Q: “How do I get 1 to 2 tenths of a second faster in each corner? I know my car can do it as other drivers on my team are that much faster than me but I don’t know what to do to find just that little bit more and it really is taking the fun out of racing for me.”
A: Oh, that’s a question many drivers would love the answer to. Maybe all drivers! Without knowing your particular situation and your skills, it’s impossible to say exactly what you need to do. But let me give you some generalized suggestions and coaching.
Assuming you’re beginning your braking relatively close to the limit, braking later will not find you a lot of time. For sure, there is nothing wrong with braking later, and it will shave some time off your lap times. But often, braking later will mean that you brake harder – essentially compressing the brake zone – and your corner entry speed will not change. So you’ve lengthened the straightaway a little – that’s it. That will find you some time, but not a lot. Again, though, I’m assuming you’re braking close to the limit. If you’re braking way early, then braking later – compressing your brake zone – will make a reasonable improvement.
So what can you do? Work on either end of the corner: entry or exit. Start by asking yourself in every corner, “What can I do to get back to full throttle a fraction of a second earlier?” Whatever that takes, do it. If that means turning and apexing later, or earlier, do that. If that means slowing down just a little bit on the entry, do that. If that means releasing the brake pedal more smoothly to balance the car better, do that. If that means unwinding the steering wheel sooner, then do that. Whatever it takes.
If you find that you’re getting to full throttle as early or earlier than your teammates, and your corner exit speed is great, then look at corner entry. Remember, one way of getting to full throttle earlier is to go into the corner really slow! But you’d be losing a lot of time because you’re starting to accelerate from too low a speed. So you need to look at carrying more corner entry speed.
To do that, I recommend starting by braking lighter. Yup, brake lighter. Do everything you’re doing now, but just brake lighter. Give yourself a solid target: “I’m braking with a 9 pedal (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being threshold or on ABS) now, so I’m now going to brake at a 7.” Just that. Simple, right?
Here’s the thing. If you carry one MPH more through each corner on a typical road racing circuit, and still get to back to full throttle as early as before, you will improve your lap time by half to a full second a lap faster. That’s close to one to two tenths of a second in each corner. To carry one MPH more, brake lighter. We, as performance drivers, think we need to brake late and hard for every corner, but sometimes what we need to do is brake lighter.
Oh, one last thing. When you brake lighter, the car is better balanced. It’s not standing up on its nose! And when it’s better balanced, it has more grip. More grip means you can carry more speed through the corner. Keep that in mind.
Going faster is process, and braking lighter is often a good first step in the process. And often, that first step in the process will find you a tenth or two per corner.