Whether I’m coaching or watching video, the first thing I look at is hand position. The best drivers have relaxed and tidy hands. By relaxed I mean they aren’t gripping the steering wheel too tight. I’ve even seen some people with floating pinkies like they’re drinking tea with the Queen. That’s a sign of a light touch, and a driver who is trying to feel the traction of the tires through the steering wheel. Tidy hands are never messy. Most good drivers leave their hands at 9-and-3 but some move their hands around a bit. When drifting or autocrossing, corners can be so tight that you have to move your hands around the wheel. Good drivers do this in a organized and repeatable pattern. Unskilled drivers tend to have random hand placement, especially if their car gets out of control. But that’s exactly when you want to have your hands organized.
How can you practice hand placement in a sliding car? A skid pad is ideal. If you have (legal) access to a parking lot, you can set up a practice area. Autocross runs are so short that they don’t provide much practice. Tracks aren’t so good either because the corners aren’t as tight. Of course, my favorite training tool is simulation. It’s inexpensive, legal, and nearly as good as the real thing. My simulation rig features a Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer wheel. This is a Formula style wheel. It’s not so good if you want to wind the wheel more than 180 degrees. For drifting and hillclimbs, a GT style wheel is better.
Shockingly, one of the YSAR readers (Ed W), just sent me a Thrustmaster Ferrari wheel for free! He read my blog post about the TS-PC Racer and thought he’d send me his spare wheel after reading that I was considering getting another wheel. Who does such things? Um, actually I do (follow the link and scroll down to the second post). I’m a firm believer in the power of kindness and paying it forward. A million thanks Ed. If you find yourself in Northern California, you’ll have to come do a track day with me or something.
Here’s a video of virtual-me using the new wheel. This is a hillclimb track in Assetto Corsa. Oddly enough, my driving suit looks exactly like the driver. I also use the same hand position. That is, I keep my hands at 9 and 3, but when I have to rotate more than 180, I keep the pushing hand on the wheel and let the pulling hand catch and release.
When doing figure 8 drills, I have a habit of driving one-handed. It’s not a great idea on track because contact may throw you out of control. But driving one-handed assures you of having a light touch and makes it unlikely you will tangle your arms. I’ve seen some people shuffle their hands effectively, but it always looks like too much work to me. Find whatever style works for you and practice it until you don’t have to think about it.
Hey, does anyone want my TS-PC wheel? I like the GT style more than Formula. The TS-PC wheel is compatible with other Thrustmaster bases, and you can buy just the base if you want to save some money on a new rig. Just let me know and I’ll pay it forward.