Cross-posted from Mario’s Occam’s Racer. Editorial comments in red (at the end).
I don’t know a lot of car drills, and in fact I only do one: “Third gear no brakes.” Leave it in third gear (or fourth on a higher speed track) and don’t touch the brakes, that’s all there is to it. I learned this exercise from Keith Code back when I was a motorcycle journalist for Moto Euro. We did an article on the California Superbike School, and Keith made us do this drill for two sessions at Sears Point (Sonoma), in the rain.
Third-gear-no-brakes is a great way to focus on entry speed, and you absolutely have to use reference points. You will eventually scare the shit out of yourself, but after that, you’ll be surprised how fast you can go.
For example, here are two laps, the red is me, the black is my friend Jim. We are in the same car on the same tires, and he is .2 seconds faster than me. But if you look at the traces, he’s shifting and braking, while I’m staying in 3rd gear the whole time, never touching the brakes.
If you look at the time graph along the bottom, you can see I make up most of the time in the middle of the graph. This is the “knuckle”, a triple-apex corner. I have to shut off the throttle right at the end of the corner, and that long sloping line is me coasting downhill, waiting for the blind hairpin. At the same point, Jim’s trace looks like a mountain, with strong acceleration upwards and hard braking coming back down.
Jim isn’t a bad driver, he’s taken racing classes, and has raced wheel to wheel. He has strong inputs behind the wheel, and an aggressive driving style. But he slows down too much and my Miata doesn’t have a lot of power to overcome that.
This is what third-gear-no-brakes looks like from the cockpit. It’s not very exciting. I edited out the part where I went three wheels in the dirt!
One of the most common phrases you hear at the race track is “in slow, out fast”. I like making fun of this phrase because it does more harm than good. While I could mention that again here, I’m going to examine another common myth: “the most important corner is the one that leads onto the longest straight”. At Pineview Run, the “S Trap” leads onto the main straight. This is a super-slow left-right combination that is positioned at about 3600-4100 feet in the graph above. The black driver goes “in slow, out fast” and ends up with superior speed on the main straight. Yay. This leads to a couple tenths advantage at the end of the straight. Big fucking deal.
Now let’s look at something that turned out to be more important than the straight: the S Trap itself. Going into the S Trap, the black driver has built up a nice cushion (you can see this in the time graph as the big red hump). The reason for this is clear, the red driver wasn’t using any brakes on the approach and consequently has a huge speed disadvantage. From 3250-3750 the black driver is going a lot faster. But all the time gained in this 500 feet is lost in the next 200. Why? Because contrary to popular opinion, the slow parts of the track are critical. Going 1 mph slower in the slowest corner of the track is a lot more costly than 1 mph slower in the fastest corner. Why? Simple math. Going 99 mph in a 100 mph corner is only 1% off but going 49 mph in a 50 mph corner is 2% off. Given that slow corners tend to have long arcs, you can spend a lot of time going slowly.
The 3rd gear only exercise is one of the best things you can do on a practice day. With the focus on momentum rather than engine, your minimum corner speed will be higher. Like all drills, this isn’t the end of the story. You don’t want to drive like this all the time. If your minimum corner speed is too high, you will have to lift at the exit. Not only does this make your lap times longer, it’s also dangerous. But you can’t get to the end without getting through the middle, and 3rd gear only is an important part of the middle.