Performance & Race Driving Tip

Speed Secret: Creep up on the limit with an aero car by braking lighter.

A question I’m asked often is how best to transition from a non-aero to an aero car. Specifically, how to get more comfortable with the fact that the faster you go, the more downforce the car has, allowing you to go even faster.

race-car-with-aerodynamicsSo, the simple answer is, “Just go faster!” I know, that’s not much of an answer, but there’s truth to it. Yes, the faster you go in a car with aero downforce, the more downforce it has, which allows you to go even faster. The big challenge for a driver is trusting this. Just when it seems you’re about to fly off the track, you just have to hold the throttle down and trust that you’ll be okay! It’s one of the most difficult challenges in driving. But that’s the key – learning to trust it.

The best approach to learning to trust the aero grip is to find a corner that is fast enough to ensure aero downforce is a factor (and that has some good run-off room in case “things don’t work out”), then work at carrying more and more speed. In the perfect world, you’d find a very large skid pad to do this on, but finding one that big is not easy.

Instead, in most cases, I suggest inching up on it by gradually increasing your corner entry speed, and to do that by progressively braking lighter. Why? Because then you’ll be entering the corner with the car balanced – either not standing up on its nose or you accelerating hard out of the turn to test the grip level (again, with the car unbalanced due to the heavy acceleration) after over-slowing. Keep increasing your corner entry speed – gradually – by decreasing the pressure you apply to the brakes until your corner exit is being hurt. But up to that point, you’ll find that the car sticks as you enter the corner, still allowing you to accelerate out of it where you had in the past, but at a higher speed. In doing this you’ll learn a big part of the trust you need, and just what the car is capable of.

Another approach that works well for many drivers is to put an experienced driver in the car and have him set a baseline lap. That way you know what the car can do, so when someone like me tells you to trust the car’s limits, you know you can – if “experienced driver” can carry 80 MPH through that corner, and you’re only at 70 right now, you know you can push harder and the car will respond positively. Using the data, video, and someone with the “right voice” over a radio will get you good results very quickly. This is an approach I use often with drivers.

When you get it right, you’ll wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.

Check back here often for more tips and advice for performance drivers, race drivers, high performance driving instructors, and anyone else interested in learning to get around race tracks quickly.

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