Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Track Day Driving Techniques

When You Get in Trouble

Sooner or later on the track, everyone has that moment when they believe they have just exceeded their ability to drive the car, or the car has just been pushed beyond its limits.

Running Out of Road

On a fast corner, you find that you’re going faster than you expected, and it looks as if you’re going to run off the outside of the track before you complete the corner. Or in the middle of a turn you find that your front or rear end is sliding and you’re not sure you can get the car under control. What do you do now?

By now, we think you know the answer. In your MINI, you are going to keep your foot on the throttle and use both your steering and your power to pull you through the corner. But what happens if you forget, or do find yourself in a spin. To answer this question, a little rhyme is often quoted in driver instruction: In a spin, both feet in.”

Once the car has gone into a spin, and you realize you’re just along for the ride, you need to do exactly the opposite. Now is the time to get your right foot off the gas and push the brake pedal in as hard as possible in order to lock up the wheels. At the same time, your left foot should push in the clutch so that the engine won’t die.

Locking up the wheels will generally keep the car spinning in a reasonably small area. Having the clutch in means that no power will get to the wheels that could cause the car to go shooting off in a different direction as soon as it regains traction.

In addition, the engine will still be running when you finally come to a stop. That will allow you to immediately shift into a lower gear and get the car to a point where you’re safe or where you can get back on track and into the flow of traffic.

Dropping a Wheel Off the Edge

It’s more likely that you might turn in a little too early, get too close to the edge at the exit, and have one or both of your outside wheels go off the track. Dropping one or two wheels off the track can be fairly benign, or the prelude to disaster.

If you do take a corner too fast, and can’t turn the car enough to stay completely on the track, you may find yourself with one or both wheels on one side of the car dropping off the track. Usually you’ll have a pretty good idea that this is going to happen before it actually does, so you can prepare yourself for it.

Just as soon as a wheel goes off the track, the car is going to get pretty squirrelly (No, that’s not a technical term.). The wheels in the dirt are going to have very different traction than the wheels that are still on the track.

At that point, the worst thing you can do is try to wrench the car back on the track. If you do try to do that, just as soon as the off wheels grab the pavement again, the car will start to spin with a vengeance, generally sliding across the track and off again on the opposite side. That is, if you don’t encounter other cars as you slide across the track.

Instead, when you realize you’re about to drop wheels off, you’re better off continuing in a straight line until you either drive completely off the track, or slow down to the point where you can consider driving back on to the track.

If you can get the car back under control, before you drive back onto the track be sure you look behind you to make sure that there aren’t any other cars coming up on you. Only after you’re absolutely sure you can get back on the track without getting in anyone else’s way should you actually turn back on the track.

Completely Off the Track

What about going off the track completely? In the event you do slide or drive off the track, the first thing to do is to come to a full stop to make sure that the car is still running all right and you haven’t broken something or sprung a leak.

Before doing anything else, wave your hand out the window to let the corner workers know you’re all right. If they don’t see any movement, they’re probably going to assume the worst and call out the ambulance.

Once you’re sure that everything on the car is still connected to everything else, and you’ve had time to catch your breath, then you can consider getting back on track. Before you do that, however, be very sure that you are entering at a point where oncoming traffic can see you, and be very sure that there isn’t any oncoming traffic.

Then, and only then, should you move back on to the track. Remember that you’re going to be moving slowly at first and allow for that when gauging how much space will be needed. Remember, there’s no rush. This isn’t Sebring and your racing contract doesn’t hang in the balance if you lose a few minutes.

Once you do get back on the track, most track day organizations will expect you to come back into pit lane immediately and check in with the chief steward. At the least, the official will want to check to make sure that there’s nothing hanging off or stuck to your car. They also may want to have a few words with you about why the car wound up off the track to make sure that you can be counted on not to be a hazard to yourself or others when you go back out again.

If you’ve gone off and you think something may be wrong with the car, you’ll need to wait for the crash truck to come and get you into the pits where you can figure out what’s wrong. If the car is in a safe place, well off the track, the best thing to do is wait in the car until the truck comes. Keep your helmet on and your seat belts fastened. That way you’ll be as safe as possible while you’re sitting there, and ready to have the car towed in when the truck arrives.

Even if the car isn’t in a safe position, you are still likely to be safer if you are in it, belted securely and with your helmet on. You wouldn’t want to be half in and half out of the car and then get hit by another car. Wave an arm and flip up the faceplate of your helmet so they’ll know you’re all right and don’t require immediate medical attention.

Stay in the car until the corner workers tell you to get out. Most likely, they will push it out of harm’s way, or keep the flags waving until the safety crew can get to you and move the car. Either way, they’ll need to have you at the wheel to steer the car.

Only in the event of a fire should you make the decision on your own to get out of the car before the corner workers or safety crew tell you to do so. In that case, don’t waste any time; just get out as quickly as you can and then move away from the car and over the wall off the track.

Once the truck comes, you need to have your helmet on and your seat belts fastened before they can tow you in. Then follow their instructions as they hook your car up to the truck and tow you back to the pits. No, it isn’t fun, and it will be embarrassing, but getting yourself and the car the car back to the pits safely with no further damage is better than turning a small annoyance into a major disaster.

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