Monday, January 31, 2011

Track Day Driving Techniques

Track Day Safety
Track days can be an excellent way to improve your driving skills and become more familiar with your MINI under reasonably safe circumstances. However, there are some good rules to keep in mind whenever you are out on the track with other drivers.

Obvious point number one: be aware of other drivers. One characteristic of nearly all track days is that the capabilities and experience of the drivers, and their desire to drive fast, will vary significantly. Unfortunately, abilities and need for speed also often vary in inverse relationship to each other.

You always need to be very aware of the drivers around you. Those in front may create situations to which you will have to react, and those behind you can startle you in unexpected places. Try to concentrate on everything immediately around you, but focus only on what is going on at the moment. This is no time to be thinking about where you’re going for dinner after the event.

Obvious point number two: follow the rules. The supervisors of each track day will have specific rules for you to follow that will be determined by the nature of the group you are driving with and the characteristics of the specific track.

For example, areas of the track where you can pass, and where you can not pass, are likely to be specified. Procedures for passing, such as that the overtaking car is always to go to the driver’s right or driver’s left of the car being passed, are also likely to be specified. These rules are not suggestions or simple courtesies. They are mandatory, and if the supervisors are doing their job, breaking them will bring a strong warning, followed on a second occurrence by immediate expulsion from the event.

Watch your mirrors. Even more than in everyday traffic, you need to check your mirrors frequently to be aware of cars behind you, especially those that are overtaking you. Try to develop a habit of checking your mirrors at least once and preferably twice on each straight portion of the track.

Check your mirrors first just as soon as you complete the corner to see if there may be a car behind you that will want to take advantage of the straight portion to go past you. Check again just before you commit yourself to the next corner to make sure that no one is going to try to get around you just at the point when you are coming across the track to apex the corner.

Allow others to pass safely. During your first few track days, when you’re feeling a little tentative about your car and your driving ability, and getting to know the track, it will seem as if everyone in the world is going faster than you are and is crowding your bumpers.

Typically, you’ll find that you’re being crowded on the corners, since you’re likely to be slowest in those areas. Don’t let that worry you, but be ready to let the faster cars go around you as soon as you’re in an area where passing is permitted.

As soon as you’re in a safe passing area, point in the direction you expect the driver to go as he passes you. The point lets the driver behind know that you know he or she is there and that they can pass you without causing you to do anything unexpected.

Don’t try to move over, or move off the line that you would otherwise be traveling. The driver overtaking you needs to know that you aren’t going to turn abruptly in one direction or the other as they’re trying to pass. It is up to them to make the pass safely.

It doesn’t hurt to slow down just a bit to allow the car behind to get completely around you before the next corner. Typically at a MINI track day, the cars will be fairly evenly matched, but driving abilities will vary.

As a result, you might be able to hold your own on the straight, or even outdrag the overtaking driver, but that proves nothing. If they can stay on your bumpers through the corners, then they’re probably driving better than you and should have the right to practice their cornering without having to slow up for you.

Remember that there may be more than one car behind you waiting to pass. They will often assume that if you’re letting one car pass, that you will be letting anyone behind them around as well.

Just don’t be disconcerted by being passed. If you’re courteous and predictable in your driving style, no one will mind that you’re driving more slowly than they are.

If you’re the overtaking driver, make your passes safely. As you gain a little experience, you may find that you are overtaking other drivers. In this case, it is your responsibility to make the pass safely. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this. The safe pass is solely the responsibility of the overtaking driver.

After you’ve gotten near the car ahead, wait for the next safe passing zone and look for their signal to pass. If you are not sure the driver ahead knows you’re there, or not sure there is enough room to make a clean pass in the safe passing area, then wait until you can make the pass safely.

Be careful to completely pass the car ahead before you change direction. If you don’t think you can pass them before the turn-in point for the next corner, then wait until the next passing zone to make your pass.

If you find that you simply can’t get around a driver safely on the straights, even though you know you’re faster on the corners, then the best thing to do is to back off. Track days aren’t races, and there are no prizes for proving you’re faster than someone else. You might even pull into pit lane and then go back out on the track to give the slow car as much room as possible. Pausing for even thirty seconds is usually enough to get enough track space for yourself so you can go back to practicing at the speed that suits you.

Obvious point number three: If the program in which you’re participating offers to provide a coach or instructor to ride with you on your hot laps, take them up on it. This is no time for a macho “I’d rather do it myself” attitude. Once you’re out on the track, you’re going to discover that there is about twice as much going on as your mind can process and your memory store.

Having an instructor or coach in the car will make sure that if something starts to happen that is beyond your power to control, there will be an experienced driver in the car to holler or grab the wheel to help you avoid the problem. More likely, having a quiet voice next to you saying, “brake now” or “turn-in here” can help you stay focused.

Best of all, the instructor/coach can store up all the little data that you might miss or forget in the sensory overload on the track, and help you put it all in perspective once you get off the track. Having someone who can say, for example, “You’re coasting into the corners by pausing between brake and throttle,” can make everything suddenly make sense.

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