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This was posted on a local site that I am on. It was written by a friend of mine, Chris Gant, Who is now one of the top dogs in BMW Club Racing in this region. Hope some of you find it as usefull as I did.

This primer is mainly geared toward the ambitious autox people who are looking for some pointers on how to get to the next level, but I hope there is something here for everyone, regardless of your current skill level. I wanted to put a fairly short, but encompassing document together on what you need to do go faster without having to read an oversimplified book with a lot of useless information. I've also tried to bring another element for improving your skills that you may not have given much thought to, which is how to use your mind to help you go faster. Ask any professional level athlete how import it is to train your mind compared to your body, and they should all tell you the same thing, that its every bit as important, if not more. I won't go into details as to why, because there are already many books on the subject. I just want to show you a few things you can to improve you times at your next autocross. If you've never autocrossed before then you just need to take the plunge and see what you're missing, but don't be discouraged when you aren't as fast as you think you should be. Autocross is an extremely competitive and challenging sport, and if were easy, no one would do it.

Dude, how do you go so fast? Ask anyone if they know how to drive and you will always get the same answer. Every man, woman and (at least 16 year old) teenager thinks they know how to drive. Are they right? Rarely. This is something you may have to accept if you want to learn how to go fast at an autocross. What people know how to do is operate a car, but unless you've already done some form of racing you don't know how to drive. I'm talking about driving a car at the absolute limit for 60 some-odd seconds or more while staying in complete control of the car. What most new drivers will do is either drive too slow or way too fast, below the limit or way over it. Both of these techniques will always result in slow lap times. To go fast you have to drive at the limit but it's a very fine line. So how do you drive at the limit?

The overall outline of the document is to give you a series of steps to follow during the course of the autocross event; from the time you first walk the course to the time your last run is over. It's a basic structure of what you should be thinking about throughout the day, and how to be fully prepared for the race well before you put your helmet on. Being prepared will make all the difference in the world when it comes time to drive, and if you prepare well enough then the driving should actually be the easiest things you will have to do all day. A well-prepared driver will make winning look easy only because he has already worked out every last detail ahead of time. Actually, all of these concepts I'm going to talk about are very simple ones, and things that you should have already given some thought to, but very few people know how to put them all together on race day to achieve the best possible result. Let's get started!

Be prepared
Do everything you can possibly do ahead of time! This should be pretty obvious, but you would be amazed how many people fail to do it. I'm talking about common sense issues that are very easy to do, and will save you from a lot of grief on the morning of the event. Without going into a lot of detail, here are some things to keep in mind.

Get plenty of sleep the night before. It would also help to stay away from alcohol if at all possible. J You will need to be fully alert and mentally ready if you expect to do well.
Get you car ready. Take all the crap out of the car, set you tire pressures, top off your brake fluid, and make sure you have some brake pad left. Check your oil and make sure to have at least ¼ tank of fuel before you get to the track. There's nothing more destructive to your confidence than to be running around the morning of the event trying to get you car ready. You should show up with your car ready to race. If you have to put on race tires, then that should be all you have to do when you get there. This is not the time to be installing your 4-point harness, new brake pads, or intake kit.

In the summer, drink lots of fluid. I know this sounds obvious, but it's extremely important to stay hydrated throughout the day. If it's hot, start drinking water or some kind of sports drink as soon as you get there, before you get thirsty. You cannot be 100% mentally ready if you're hot and dehydrated.

Walk the track
Once you are registered and your car is ready to go, you need to walk the track as many times as you possibly can. If you are planning on driving quickly then this is without a doubt the single most important thing you can do before you get in the car, and if you can walk it with an experienced driver, all the better. (Most are always willing to help out) I would not, however, recommend walking it with 3 or 4 of your buddies who are more interested in talking about their social life than learning the track. Walk it alone if you have to, but whatever you do you need to really think about how you will be negotiating the cones. This is extremely important on a small, tight course because the cones are usually much closer together, making them difficult to follow. You will get very discouraged, (and embarrassed) when you end up wandering all over the course because you didn't spend enough time walking it. On a large, wide-open course this should be less of an issue. At most events you will only get 3-4 runs, and you sure don't want to waste them all trying to learn the course. A novice driver simply needs to get a good overall picture of where the track goes, and does not need to try to determine his exact racing line. Also, once the first car does go out, it's important to watch from a few different viewpoints on the track as well. You should also try to work the first heat and pay attention to the faster drivers and see how they are negotiating the course. This is also a good time to see what not to do by paying attention to where drivers are making the most mistakes. It's always good to learn from other people's mistakes!

