Ask Ross

Q&A with Ross Bentley


Q: Will karting help me learn to adapt to an understeering car?

Q: I am a track day guy and get out on track about 6 times a year various road course tracks. This year I switched from a modified street car to a full-on race car for track use. The race car I am driving understeers and rotates very easily. This is very different from the previous car which had a more neutral setup. Rather than start the process of adjusting the car’s setup to match what I had previously, I am trying to adjust my driving style to match the car’s setup. In order to get more comfortable driving a car with understeer, I was wondering if karting in between track events would be a good way to transition my driving style to match the car’s setup? Do you have other suggestions as to what I can practice to get more comfortable with this new setup? Thanks in advance.

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Q: What advice do you have for me after I’ve crashed my car?

Q: I recently crashed my track car coming out of turn 12 at Mid-Ohio. While I have been doing HPDEs for 10 years now, this was my first time at Mid-Ohio, and my 5th different track that I have been to. I am writing this not for sympathy, but to share with your readers some mistakes I made, and also to learn from it. I’m hoping you can help with that last one.

This is my second season in a modified 2007 Cayman S, after driving 911s for the previous eight years – they handle different. I requested and was given an instructor – he was a good one and an especially good communicator. I asked if I could go out with him in his car (a 993 911) and “see” his line. We did and then his communicated line made more sense to me. I then asked him if he thought the Cayman should follow that line too? He had never driven a Cayman so I asked him if he’d like to and he did. He dialed it back a bit but drove it 5 laps using the same line. Then we swapped seats and on the very first lap I lost control on the exit/track out of turn 12 (Thunder Valley).

His line was a very early apex (riding on the right-side curbing, almost off the track) whereas I had been doing a mid to late apex. The turn finishes with a crest and downhill and you track out to the left curbing, but stay off of it, as it was known to be slippery. As I tracked out and made a very slight right turn my car oversteered or maybe “power oversteered” which a Cayman can do easier than a 911, and the disaster began. The car made four fishtail oscillations and the 4th ended with the right front hitting the wall on the right just past the tire wall on the right. We came to a stop 180 degrees from the contact angle directly under the pedestrian bridge. We were okay, minus some minor lower back soreness and mild headaches. The car, not so much.

So what can I learn from this. Well first, I admit that I had not studied the track or even watched any track videos. I was busy with family commitments for the two weeks before, and a 3-day DE the weekend before Mid-Ohio. Two, I should have tried my instructor’s line with it dialed down a bit, though I do remember saying to my instructor, “I’m not going to go try and emulate you right off”. And three, what was I thinking with less grip in the back than I was used too?

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Q: How do I know if it’s me or the car that’s causing a handling problem?

Q: I drive a 2017 Mazda MX-5 for fun on track, no competition, just always trying to learn and improve. When driving into one or more corners and the car understeers, how do I know when it is me entering too fast versus when the car setup can be improved? I don’t have access to a skidpad. I know I could go slower into the corner or adjust the line a bit, and 9 times out of 10 it’s probably me that is the problem. But how do you know when understeer is a setup issue?

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Q: How do I use data to help me define what to do to improve my driving?

Q: I’ve been looking at the telemetry data and onboard footage of faster drivers to improve my driving. I’m at the point where I understand what I’m doing wrong and what I can do better conceptually, but I can’t seem to apply it when I go out on track. What’s confusing me is I don’t understand what exactly I’m doing wrong when I’m in the car. For example, if I need to use less brake going into a corner, I’ll tell myself that before the corner, but I just end up repeating the same mistake as before. How do I figure out what exactly I must do with the controls by looking at data?

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Q: What’s the best way to adapt my driving to suit my car’s handling?

Q: Until this year, I have been driving a Cayman street car that was modified (suspension, roll bar, etc.) for track use. This setup was a compromise between track performance and drivability on the streets. Over the winter, I purchased a used Cayman race car that ran in the IMSA ST class. A friend who is an SCCA racer, looked at one of my track videos from VIR and explained that the car is set up for people graduating from karting to racing. In his opinion, the car rotates very easily in the corners and he recommended avoiding trail braking in the car. When I was at Watkins Glen last month, I noticed that if I released the brakes too quickly, the back end would tend to come around fairly quickly. In retrospect, I believe this is what you and Peter discuss in your track walks that I was never able to replicate in my previous car, so it caught me off guard, but I was able maintain my composure and control of the vehicle. What’s the best way to adapt my driving to the way my car handles?

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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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