understeer while turning in? More briefly, how does one know if they have applied too much linear deceleration or tried to induce too much rotation?”

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