Q: “I’ve heard the general wisdom that for high speed corners, you want to be on the gas – at least a little – to settle the car and have equal weight across all four tires. My question is how can a driver determine when a corner is fast enough to require that technique, versus trail-braking to the apex? Is it more about speed per se, or track surface, bumps and camber, or do you just try a conservative technique and see how the car behaves?”
A: It all depends on the amount you need the car to change direction.
If you need to change direction a lot, like in a slow, tight, hairpin corner, then you’d trail brake to help rotate the car because you need to change its direction a lot. If it’s a faster, sweeping corner that doesn’t require a dramatic change in direction, then be on the throttle closer to the turn-in point.
Of course, there are some corners that are kinda “in between,” right? The only way to really know with them is to experiment – try one way, then the other. Generally, I try to use the on-throttle-early approach as much as I can, unless I can’t get the car to change direction enough. Then, I treat it more as a trail brake-to-rotate kind of corner. Over time, you get so you can just look at a corner and make a pretty good judgement of what type of corner it is.
The key is to realize – as you have – that not all corners should be driven with the same technique, and be willing and able to change how you drive them. It’s all about learning!
I’d like to “yes, and” Ross’s answer.
I try to put corners in different buckets so that I have a better starting point for learning each. With slow corners, my objectives are to have a decent exit speed and to avoid wasting a lot of time. With fast corners, min. speed is king.
With slow corners, I like decisive braking for two reasons. I don’t want to waste time moving between pedals, and I want weight transfer to help with rotation. Trail braking can help on both fronts. By extending the braking zone into the turn, I can stay full throttle longer. And trail braking helps me get pointed in the new direction more quickly so I can get back to throttle.
With fast corners, I typically don’t need to induce oversteer. Some of these (T8 at Thunderhill) are triple digit corners (in some cars). Hanging the tail out is not on my agenda. I want a balanced car to give me a high min. speed. That means avoiding upsetting the car with fast hands or big pedal inputs. My approach to learning these corners is to brake early, brake light, get to throttle early (with a slow tip-in) and focus on carrying as much momentum as possible through the corner. If I can get to full throttle quickly, it may tell me that I overslowed the car.
Once I get min. speed sorted, only then do I worry about compressing the braking zone. If I get too greedy compressing the braking zone, and mess up the corner, it’s easy to know. I already know what a good mid-corner and exit feel like.