Monday, November 3, 2008

It’s All a Matter of Balance for the MINI Cooper

Good driving is not just a matter of pointing the car where you want it to go and pressing the gas pedal until you get there. If you want to drive well, you must begin by thinking about the weight of the car. This wouldn’t be so difficult if your wheels were connected directly to the chassis like they were in your old red wagon. But they’re not; instead the chassis is connected to the wheels with springs and shock absorbers.

This is fortunate, because if you remember that old red wagon, you’ll remember what you felt like when it hit a bump. Pretty shook up, as we recall. Those springs and shocks allow you to drive your MINI over pretty bumpy roads in relative comfort. The springs absorb the bumps, and the shock absorbers keep the chassis from oscillating up and down after the spring takes care of the bump.

However, with springs and shocks, the car will rock when it moves. Accelerate and the car rocks towards the back end. Put on your brakes and the car rocks towards the front end. Turn hard to the right and the car leans to the left, with the right side lifting up. Vice-versa when you turn to the left. The technical term for this is weight transfer.

You might think of the car as suspended on a pin at its very center, able to rock forward and back and side to side. It will even rock from corner to diagonally oppposite corner if your speed is changing at the same time that you are turning a corner or changing lanes.
Really good street driving, and good track driving depends on how well you manage the transfer of weight in your car from back to front and side to side. The reason why weight transfer is important is because when you take the weight off a wheel, it loses traction. Likewise, if you put more weight on a wheel it doesn’t move as easily.

In the extreme, take too much weight off a wheel and the car can skid out of control. So, most of what we’ll learn in our advanced driving course has to do with managing weight transfer, so that we can go, stop, and turn corners as fast as possible without losing control of the car.
Start now to think about how the car feels as it accelerates, brakes, and goes around corners. See if you can feel it rocking back as you accelerate, forward when you brake, and from side to side as you turn corners. It’s sort of a Zen thing. You want to try to become one with your car.

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