On-Track-Praying

Imagine you’ve just had a brief loss of concentration and missed your reference point for the upcoming turn. Consequently, you’ve entered the corner a little too fast and you’re starting to run out of room at the exit. Which of the following actions describe your steering response?

  1. Turn the wheel more to ensure you will make the turn
  2. Keep the wheel as is and hope for the best
  3. Unwind the wheel and drop 2 wheels off track

Turning the wheel more increases the slip angle. If turned too far, this decreases traction on the front wheels and results in understeer. The result is that the car doesn’t turn at all and runs off track on the outside of the turn.

Keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping you don’t run off track is a form of on-track-praying. Faith has no place on a race track. If you’re about to run off track, it’s entirely up to you to fix it, and that doesn’t mean keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping everything will be alright.

As soon as you drop two wheels off track, your grip goes to shit. The tires that had the most grip were the outside tires, and instead of being on asphalt, they’re now on dirt or grass. Your 1.0g of traction just became something like 0.6g. The only way out of such a situation is to increase the radius of your turn. That means unwinding the wheel. If you suspect you’re about to drop wheels off track, do it intentionally and on your terms.

Maybe you were wrong about your speed and by holding your line you actually make the turn. Bravo, except that you’re reinforcing bad driving habits. “Phew, I made it” is an inferior learning experience to “I handled it like a pro”. The next time, you may not be so lucky. A sudden loss of traction is much harder to control than a planned loss of traction. Efforts to control unexpected oversteer often make matters worse as the vehicle crosses the track one or more times.

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