Q: What is the best way to deal with cold temperatures on track? I recently drove in the second group at a Super Tour event at Road Atlanta, with temps around 40 degrees. It took me several laps to get the tires up to temp, and in the first few laps I had to make two big corrections. The top drivers, though, were able to drive within a couple tenths of their best time from the day before (when it was warmer), by the second lap.
A: Let’s start with the obvious: The more you slide a tire, the quicker it gets heat in it, giving it more traction, allowing you to push harder, building more heat, and the cycle continues. The challenge is how do you push hard and slide the tire when it doesn’t give you confidence to do that because it’s cold?
Certainly, it takes practice to get comfortable pushing hard on and sliding a cold tire. I’ve taken drivers to a track and had them practice only on cold tires. We had 3 or 4 sets of tires, and the driver would go out for no more than three laps, come in, get out of the car, walk around, and then get back in and go as fast as possible on the next set of cold tires. Do this over and over – cooling the tires off that are not on the car with cold water – and you learn what a cold tire feels reacts like. Okay, maybe you don’t have the ability to do that…
Remember that tires build heat quicker from the inside than they do from the outside. What I mean by that is lots of heavy brake use will build heat in the tires faster than just sliding the car around or weaving around on the track. Yes, weaving and sliding the tires helps, but it’s mostly just working the surface of the tire. When you brake hard and a lot – even dragging the brakes with your left foot while accelerating – the brake rotors heat up quickly, transfer heat into the hub, the wheel, and then into the air inside the tire. That builds tire temperature better than from the outside.
The best drivers you refer to had to learn how to do this just the same as you. They weren’t born knowing how to drive on a cold track. They’ve developed that ability through experience.
Performance Driving Illustrated
Living in Minnesota, I’ve had plenty of practice driving in the winter, especially on frozen lakes. Mostly as a kid learning how my car reacts on snow and ice. Imagine a 70mph e-brake pull and then trying recover while laughing.
Reading the vehicle Dynamics section kept bringing me back to driving in winter conditions. I feel the traction circle, being patient with the car, straighten wheel when wanting to turn all applied. Except at a much lower speed.
Could slower speed (20-50mph) winter driving help with road course driving in summer at very high speed?
Ross, for sure any of that winter driving will help. It develops car control skills, which gives you more confidence to have the car move around, which builds more heat in the tires, and so on. So, I agree that is super-helpful. What it doesn’t do, really, is help you sense how “these” tires feel as they go from cold to hot on a track, and that only comes from experience.