Lemons thoughts

Some random thoughts about the last Lemons race.

Corner workers make mistakes

Going into the race, we knew that we had to minimize black flags. Everyone needs to, of course, but our car was much slower than anything else in B class and any black flag was going to put us out of contention. Sadly, we got two in the first stint. Neither one was earned. In Lemons rules, you’re allowed to pass after a yellow flag station if the mess is cleaned up. We did that and got flagged. That’s a judgement call on both sides, and given that, we should have been more careful. The second black flag was either for contact or for going 4 off. Neither of which happened, but the corner worker at T5 couldn’t see that easily.

Tuning

A couple weeks ago, the car worked great with 225 width RS4s on the front and 205 width RT615K+ on the back. I sort of destroyed one of the tires by overheating it and couldn’t run that set in the race. So I got some stickier front rubber in the form of 225 width 595 RS-RRs. I didn’t test that combination and it turned out that the team didn’t like it. Well, actually, they hated it. The team is used to an understeering car. When you get into trouble, you lift, and the front grips again. In an oversteering car, lifting only makes matters worse. As the car owner, it’s my job to provide a car that everyone can drive. Not only would the team be faster on average, they would also be safer and have more fun driving. We did eventually change the rears to get more grip and then later switched out the fronts for even less grip. Everyone but me liked it better.

Rain

Check the last post to see a video of me working through the field on a wet Sunday. I passed a hell of a lot of cars and in return was not passed. Here’s another video from our team a little later. It takes our driver a couple laps to acclimate to the wet conditions and then he proceeds to destroy most of the field.

 

The Yaris was one of the slowest and least sporty cars in the event. Why were we so much faster in the rain? Is it because we have extensive experience in the rain? I can’t speak for Danny, but I certainly don’t. I’ve only driven in the rain a handful of times. Maybe 3 hours total, and in other cars, not this one. So what’s the secret?

On my skills page, I used to have an ABC ranking system that asks the following simple question. When the car begins to slip, what do you do?

  • C drivers slow down
  • B drivers maintain speed
  • A drivers speed up

I think rain robs people of confidence. Lack of confidence can turn an A driver into a B driver or a B driver into a C driver. How does one gain confidence? Training. Like I said, I haven’t done much rain driving. So where do I get my training and the confidence that comes with it? Simulation, of course.

Lemons is changing

The C class has dwindled to just a few teams. And there used to be lots of teams sporting ridiculous themes. Our old MR2 was one of those silly cars and was just featured in the 24 Hours of Lemons Hella Sweet Car of the Week. Back then, our MR2 was put in B class with a couple penalty laps. Today, it would go into C class. I think Lemons has become a victim of its own success. Originally, Lemons was a parade/party poking fun at high performance cars. But over the years, racers have changed its culture. Part of that comes from competing series like Lucky Dog, ChampCar, AER, and WRL, where cars don’t have to be cheap and aren’t expected to have silly themes. The teams that do endurance racing tend to race all series. Now when you look over the Lemons grid you see sleek cars with $800 airfoils instead of cars shaped like boats with stuffed animals hanging out of them. While it’s true that I didn’t dress up my car or body with humorous artwork, I did bring a Toyota Yaris. But next time we’re going all in and “bringing back stupid”.

Post 99: you done fucked up

Amazingly (to me) this is YSAR post #99. Starting with #100, I will be making room for some new content aside from the usual crash analysis. At this landmark, I thought it would be useful to provide some kind of synthesis. Simply put, what advice would I give someone about to go wheel-to-wheel racing for the first time. I’m calling these rules the YSAR YDFU.

  1. I didn’t see = dangerous driver
  2. I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver
  3. Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact
  4. Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury
  5. Drive with people, not against them

Rule #1: I didn’t see = dangerous driver

You might think that driving the limit is your #1 job… It isn’t. Your highest priority on track is being safe, and that starts with seeing everything around you. First off, flags and flag stations. It’s not enough to know where they are and what the colors mean. You have to actively look for them. Judge Steve of Lemons has a phrase worth quoting: “corner, unwind, look for the next flag station”. If you miss a flag station, you may end up ruining the weekend for yourself and someone else.

If you ever find yourself in car-to-car contact and explain yourself by saying “I didn’t see” then you really have no business being on a race track. That’s your #1 job. It doesn’t matter if you have right of way. You should never be surprised by the presence of another car. If this happens, you need to work on your situational awareness in a safer environment (HPDE, simulation).

Rule #2: I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver

In some ways “I didn’t expect” is an even worse response than “I didn’t see” because it shows a lack of judgement. It’s like saying “I could have avoided the incident but I chose not to”. You have to expect other people to suck at racing and drive accordingly. You also have to know your own abilities and not drive beyond them. Everyone has lapses of judgement. Try not to let the excitement of the moment ruin the weekend.

Rule #3: Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact

The most common cause of car-to-car contact occurs when a driver tries to improve time or position by aggressively braking. With all of the grip going to slowing, there’s none left for turning. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, go buy any racing book and look at the friction circle. Locking your wheels pretty much guarantees you’ll be ending someone’s weekend. Let’s see a couple examples.

A less common type of late braking occurs when a driver hits their brakes mid-corner. This results in sudden oversteer. The situation is exacerbated in front-wheel drive cars and in downhill corners where the weight is already biased towards the front of the car.