The more events you do, the better you will become at reading the course, and the easier it will be to memorize a course. Eventually you will get a point where your course walking notes will be closer and closer to what you actually did in the car. You should start thinking of the course in sections, to help break it down into groups of corners. This will help you memorize the course faster, and will also help you determine how you will make the transition from one section to the next. It will also help you categorize similar types of corner, slaloms, hairpins, etc, into groups, which you can file away for future use. Eventually you will have enough experience that you can look at a particular type of corner and use past experiences of similar corners to visualize exactly how you will negotiate it; sort of a database of different track sections that will help speed up your course walking strategy. Soon, instead of looking at 50 individual corners separately, you see just a handful of sections, and then you simply put those groups together making the course much easier to visualize. Once you build up your database of corners, it becomes much easier to learn a course because you can literally have it 98% figured out before driving it.

Some important things to remember when walking/learning an autox course are:
A. Understand how the track flows together. Instead of just walking around the course, you should stop at each corner and look at where you just came from, to get a different perspective of the corner. Try to imagine at what angle your car will be when you arrive at a corner or a straight. Walking the course backwards can be very helpful, since you may get a better picture of how your car will be exiting a corner, and this can help determine a more realistic line.
B. Pay very close attention to extremely tight corners and hairpin turns, especially if they are at the end of a fast section of track. It's easy to forget about these later on when you're actually driving the course, and they will sneak up on you when you least expect it, so it's important be very aware of these heavy braking zones well before you get to them.
C. Try to find as many straights as possible. There are very few perfectly straight sections at an autocross, so you need to find those places where you can make a corner, or a series of corners into a straight. The way to do this is by adjusting your line to minimize the time spent cornering. Just because you're turning doesn't mean you can't be accelerating at the same time, you just may have to give up a little in a corner to make it pay off on the following sections. A lot of novices will tend to coast through a set of corners that could have been taken with a fair amount of throttle, and conversely will go too fast through a corner that should have been taken much slower. Simply put, you want to go fast in the fast stuff and slow in the slow stuff. Most do the exact opposite however, so learn to read more into the track than what you might first assume.
D. Pay particular attention to slaloms. Slaloms can either be directed or optional, meaning that on some you are required to go around the correct side of the first cone, (usually indicated by a pointer cone) while optional means you can start on whichever side you want as long as you don't skip any cones. (ie: no pointer cone) What you need to be aware of is what side of the last cone you will end up on, since it will determine your entry to the corner that follows it. Slaloms can also be of varying distances, so it's a good idea to walk off the distance between a series of slalom cones to see if they are evenly spaced or not, and to get an idea of how fast you can go through them. Typically, if the cones are less than 30 paces apart, you'll be doing more turning than accelerating. Anything over 30 paces will give you more room to experiment with the throttle.

Visualize yourself driving the course.
How does visualization work? You mind doesn't know the difference between a real event and an imagined one, so we want to use this to our advantage by imagining ourselves driving the course. After walking the course a hundred times you should be able to close your eyes and picture how each corner and each straight are connected. You need to sit in your car with your eyes closed and visualize yourself driving the entire course. Do this as many times as necessary until you are very comfortable with every single corner and straight on the track. You want to use as much detail as possible, to make it more real to your sub-conscience. Hear the engine and tires, feel the g-forces, etc. Anything you can add to the realism will help when you actually get out there. The less you are forced to consciously think about, like where the track goes, while you are driving, the more brain resources you will have for other things, like keeping the car at the limit. If you are constantly trying to figure out where to go, then there is no way in **** you are going to be quick. You have to be able to think ahead while you are driving the course. Always try to think about the next corner, not the one you are presently negotiating. While you're doing your visualization, be thinking about what you're going to be thinking about, if that makes sense. For example, if there is a very tight hairpin at the end of a long, fast straight, then you may want to pre-program you brain to be prepared for that tight hairpin at the end of that fast straight so when you are actually driving, it should automatically pop into you head to be prepared for the hairpin the moment before you get there, as opposed to after you've completely blown the corner. An autocross will be the fastest 50 seconds of your life and you will not have any time to consciously be thinking about things. The more data you can pre-program into your sub-conscience, the slower things will go by while on the track. This is something that you will need to practice each and every time you go out, because it is one of the best tools you will have when it comes to making up time on the track. What you are striving for is to be in the zone when you are driving. That is, being able to drive at a sub-conscious level, not having to think about where the track goes and not getting caught off guard by a slow corner. As you progress with your driving skills, it will also mean being able to keep the car at the limit without making mistakes. This is what every great athlete does and it is what you will need to learn to do if you ever intend to be competitive. Unfortunately most people are usually & zoned out instead, and don't remember anything about their run after it's over, which brings me to my last point about visualization. When your run is over, if you can, always try to evaluate yourself. Visualize your run and try to recall any mistakes you made. I realize your adrenaline is going and everything else, but this can be a tremendous help in finding any recurring mistakes, and for finding places where you can carry just a little more speed in your next run, so practice it!

