Q: “What is rotation? Does rotation always imply that the rear of the car is sliding? How do I know I have the car rotated enough and can now get on the power? I’m starting to think that rotation is the key to driving nirvana, and when I understand its meaning and how to use it, I can finally be the best driver I can be.”
A: I don’t know if rotating the car is nirvana, but it’s as close to it as I’ve experienced! When you get the rotation of your car just right when entering a corner, it feels fantastic, as if you’ve just performed some form of magic because your car does exactly what you want, when you want. And you’re fast.
So, what is “rotation”?
I answered that question here on the Ask Ross page back in 2018: How much rotation into a corner is the right amount? And what’s the difference between rotation & oversteer? But it’s worth repeating what I wrote back then:
Rotation is oversteer, but it’s deliberate. It’s something you do to the car. Oversteer is something the car does to you, and isn’t really deliberate. Rotation is oversteer (rear tires have a larger slip angle than the fronts do) that you intentionally use to your benefit. A drift is all four tires sliding, and may or may not be intentional – but usually on a road course it’s not benefitting you, as it typically scrubs off too much speed.
Imagine looking down on a car from above as it enters a left-hand corner. If, as the car follows the line from the Turn-in to Apex points, the slip angle of the rear tires is slightly greater than of the front tires, the car will appear to rotate like it’s on the face of a clock or compass. In the case of the left-hand corner, it will have rotated counter-clockwise, if only just a few degrees or seconds of the clock.
Taken to the extreme, watch World of Outlaws sprint cars. They rotate the car in with dramatically higher slip angles on the rear tires than the front. But on a road racing circuit, slip angles are nowhere near that level. It may be so subtle that it’s next to impossible to notice if watching from the outside, but the driver should be able to feel it.
What’s the difference between rotating a car and oversteer? I think of oversteer as something you don’t particularly want, or it’s what the car is doing to you. Rotating the car is a deliberate act by the driver, done to the car. And the reason for rotating the car is to help point it in a direction that allows getting back to full throttle sooner.
So, yes, you’re correct, the rear of the car is sliding. But you’re controlling the amount of rotation, primarily by the way you trail brake into the corner. More trail braking usually results in more rotation; less trail braking usually results in less rotation.
“How do I know I have the car rotated enough and can now get on the power?” You have to experiment a little each lap and find out what your car, in that corner, in those conditions, needs. Too little rotation, and you’ll have to delay getting back to power, and your exit speed will not be as good as it could be; too much rotation and you’ll also be late getting back to power because you’re trying to control the oversteer that is over-rotation. Just like the lesson we learned as children about the Three Little Bears, when you get the rotation just right, it’ll be just right. And yes, it feels like nirvana.
There is no magic formula for how much rotation is right, and how much is either too little or too much. Again, you have to experiment with it until you find yourself lined up passing the apex at just the right angle so you’re able to squeeze back to throttle earlier than ever before.
How much is just right? You’ll know it when you feel it.
NOTE: If you don’t want to wait for me to answer your question(s) here, you can always use my new SpeedSecrets.ai by signing up at SpeedSecrets.ai. The real beauty of using this app is that you can get out of your car after a session on track, and immediately ask it questions and get your answers, as well as what you should work on for the next on-track session. Since it’s “trained” only with my content, it really is like having me with you at the track.