Posted: June 9, 2016
The summer is a busy time for us at CAT, lots of track day and race tuition. With the benefit of longer evenings and the hope of nicer weather the diary is always full. The motor racing calendar at this time of year is in full swing, championships are taking shape with a natural pecking order being established. Drivers often look to find an advantage over their competitors through vehicle set up, and improved driving skills.
Coincidentally, over the last few weeks, I have found my self working on the same subject with several different drivers running in different championships, all looking to find a tenth or two. All 4 drivers found they could reduce their lap time by focusing on their corner entry speed. It seemed a natural choice for the focus of this feature for me to share my thoughts on circuit braking & corner entry speed with you.
We have covered Threshold Braking in a previous feature. Let’s recap just in case you missed it. To find true speed throughout a circuit lap, we should be feeling comfortable braking as late as possible and over the shortest piece of tarmac - a technique known as Threshold Braking. It requires practice and a degree of commitment on behalf of the driver.
Our 4 competitors had a good feel for their vehicles braking efficiency and levels of retardation, but had missed one key element: true threshold braking and it’s effect on corner entry speed. Constructing a safe fast lap requires discipline and a systematic approach. Consistency is the key, if you can drive to a process and with repeatable lap times, you can then begin to work out where time can be saved. One of my favourite sayings is “the corner begins a long way before you turn in”. Imagine you are braking for a corner from 140 MPH down to a corner entry speed of 60 MPH. By nature of the speed you have attained on the straight, your braking technique is critical to achieve the desired speed at turn in, and optimised G throughout the corner.
If you brake at a known point each lap it will assist the mapping of the circuit. If you are braking too early, you can extend your braking point one or two meters at a time from your original reference – this will help you to find the optimum place to brake. Reference points are a contentious issue amongst instructors and a subject of debate amongst all of us who drive on circuit.
The counter argument is that they focus your attention away from the approaching corner and are therefore counter productive. My opinion is once you have settled into driving on a particular circuit and feel confident with your braking points, they tend to become redundant. This is because your brain has started mapping the peripheral view and speed sensing takes over. I, therefore, use them to my advantage as and when required.
If you are braking consistently to threshold you can add a degree of predictability to the speed you approach a corner at. Imagine braking from high speed and not using all of the tyres available grip - in effect wandering in and out of optimum G. If you use data logging it is very simple to see this on a line trace.
Try to visualise the effect it may have on your corner entry speed. If you are running on track day tyres we could confidently expect to pull 1.2g under braking and laterally through a corner. My line trace should read 1.2g throughout the retardation/braking phase as I approach the corner. In effect a flat line at optimum G. But what if my threshold braking requires a little practice and I am not holding my braking at optimum G? My line trace will now show peaks and troughs extending my stopping distance, adding a degree of inconsistency to my corner entry speed.
If each time I approach the corner my braking G trace varies, my turn in speed will vary provoking an unnecessary input on the controls. Unwanted use of the accelerator, brake or steering at this critical phase in the corner will now reduce available grip as the tyre fights to cope with the unwanted adjustments. In order to drive in, through and out of the corner at the tyres limit of adhesion I must be focused on threshold braking in the braking zone, optimising corner entry speed.
As I brake the front of the vehicle dives, the tyre is compressed into the road surface. We feel the effects of braking through our body as we ease forward in the seat, and experience the dipping of the nose of the vehicle. If it is safe to do so, take a look in your rear view mirror and watch the effects of the braking on the vehicle platform. In a softly suspended car the horizon changes dramatically.
So, we can sense quite happily the body of the vehicle diving as we brake, but let’s not forget how hard the road wheel is working underneath us. As the wheel is excited by the road, it is momentarily relieved of its spring pressure - the result a slight screech/chirp from the tyre before the spring forces the tyre back onto the road. Audible confirmation that I have optimised braking effort and used all of the available grip. Try to avoid wheel lock or intervention of the ABS if fitted as it will extend your stopping distance and as importantly induce fluctuations in your corner entry speed.
With braking zones in mind, I can begin to map the circuit. Identify the corners that require high speed, high G retardation with all of my attention and focus on my braking technique. By contrast note those corners that require a dab of the brakes with a following high-speed apex, recognising where the apex speed may present me with more of a challenge than the braking.
Before pushing for the ultimate lap time the circuit and its complexity can be broken down and structured into bite-sized manageable challenges. If I ask myself have I achieved optimum apex speed and sector time throughout the lap, it is often the braking zone that yields the biggest gains. At the risk of being repetitive “the corner begins a long way before you turn in”.