So how do we put theses concepts together?
A. Walk the track as much as possible taking mental notes about any sections that you think you might have trouble with. It may help to think of taking mental sticky notes. Visualize yourself driving your car and the sticky notes popping into your head automatically. After each run you will want to go over all the following concepts again, re-evaluating your line and making note of any thing else that could improve your times. Think about how the entire track flows together, not just about individual corners or straights. When you are new at this, then every corner is an experiment. You won't have enough previous data to know exactly what the car is going to do as you negotiate the course. Eventually you should get to a point where you can tell what speed you will need to be at to negotiate a certain section of the course just by looking at the flow of the course. You will also start to notice more and more acceleration zones, which a more inexperienced driver might only see as a group corners, or where you will be braking and turning at the same time, and even things like track surface, bumps and off camber corners. Be aware, and always be making mental sticky notes of any characteristics that could catch you off guard when you're actually driving.
B. Try to predetermine your line based on where you can make up the most time. This may seem complicated at first, but in reality all you are doing is making sure you don't try to make up time in the wrong places. Simply put, you want to take advantage of any section where you can accelerate, by getting a good exit out of preceding corner. If you go through that corner too hot, you've not only blown that corner but the following straight as well. It's ok to give up some time on an entry to a corner to make up more time on the exit. If fact it's usually preferred.
C. After each run always ask yourself questions like, Did I make any mistakes? Can I go faster through this section if I slow down a little for the corner that leads up to it? Did I have a lot of traction or very little?How did the car feel? Try to remember as much as possible about your run for future analysis. Another helpful concept while driving the course is to make mental notes about places where you know you could have gone a little faster, then after your run try to recall as many of those notes as possible and apply them to your next run. Asking yourself questions afterwards will help you identify where you can improve. Pay attention to where you made mistakes, so you can be sure to correct the mistake, and where you felt you were quick, so you can use the same line again. It's a constant re-evaluation process after each run to see what can be done better for the next one. Don't pull up to the start line and say, Ok, I gotta go really fast this time because that doesn't work.

Driving smooth
Think of an autocross as being made up of hundreds of very small inputs, which add up to your overall time. For example, every turn of the steering wheel, or every little input on the throttle or brake will account for, let's say ¼ of a second, and you will easily have 200 or more inputs during a run, which adds up to about 50 seconds. So now, every input that you do wrong will cost you ¼ of a second; every time you over-accelerate, spin the wheels, lock the front tires, or miss an apex, you just lost ¼ of a second (or more). Do this 10 times and you've easily lost 2-3 seconds. That's why it's so important to be smooth, and not to try to go faster. (Trying is in fact a negative thought, suggesting the possibility of failure. And besides, the brain doesn't understand try, either you do something or you don't, which again is why visualization is so important.)
Remember, time is made by accelerating in a forward motion, not sliding sideways, not spinning the rear wheels coming out of every corner, but by using the maximum amount of available traction at all times. You will not make up any time by over-driving the car, I guarantee it. You will hear over and over again from fast drivers that smooth is fast and they are right. You will be surprised to find that some of your fastest runs were the ones that felt the slowest. Watch the fastest drivers, they will always look slower than their times would indicate. The reason for this is physics. More specifically, weight transfer. Basically the more abrupt the weight transfer is, the less traction your tires will have at that moment. Stomping the brakes, throwing the car into the corner, and then standing on the gas is how most novices drive, and their times reflect this method of driving. To drive smooth means to use only as much traction as the tires can handle at that instant. Accelerate as quickly as possible without spinning the tires, slow down as quickly as possible without locking up the tires, turn into a corner as aggressive as possible without causing the front end to push. Anytime the tires are spinning, sliding, or locked up you are loosing seconds. If you back off the throttle just enough to let the tires maintain maximum grip, you will gain time. Some corners are very tight and it may seem like you are crawling around them, but I promise you that if you let the tires work just at that limit and no more, your times will improve. Driving smooth also means driving calmly, so to be smooth you have to be very light on the controls. Remember, it's OK to slow down a little. As I said before, being smooth will only occur if you can drive at the sub-conscious level. You will only be able to drive at the sub-conscious level if you spent enough time visualizing the course. You will only be able to visualize the course if you spent enough time walking it and making mental notes. If you didn't do any of these things you will not be able to make the correct decisions while you're driving; therefore you will be slow. See where all this is going?

