Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Best Way Around the Corner in a MINI Cooper

Using the concepts of balance and weight transfer, we can talk about how to take corners in the safest and fastest manner. Sure, we all turn corners all the time; been doing it since we started driving. But you might be surprised to learn that there is a right way to turn corners, and a variety of wrong ways.

In order to get the car around the corner fast and safely, you want to be as smooth as possible, keeping the car balanced at all times. You don’t want to be making abrupt changes in speed, abruptly hitting the gas pedal or brake, while the car is turning. Not only does this upset your passengers, it upsets the car, and that can be much more serious.

Turning corners properly is the most fundamental skill as you start to explore the world of fast track and autocross driving. Everything else in performance driving is built on proper cornering, since most races are won or lost in the turns. How fast a car can go on the straights is pretty much just a function of the car’s power; how fast it goes through the turns depends as much on the driver’s skill as it does on the capabilities of the car.

To turn the corner smoothly, quickly and safely, you should think about the turn as having three segments: braking, turning, and accelerating.

Before You Get to the Corner

As you prepare to practice the skill of turning corners properly, you should start by running down the check list from the previous chapter. Are you seated comfortably in a reasonably upright position with your back firmly against the back of the seat? Is your seat and steering wheel adjusted so that you can push in the clutch comfortably and hold the steering wheel with your elbows slightly bent?

Are your hands positioned on either side of the wheel just below the sides of the rim, with your right hand somewhere between three and four o’clock and your left hand between eight and nine o’clock? Are the rear-view mirrors set so that you can see directly behind the car and into the blind spot on each side? If so, we’re ready to go.

First Segment: Braking to Slow Down

The first segment of the turn is slowing down. First, check your mirrors to make sure there is no one right behind you who could run into you as you slow down and as you turn. On the road, you should also signal for the turn, of course.

While the car is still going straight, you should reduce your speed to the level that your eyes, seat, and brains tell you is slow enough to get around the corner safely without sliding off the outside. You should make sure that you do all of your braking while the car is pointed in a straight line and before you start to turn. Remember to look as far around the corner as possible. This will feed in the information that your brain needs to tell you when to start braking and when you’re goint slow enough to complete the turn safely.
Experienced drivers will tell you that the fastest way to get around any corner is “slow in, fast out.” Your car should be going at its slowest speed at the point when you begin turning the wheel.

Second Segment: Turn-in and Transition

In the second segment, you will turn the wheel to take the car around the corner to make the turn, move your foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal and begin to drive the car around the corner. The point at which you begin to turn into the corner is what racers call the “turn-in point.” (We realize the terminology is pretty obvious, but it does make sense.)

How can you tell where you should start your turn? Here you’ll depend on your eyes, which should have been looking around the corner. Basically, you don’t want to make your turn until you have a clear line of sight around the corner. You should be able to see where the path of your car will come closest to the inside of the turn, and where you will finish the turn.

Racers call these two points the “apex” and the “exit” or “track-out” points of the turn. To make the turn as easy as possible, you’ll want to start your turn at the far right hand side of your lane or as near the outside edge of the road as you can, then across the lane or road to the inside edge, and finally back out to the outside edge. Following that line through the corner will make the turn as open as possible, allowing you to turn both more quickly and more safely than if you had to turn more sharply.

Once you are able to see most of the path of your turn you should begin to turn the wheel. (By the way, when we get into how to turn corners quickly on the track or autocross course, you’ll discover that this path is the fastest one you can follow.)

You should keep a little pressure on the brake as you begin to turn in, to make sure that the nose of the car stays down, keeping pressure on the steering wheels. But just as soon as you’ve turned the steering wheel as far as necessary to make the turn and the car is pointed around the corner, it’s time to get off the brakes completely and get on the throttle.

The way you make the change from braking to acceleration is important in order to keep the car balanced. On the one hand, you don’t want to take your foot off the brake abruptly and immediately slam down the gas pedal. If you make the change properly, your passengers should not be able to tell when you stopped braking and started accelerating. If you had a racing instructor sitting in the passenger seat, they would tell you to “roll off the brake and roll on to the throttle.”

On the other hand, there should be no hesitation from the time your foot comes off the brake until you start pushing on the throttle. This is no time to be coasting; as soon as you’ve finished slowing down and started to make the turn, you should have your foot on the gas to keep the car under control.

Once your foot is on the throttle, you’ll want to give the car enough gas to keep the car balanced from front to rear until you finish the turn-in and begin to unwind the steering wheel. How long this period lasts depends on the radius of the corner. In a simple 90-degree turn, this transition period is very short; on a long sweeping corner on the other hand, you may be “balancing the car on the throttle,” as racers say, for a long time before you reach the next stage of the turn.

Mini Cooper Forum

Third Segment: Acceleration and Exit

The third segment of the turn is acceleration. At soon as you have turned as far as you need to and the car is pointed around the corner, you should start to smoothly accelerate. Here you can really take advantage of the front-wheel drive on your MINI. Since your power comes from the front wheels, you can start to accelerate much sooner than is possible in cars with rear wheel drive.

That driver in the rear-wheel drive car has to be very cautious about how much they accelerate at this stage of the turn, since their car’s weight isn’t back on the rear wheels yet. If they get on the throttle too soon, they can easily break the rear end loose into a skid. In fact, in the middle of the turn they might even still be on the brakes, practicing a technique called “trail braking” which you don’t have to even think about.
As you accelerate, you’ll pass the apex of the corner when you can begin to allow the steering wheel to unwind as the car moves out to the exit point of the corner.

By the time the steering wheel has rotated back and the car is completely straight, you. When you get the opportunity to do this on a race track, you’ll be able to really put your foot in it, but when practicing this on public streets and highways, you’ll of course be limited by the speed limits.

Practicing the Fundamentals

Try to remember this sequence every time you come to a corner, whenever you’re driving. Start braking before you get to the corner and before you begin to turn. As soon as you can see your path around the corner, turn the steering wheel and rool off the brakes and unto the throttle.

Keep the car smooth and balanced by lightly using the throttle until the car is aimed towards the exit point. Then get hard on the throttle and let those front wheels pull you through the corner as the steering wheel unwinds.

Practice this sequence every time you turn a corner until it becomes second nature. On the street or highway, your turns will be faster and smoother, but more importantly, you’ll be more in control of your car and better able to cope with the unexpected than the person who just blunders around the corners any old way. Mastering these fundamentals in everyday driving also will allow you to begin working on advanced driving skills on the track or autocross course much sooner.

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