Until next time
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"I have had a reasonable degree of driving training over the years as am ex police officer and advanced police driver. I took the performance driver driver training to learn about track driving, and found it excellent. My instructor was Paul who was fantastic. The training built up during the day and I learnt so much about the capabilities of my own car and although I was nervous about using my own car realised afterwards it was the best thing for me to do. The instruction was extremely informative from an engineering perspective coupled with driving, friendly and tailored to your individual needs and abilities. At no time was I encouraged or pushed to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. It was extremely professional throughout. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone whatever your standard of driving."
"Truly exceptional In my experience, driving instruction has generally consisted of being repeatedly told that you are 'doing it wrong' accordingly to some unknown standard or principle that you had hoped to learn about by taking said instruction. Then there is Colin. It is not that common to find an individual who genuinely understands both people and engineering. It is incredibly rare to find one who can actively apply both to deliver a sustained behavioural change. Colin adapts his teaching style to the way you learn. For me, he lead with the WHY of the learning point, grounded in physics and engineering. We'd then put it in to practice, often doing several variants of an excercise to explore how the car reacts to differing inputs, providing valuable context for what good feels like and reinforcing the learning point. Each point built on the previous ones, layering up and coming together in to a whole, one far greater than the sum of it's parts. Subtle changes to huge effect. I was concerned on the day that the learnings would rapidly fade, but I have found that because Colin has taught me an understanding the lessons have persisted, even if I do still need some more practice (48 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit last Thursday definitely helped!). Add to this the fact that Colin is great company and an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and you have one of the most positive learning experiences I've ever known. Truly exceptional. I could not recommend more highly. Thank you!"
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"Far better than any track day you can imagine! There is a massive difference between a typical driver experience or track day events and CAT driver training. The main difference is that you drive your own car to the full extent of it's capabilities, and your own, while being given expert one to one tuition by brilliant trainers Colin and Paul, who come from a Motorsport and auto engineering background. Their combined domain knowledge of engineering and competitive Motorsport allows them to explain the physics of why the car behaves as it does and how you can exploit the cars characteristics for maximum performance., in a safe fun environment. The frankly brilliant experience on the track is matched by the quality hospitality hosted by Jo, and classroom training, which prepares you for what you will experience on the next stage. These stages include such delights as the ring, where you will drive with no hands on the wheel at 100MPH, providing you with a clear understanding of the fact the car finds its own balance , and my personal favourite the alpine stage, with hairpins a plenty and 'character building' drops and rock faces. I have to admit to being slightly 'corner shy' before the training, however after some brilliant coaching from Collin urging me to 'stay on the gas, stay on the gas!' I am now far more confident and safe in the twisty stuff!"
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"Achieve your driving goals here! Can't ask for more than that! The entire experience was a positive and pleasant one. Everyone I met at CAT Driver Training contributed positively to the day, regardless of the role, so thank you to Jo, Lynne and of course, Colin! CAT have existing programmes for teaching anyone the fundamentals and advanced techniques of how to drive fast, but Colin can identify really quickly what you can and cannot do, and is quick to understand how to best use your time. I went in with my own unique set of requirements which slightly 'broke' the programme, but it was no problem at all and the most impressive thing was that I achieved my goals by the end of the day! I wanted to understand my car, be able to find and drive at the grip limit, and also understand how to be a faster and better driver. A lot to fit into a day, but Colin managed it in the most efficient way possible, and we achieved them all! Colin has great insights into vehicle dynamics, as well as the human machine behind the wheel. He understands why we sometimes don't function as optimally as we would like! His ability to listen to you, translate your input and isolate what is not working with your current technique helps focus the day on exactly what needs attention. This focus, along with Colin's 'feeling' of how the package of car and driver is behaving, makes him uniquely qualified to provide great direction and input to help you become the best driver possible. A lot of people talk about it, but very few can translate the inputs to a specific process for you to follow as a driver. The process is all about starting with foundations and building on them. It doesn't always seem to make sense, but trust the system - it all comes together in the end! The time is not cheap, but it will help you achieve your goals, so how do you put a price on that!? Thank you CAT Driver Training!!
"Best In Class Driver Training The training provided by Colin at CAT Driver training is superb. I am lucky enough to attended training days with Porsche, Lotus, Aston Martin and the day with a Colin at Millbrook has topped them all being informative, challenging, practical and above all delivered by a true Petrol Head. Thanks again and I will be back with the 911."
"Reminding how to drive fast A day with Colin on a 'One to One' basis is almost essential for anyone who lives on a small rock in the middle of the English Channel or lives in a city. We don't drive fast and don't get the opportunity to drive fast unless we are on a track. Colin spent the day reminding me how much fun it was to have 'fast feet' and to make the Tyres 'squeak' as they reach the sticky limit. I think I lost about 7kg in weight during the day as I was worked so hard but oh what a day. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who had a petrol head. Best bit was the 'Alpine Loop' at the end of the day. Full gas on the exit with all four squeaking. 👍😃"
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