Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Track Day Driving Techniques

Corner Workers

This is probably a good point to discuss one of the important roles that corner workers play at race tracks. All sanctioned race tracks will have at a corner-worker station at each blind corner. Two workers will be posted at each of these corners.

During a practice session or race, one of the workers will face towards oncoming traffic to watch for unsafe situations that require drivers to be warned with a flag. If there is a faster car overtaking you, he’ll wave a blue flag with a yellow stripe to warn you. If there is debris or fluids on the track, he’ll wave a red flag with yellow stripes, and if there is a safety vehicle on the course up ahead, he’ll wave or show a white flag.

The other worker will be standing with his back to the first worker, looking further down the track. That worker is your eyes into the area that you can’t see, but which you are about to drive into at high speed. He has only one flag under his arm, the yellow one.

If he sees something around the corner or over the rise that you need to be concerned about, such as a car spinning sideways or off the track in an unsafe place, he will turn around to face the oncoming cars, and wave that yellow flag to let you know that it isn’t safe for you to drive around the corner at high speed.

We can’t emphasize too much that you must look at the flag station before you drive into a blind corner. If the flag workers are standing there with their flags tucked under their arms, you can safely pick your line into the corner and take it with all the speed that’s appropriate.

If, on the other hand, the course worker is waving the yellow flag, that’s your warning to slow down and be ready to even stop, if necessary, becauuse there will be an obstruction to avoid on the other side of the blind spot.

Wet Tracks and Slippery Pavement

Whenever we visualize ourselves driving at speed on a racetrack, the sun is always shining, and the temperature is comfortable, but not too hot or too cold. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the situation. It can be rainy and it can be cold and the track day will still take place.

With the high costs of track rentals these days, and the complicated logistics involved in putting together a track day, cancellation due to bad weather is just not an option. It’s only at the Indianapolis 500 that they wait for the rain to stop before running.

Consequently, a few words about techniques for running in the wet are in order. Most of the following tips are also relevant for driving on highways in the rain or where glare ice may be a possibility.

Obvious point number one: slow down. You’ll have more time to react to unexpected situations should they arise, and be carrying less momentum should you find yourself in trouble. Leave more room than normal between yourself and the vehicle ahead, and look well down the road for developing problems such as a car skidding out of control.

Obvious point number two: be alert. When you find yourself on the wet, or in the middle of that unexpected shower, narrow your focus of attention to your driving. Make sure you’ve got both hands on the wheel in the proper eight or nine o’clock and three or four o’clock positions.
Use your hands to feel for any loss of traction in the front wheels. If the steering wheel starts to feel as if it isn’t quite connected with the wheels, then you may be hydroplaning on top of the water, instead of moving through it with your wheels in contact with the pavement.

Be smooth in your response. Any slickness in the pavement is going to multiply your reactions. You want to be even smoother with your direction corrections, acceleration and braking that you would otherwise be. Be sure that you are going straight before making any braking or acceleration changes. If you do need to make any changes in direction, do it slowly and carefully rather than abruptly.

Here again, keep in mind that you are driving a front-wheel drive car. As long as your foot is on the throttle, your wheels will help you handle the situation, just so long as you are very smooth with your inputs.
On the other hand, on a wet track, if you release the throttle or hit the brake in the middle of the corner, the rear end of your car is going to get loose and spin out even more quickly.

On the track or highway in the wet, try to stay away from the most-traveled portion of the pavement. On the track the standard fast line around the corners is often called the “dry line.” Because most of the cars travel on this line most of the time, that pavement will be impregnated with oil and rubber, which will rise to the surface first in a light rain. Instead, take the “rain line,” typically about one car length in from the edge of the track.

On the highway, your best bet is to stay in the slow lane which will be slightly less slick, keep you out of the way of those who think that rain can be ignored, and will give you run-off space if you need to avoid a problem.

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