Q: “I often hear instructors talk about the “school line” versus the “racing line.” What’s the difference, and which should I drive?”
A: There shouldn’t be much, if any, difference between the two lines. In fact, I dislike the use of the terms “school” and “racing” lines. There are some instructors who believe there is a difference, and that it’s a big difference. I disagree.
Some High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) schools will deliberately insist on students driving lines through corners with an artificially late turn-in and apex. The thinking is that it’s safer because the driver will not run out of room at the exit of the corner and drive off the track. It’s not safer.
To turn in later for a corner, to get to a later apex, do you have to turn the steering wheel more to drive a tighter radius early in the corner? Yes! Do you have more or less control of your car when your steering is turned a lot? Less, right? So, by having students drive their “school line,” they’ve actually increased the risk of a spin or loss of control early in the corner.
Here’s the worst part of this: Teaching someone the wrong thing (the artificially late turn-in and apex), only to teach them the right thing later (when the instructors think the student is “ready” to learn the right thing) is a terrible thing to do to a person. Imagine teaching kindergarten kids to call any and all animals “dogs,” with the thinking that they’re not ready to learn the right names for them. Ridiculous, right? So, why some schools teach drivers the wrong things for a while, and then have to correct those things later is beyond me. I know they believe it’s safer, but it’s not. How do I know? Because I’ve instructed tens of thousands of drivers on the track, and there was a time when I used the artificially late turn-in, thinking I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t, as I learned through experience.
The second part of this question is based on the perception that many HPDE instructors have about what they think is the “racing line.” They believe that racers move towards the inside and turn in early for most corners to block someone from passing them. Because many HPDE instructors have never raced, they don’t consider the fact that the best way to keep a competitor behind them is not to block them. The best way is to drive the fastest line, so they’re faster than their competitors. That means driving the line that results in the fastest laps. And guess what? That line is also the safest.
Hopefully I’ve answered your question is a way that you’ve come to the realization that the “school” and “racing” lines should be the same, or very, very close. If there’s any variation, it has more to do with what one driver has learned that works for them in their car, compared to someone else. Even then, the difference is very subtle.
Having said that, drive the line that your instructors suggest. If you want, you can suggest they read this post, but the best way to ruin your day at the track is by getting into a big argument with the instructors and even organizers. If they’re suggesting cornering lines with artificially late turn-ins and apexes, understand what they’re doing, go along with it, use it as a learning experience, and know that there is a difference between dogs and cats! J
This was one of the more practical lessons taught by Frank Gardner who ran Touring Cars back in the 70’s. He taught a lot about how to Race Tin Tops. Touring cars are definitely a bit ( lot ) more ” argey bargey ” than Open wheel. The ability to cover off the inside ( The Pruett Fade ) ” with out ” losing mid corner speed is a tricky thing to pull off. You can rub fenders in ” Closed wheel “. That’s just hard racing. But Open wheel is a totally different ball game.
The ability to adapt quickly to traffic and other conditions is key.. IMHO.
Agreed, the “racing” line is definitely the safest line.
There may be a proviso that this doesn’t directly apply to corners where one needs to use an elevated entry speed to generate a pivot or other unique inertia, however, barring that, think of it this way.
The racing line is the one that allows you to carry the most speed around the track which translates to the line that provides the most traction. Therefore, any other line will provide less traction over the course.
Certainly there may be sacrificial corners, but those are ones where the racing line has you running slower than the highest obtainable speed for that specific corner in order to be in position to maximize a subsequent section.
Agreed, and like your point about the line that provides the most traction.