Almost everyone knows the adage “in slow, out fast” but knowing doesn’t equate with doing. The key to going faster isn’t braking later, but getting on throttle sooner. That means moving the braking and turning earlier in the cornering process, not later. The only people who benefit from braking later are rank novices dealing with the initial fears of high G-forces. If you’re a rank novice, you don’t have any business racing yet. And if you’re not, late braking isn’t going to get you anything but trouble.

Rule #4: Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury

As soon as a car puts even part of a tire off track, it loses grip. In these situations, holding the steering wheel in the same place pretty much guarantees you will spin. It’s critical that all drivers understand how to leave the racing surface and how to return. In both cases, the wheels have to be running nearly parallel to the track. If you’re about to run off track, zero your steering and go off track intentionally and under control. Otherwise you may find yourself spinning uncontrollably.

Other people who go off track are some of the greatest dangers you will face. They often collect other cars in their attempt to regain control.

If you see another car kick up dirt, expect something bad to happen. Hopefully, trouble doesn’t come looking for you.

And when you’re ready to come back on track, make eye contact with a flag station to make sure it’s okay. When it’s safe to proceed, do so gently. Tires don’t turn so well on dirt/grass, and a common mistake is to steer too much. Racecars don’t like going off track, and often break something when they do. It’s easy to tell if your suspension is crooked, but torn brake lines or radiator hoses are not so obvious. Try to evaluate if something is wrong before going full speed.

Rule #5: Drive with people, not against them

Hey, this is amateur racing we’re talking about. If you have professional aspirations, what are you doing slumming on this blog? There are no cash prizes or racing contracts in your future. Take a fucking chill pill. Don’t endanger other drivers, protect them. Damage to cars and drivers is unacceptable. If you see someone spin in front of you, don’t try to rush past. Make sure that you and those behind you aren’t going to make a bad situation worse. Slow down, control your car, and position yourself to maximize safety. It’s a lot better having someone come over to your pit and say “thanks, you totally saved me” rather than “fuck you asshole”.

If you’re a fast driver in a fast car, your closing speeds with less capable cars can be really high. Less experienced drivers might not see you. Don’t assume they will. Make yourself as visible as possible and get around them with minimal fuss. Yes, it can be frustrating to follow a slow and oblivious novice for a couple corners. Please, don’t be a jerk who tries to teach them a lesson unless that lesson is how to drive with courtesy.

How To: hope for the best

Ah yes, we’re talking about how to suck at racing. Well, one method that has proved very useful is to hope for the best (rather than plan for the worst). The most common situation is this: you’re running wide in a corner and there’s a chance you might go off track. What started it? Debris, traffic, missed brake point, etc. It doesn’t really matter. You’re getting close to the edge of the track and aren’t sure what to do. Keep your steering lock (or even increase it) and hope for the best. You just might make it.

Then again, you might not. As an alternative to hoping there’s enough traction to save your bacon, you can go off track intentionally, with the steering wheel straight and the vehicle under control. The video won’t be nearly as exciting though.

ToS: TWO & DAD

An experienced driver knows that going two wheels off (TWO) is not a big deal. Sometimes you come in too hot and run out of track. Open the wheel, reduce the Gs, do a little dirt-tracking, and then return gently to the track. Inexperienced drivers have a tendency to maintain steering lock and this causes them to spin when they drop 2 wheels. Alternatively, they may steer too aggressively when trying to return to the asphalt. In the following clip, the blue car doesn’t do a very good job of handling their TWO situation.

The POV (point of view) car doesn’t do a great job of handling the situation either. He got caught in a classic dope-a-dope (DAD). A rope-a-dope is suckering someone into a false sense of security. A dope-a-dope is suckering yourself into a false sense of security. When a car goes off track or spins in front of you, don’t expect the best, expect the worst. If the ass idiot in front of you misses every apex, you know they suck at racing. When they drop 2 wheels, you know they’re going to mess it up. Right?

I is for iRacing

Did you know that some driving games are so realistic now that they are no longer games but simulations? The How To link at the top of the page has more information about the hardware and software you need to get started. I highly recommend iRacing to anyone who wants to drive on track. The #1 reason is because it puts you in situations you’ve never been in and never want to be in on a race track. Like crashing an exotic sports car in T1, and T2, and T3, etc. After a while you develop the muscle memory to recover from bad situations and a library of experience that helps you recognize and avoid incidents before they happen. Sure, you can gain this knowledge on track, but there’s less risk in simulation. Imagine wrecking an expensive car simply because you didn’t know how to handle an ordinary 2-off situation. If your imagination is lacking, it would look something like this.

If I had a driving school, I’d make 20 hours of simulation training a prerequisite to driving on track and 40 hours a prerequisite to racing.

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.

2 wheels off

Whether it’s traffic, debris, exuberance, or incompetence, sometimes you may end up with two wheels off the track. This is a dangerous situation if you don’t know how to handle it. The knee-jerk reaction is to turn the wheel more to stay on track. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

At 0:31, the driver could have solved this gracefully by straightening out the wheel in preparation going for 2 wheels off. This lowers the side-loading on the car. The outside tires have most of the grip, and once in the dirt, they have almost no grip. It’s impossible to make a 0.9 G turn when you have 0.2 G grip. By 0:32 the car is entering a spin. At this point, the driver could have locked up the brakes and the car would have spun in the original direction. But the driver tries to save it with a countersteer. By the time he realizes it’s not going to work and locks the brakes at 0:33, the car is headed towards the wall and the inevitable misery that follows.