Q: “I’ve been thinking about a comment you made about “trying one gear taller.” You mention the sound of the car can make us think we are going faster than we really are. I get that but, I’m now driving a 2007 Cayman S and it is a total “momentum” car! And it’s peak torque occurs about 4400 rpm and max HP about 6500 rpm, with a redline of 7300 rpm. I try and drive the car within the 4400-6500 power band while on track. Is this “wrong” thinking? At Putnam Park Road Course I can do the whole track in 3 gears, shifting to 4th on the long straight, downshift to 3rd for all other sections except 2nd gear for the sharp 90 at turn 7. I also sometimes shift into 5th on the long straight if I come out of turn 10 “perfectly” with a little extra speed, to “save” the engine from redline. I also feel like upshifting to 4th on the straight going into turn 5 would be good for the engine as I have to lift or maintain throttle before that turn too, or risk over revs there too. But carrying 4th through turns 5 & 6 seems too boggy on the engine, and 2nd always feels right coming out of turn 7 (I heel and toe all downshifts reasonably well). So, 3rd gear for the entire track minus 4th on the long straight, and 2nd at turn 7!”
A: Without trying it, I can’t say what are the right gears – what you’re doing seems pretty solid. But here’s a challenge to you: Take a couple of sessions to drive turns 5 and 6 in 4th, and turn 7 in 3rd. And even turns 1 and 2, and 9 and 10 in 4th. Here’s why. If you spend time trying to make the taller gears work, you’ll carry even more momentum to avoid having the engine bog. This is part of a process, so give it some time – really work at making the taller gears work. Do everything you can to carry momentum, and get back to throttle a fraction of a second sooner because the engine won’t be as responsive. Then – only after you’ve done this for a while and gotten pretty good at it – then go back to your usual gears. If you’re like most of the drivers I’ve had do this exercise when coaching them, they will find that they’re even faster than ever before. Having gotten used to carrying more speed with the taller gears, you’ll still do that, but now with the lower gears.
If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you know what you’re going to get, right? The same thing. So this is a process – deliberate practice to get even better at carrying momentum – and it will make you a better driver. Play with it, and have fun with it. Enjoy the challenge of making the taller gears work as best as you can.
I recently had a Spec Miata driver do this exercise – drive the entire track in 4th gear – for a couple of sessions. When he then went back to his usual gears, he knocked almost two seconds off his best lap time.
Oh, and you might just find – maybe – that the taller gear works in one or two or three corners. Keep an open mind to it, and although it doesn’t sound or feel as fast, it might just be faster. Check lap times, and even better, sector times. They rarely lie!