Q: “What are some ways to think of going “all four off” during a track day? I’m driving a Spec 944, and generally pushing hard, learning what the limit feels like. But, by so doing, end up all four off perhaps once, maybe twice during a weekend. I’m torn about what this signifies: Is it reasonable in the name of progress, or does it simply mean I’m not yet advanced (or skilled) enough to consistently push so hard? I did hear an instructor mention that small changes produce small surprises, which did resonate with me. Any thoughts would be appreciated!”
A: One thing that separates the very best drivers from the rest is they’ve made more mistakes, and in fact, are better at making mistakes. By that, I mean that they make mistakes, and correct for and get away with 99 percent of them. An inexperienced driver might make the same number of mistakes, but go off and/or crash 10 percent of the time (and recover 90 percent of the time). It sounds to me like you’re closer to the 99 percent range, but not quite there yet.
Of course, there’s the number of mistakes and corrections, but there’s also the extent of them. I suspect that there was a time when you made a mistake on the track, and it resulted in a big spin or maybe even a crash. But now it’s mostly just a four-wheels-off and you’re back on the track and carrying on.
I do think it’s okay to go off the track every now and then, as long as it doesn’t take away from your learning experience (and that of too many other drivers with whom you’re sharing the track!). If you’re going off, and that means you can’t carry on, then you’re not learning as much as you could. But if you’re going four-off and carrying on – and not negatively impacting others too much – then that’s okay because you’re learning from the experience. Of course, if you do it over and over again, maybe you’re not learning enough from it, and it’s time to reevaluate how you approach driving at the limit.
One thing you should do is really think through why you’re going off the track once or twice a weekend. Is there a trend of small errors that are adding up into a bigger error that leads to the four-off? Too often, we “justify” the mistake as simply a mistake. But if you peel back the layers of the onion and really get to the core of what caused it, there might be something that should be fixed/improved so the four-offs don’t happen so often. Think about that.
Most often, a four-off is the result of an earlier mistake. For example, you might have begun braking early for the speed you’re carrying as you get to the corner’s brake zone (because you got a poor exit out of the previous corner, and now you’re 2-3 MPH slower when approaching the brake zone), so when you get near the turn-in point you release the brakes and turn in (because you’ve gotten to your usual corner entry speed). You turn in early, that results in running out of track exiting the corner, and you have a four-off – especially because you felt a little slow approaching the corner, so you try to make up for it by getting on the throttle sooner than ever. When you first look at the four-off, you think that’s the mistake. But really, it started in the previous corner with a poor exit (and what caused that?).
Making a mistake, understanding why it happened and learning from it is a “learning-take.” Making a mistake, not knowing why, not learning from it, and repeating it is a pure mistake. Are your four-offs learning-takes or mistakes?