How to drive smooth
Let's start with the basics.

Accelerating.
Sound simple? You'd be surprised how many people can't launch a car properly. What you want to do is accelerate as hard as you can, but without excessive wheel spin. This concept alone is mind boggling to most people (especially those of you who drive muscle cars). Basically, a tire that is spinning approximately 10% faster than the speed you are traveling will give you the most traction. Ever watch NHRA drag racing on TV? Pay attention to how the rear wheels are spinning slightly faster than the fronts, and notice what happens when they get just a tiny bit too much wheel spin; they smoke the tires and instantly loose forward momentum. This has another negative effect in that it forces you to get out of the throttle to regain traction. Not good. Note that this doesn't just apply to the start of your run, it really comes into play every time you accelerate out of a corner, so pay close attention to your wheel spin every time you accelerate. It should always be you goal to approach a corner with the intent of exiting the corner as quickly as possible.

As you get better at accelerating, and at driving at the subconscious level, you will want to divert most of your attention to the rear (or front in a FWD) tires whenever you exit a corner. Try to feel the tires fight for traction and listen to the engine/exhaust note. An alarm should go off when you sense excessive wheel spin, and you should then MAKE ADJUSTMENTS with throttle. Try to keep the tire spinning just slightly faster than actual road speed, but still under control. You can make up gobs of time by getting the perfect launch out of a slow corner onto a fast section if you are patient, maintain a steady throttle input and keep things under control. That means NO oversteer. Even a little oversteer that requires a steering and/or throttle correction will cost you big time anywhere from a couple tenths to a half second. Smooth is fast.

As you're subconscious driving skills improve, so should your ability to sense tire spin. Eventually you should be able to perceive even the slightest loss of forward traction, almost to the point of feeling it before it happens, which is your ultimate goal when on the track. It's the number one secret to going fast; you need to be acutely tuned to your tires traction at all times and be able to know ahead of time if you can apply more throttle or not without having to guess.

Braking.
Even easier, you say. Believe it or not, braking is that last thing most people learn to do properly. There is an art to braking, and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. The brakes are an extremely powerful part of your car and can make a huge difference in your times. Similar to accelerating, braking is most effective when the tires are spinning slightly slower than your actual road speed, just to the point before locking up. Common mistakes include braking too early or too late, not braking at 100%, braking at 100% when unnecessary, and trying to brake too hard while turning the wheel at the same time, causing the front wheels to lock up. At first, you should not put too much effort into trying to make up a bunch of time by late braking into a corner. Instead, you should almost exclusively be thinking about how to accelerate out of the corner, considering you spend around 75% of your time accelerating, and only about 5% braking. It will be more than sufficient to brake as aggressive as possible, but to do it early enough so that you can focus on corner exit speed. It's important to remember to use the pedals aggressively, but not abruptly. You don't want to hit the pedals, but instead you want to push them down as fast and as smooth as possible. This also applies to taking your foot off the pedal, being as smooth as possible when transitioning off the brake and onto the gas, or vise-versa.

Braking efficiently is difficult to describe. I'm almost at a loss for words, but it has a lot more to do with steering the car then you might think. Unfortunately it's tied so close to your feel for the car that it would probably be futile to try and explain it, but here goes.
Autocross requires trail braking and a very sensitive braking foot (which ever one you decide to use). You will apply a different amount of pedal pressure for every corner or slalom entry and you'll be fine-tuning that pedal pressure all the way to the point of releasing the brakes and applying the throttle. You should also think of the brakes just like you would the throttle; with infinite adjustment ability, varying the pressure to keep the rear of the car pointing the direction you want.

