Thursday, April 14, 2011

Track Day Driving Techniques

Chapter Fifteen
Basic Autocross Techniques

Competitive autocrossing is a great alternative or supplement to track days. In autocross events, yours is the only car on the course while you’re running, so you don’t need to worry about anyone else getting in your way, or worse. Speeds are typically slower than on the track, so if something should go wrong, you are more likely to be able to deal with it than you might on the track.

Under the worse of circumstances much less damage is likely to be done should the car get out of control on the autocross course. Typically only a few cones will get knocked around, and your pride might suffer a blow, but that’s about it.

Autocross events generally cost much less to enter than full-blown track days. While you’ll get less seat time, when you’re in the car you’ll be learning as much about driving and car control as you would on the track, generally in a much more concentrated manner.

Principles of Autocrossing

Autocross techniques are pretty much the same as track driving techniques. They’re just done on tighter courses and in lower gears, but the same principles apply.

Look Ahead, Think Ahead

The first rule for all types of driving is to look ahead of where you are and look in the direction you want to go. In autocross, this means that as you make your turn, you should already be looking at the next turn, or often the turns after that.

By the time your car is coming around a pylon, there is little you can do to make any difference, so your eyes should be on the next turn, and your mind should be planning the turns beyond that.

Look for the Straightest Lines

The second principle of autocrossing is to find the line that allows you to go as straight as possible. The straighter the line, the faster you’ll go. In autocrossing as in track racing, you need to look for every opportunity to point the car in a straight line so you can get hard on the throttle. Typically in autocross, this means looking for the straightest line through the corners, rather than turning every time the course turns.

Don’t be deceived by the cones. They define the edges of the course, but have little to do with finding the fast line. This is not a game of connect the dots; instead it is a game of turning square corners into smooth curves.

Be Smooth

When you watch other drivers going through the autocross, they can often be divided into two camps. There’s the noisy, almost out-of-control driver whose car seems to be skidding and squealing around each corner, with abrupt changes in direction. Then there’s the smooth driver who seems to be fluid all the way through, with the car rolling easily from one turn to the next.

If you were sitting inside the car, you’d see the first driver’s hands moving rapidly on the wheel, so fast they almost seem a blur. The second driver’s hands wouldn’t seem to move much at all. His hands would generally on opposite sides of the wheel and not leave the wheel nearly as often.

Which one do you think will come in with the faster lap time? If you guessed the smooth driver, you’d be right. The really fast drivers know where they need to go, plan ahead, rarely get caught off-guard, and very rarely look as if they’re out of control.

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