Most drivers will assume that threshold braking is required for every corner, and that it's always the proper braking technique. But in autocross the brakes are more for balancing the car, since the speeds don't usually warrant long braking zones. You'll use less threshold braking and more modulation braking, getting the rear end to come around, trying to shift weight to the front of the car, etc., and you'll be on and off the brakes a lot more in a shorter time frame, than you would, say at a race track. This leads me to the subject of left foot braking. I think this is a confusing issue, because it's not really to reduce the time moving your feet around, or to make a smoother transition from throttle to brakes, (although that's a bonus to the solution), but I think it's more for being able to keep the car on that knife edge from the time you brake until you hit the throttle application point. Making small and precise adjustments all the way into a corner by working both pedals at the same time will help you maintain the desired attitude until you're ready to accelerate, and this is just too hard to do using only one foot with two pedals. (watch the FIA Rallying on Speed TV, to see how they do it) The fastest way into a corner is with a planted front end, and a slightly loose rear end. If your front end washes out, you aren't going to turn in, plain and simple, which will force you to either slow down, or brake early and in a straight line (Mustang and Camaro owners, pay attention!) then stomp the gas to rotate the car. If you do decide to learn left foot braking, remember that your goal is to use the brakes a little as possible. Try to be light on the pedal and learn to have a sensitive foot. You will probably have higher lap times until you get really good at it, so be prepared to spend some time learning it. I would also recommend being very comfortable with the rest of your driving techniques before taking on left foot braking.

To enter a corner at the very limit is probably the last thing a driver will learn to do well, so it deservers a closer look. In an ideal world, as you approach a corner you will turn in slightly early, to a false apex, almost aiming for the inside of the apex, then as you start to trail brake the front end should be planted and precise, but still on the edge. Keep in mind that what you're really doing is presenting the car to the corner. You only want to make one steering application at turn in, and then you will balance the car with the throttle and the steering wheel through the rest of the corner, making tiny corrections along the way. The car should drift just past the true apex, and the rear end sliding slightly from the small amount of brake application at turn in. Then just before you're ready to accelerate, you would smoothly transition to the throttle, keeping the rear end going around, transferring weight to the rear tires. As soon as you feel the weight transfer and the rear tires start to bite, you lean hard into the throttle. Left foot braking can give you more control throughout this process. This applies to FWD cars as well: Instead of making the front end do all the work through the corner, use the brakes to get the rear end sliding a little to help rotate the car. If done right it will make up time.

Cornering.
I hope you're starting to see a trend here. Smooth is fast. Cornering is just more of the same. You want to keep the tires at their limit throughout the corner, without getting excessive oversteer or understeer. Ideally you want the front and rear tires to slide about the same amount. This is done using the throttle, the steering wheel, or the brakes, depending on what you are trying to make the car do, and where in the corner you are trying to do it. This is a skill that a lot of people think they have because the can hang the tail out going around a corner, but this is not what you are trying to accomplish. What I am talking about is controlling your & slip angles. Basically, the slip angle is the difference, usually stated in percentage, between the direction the tire is pointing and the direction that the whole car is pointing. Hanging the tail out is a perfect example of a very large slip angle, another would be when you try to turn the wheel and the car goes straight on either entering or exiting a corner. Neither of these are acceptable levels of slip angle if you intend to be quick. In reality, a majority of cornering is done on corner entry, so go and re-read the section on Braking again.

So to sum up why it's so important to be smooth, you need to understand that tires work best within a very small range of slip, and this goes for accelerating and braking as well as cornering. Any time you are under this range you are not using all of the tires potential, and going over this range has the exact same results, which is where a lot of new drivers are missing the boat. Remember, if the tires are spinning or sliding outside of the optimum range, then they obviously are not accelerating, and therefore you are loosing time. If you want to experience and master the slip angle then I would suggest spending a few dozen hours with a PlayStation and Gran Tourismo or some of the PC racing games.

They say "practice makes perfect," but a more accurate statement is "perfect practice makes perfect." It does no good to practice poor driving techniques. If you spend all your energy on being smooth and consistent, and don't worry too much about lap times, you will be teaching yourself to drive properly and fast lap times are a guaranteed result.
 
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