Wet weather driving opens up a whole new world of risk for the ordinary road driver leading to lower speeds, greater stopping distances and reduced visibility. But what about if you’ve chosen this day for a trip to the track? Can you simply transfer your wet weather road driving skills or are there other things you need to consider for a wet track? Of course, it’s the latter and below we’ve listed just a few things you’ll need to think about when driving on a wet track.
Hit the ‘reset’ button
The first thing to do when you visit any wet track, regardless of how familiar you are with it in the dry, is to hit the reset button on your expectations of what it will be like. Different tracks take on different personas in the wet and making assumptions on what the conditions might be, could land you in a sticky situation. Even if you have driven the same track in the wet previously, you would be wise not to expect it to be the same this time around. Visiting after a race weekend for example, might mean more rubber, oil or chemicals on the track and that can have a major effect on your grip levels. Regular track day drivers use the term ‘summer ice’ to describe what it can feel like on a highly-polished wet track surface. Be sure to pay close attention at your circuit briefing and don’t be afraid to do more sighting laps than normal to gain a better understanding of where the grip is. If you are finding your way around and learning the line, temper your speed until you are confident you know what challenge is coming next.
Keep an eye on your mirrors
Of course, this is something you would be doing when driving normally anyway. But it’s worth being extra vigilant when driving on a wet track. Speed differences between more confident and less confident drivers at key parts of the track will be magnified in the wet track conditions. You’ll need to take extra precautions to protect you and your vehicle from drivers who might be a little too confident in the braking zones and end up overshooting. There’s also the risk that you could spin your car or find yourself temporarily outside of the track limits. Think carefully before re-joining the track and if you end up facing the wrong way, give extra consideration to the reactive abilities of other cars on the track before manoeuvring your car to a position where you can continue.
Are your tyres up to the task?
Depending on the circuit, if it is raining heavily you might find rivers appear across the circuit and standing water in many areas. The potential to aquaplane at speed is real and to be expected. Ensure that your tyres have enough tread on them to clear standing water. Be prepared to adjust your terminal speed to reduce the likelihood of losing control – especially if the car you are driving does not have aero. If you are using semi slicks, for example 888s or A048s, they will be hard pressed to clear standing water, especially if they are at the end of their life.
To kerb or not to kerb, that is the question
In the dry it’s common for experienced drivers to ‘ride the kerbs’. In doing so a driver can aid the dynamic stability of the vehicle by taking the straightest line possible through a corner, which in turn can lead to a reduced lap time. Be aware though, if you hit a high kerb at speed: you can experience pad knock back and a momentary longer travel on your brake pedal than you expected. Why? As the wheel assembly and stub axle are flexed with the impact, the disc attached to the hub is also flexed, pushing back the pistons in the brake caliper. This can make the next corner more than a little testing when you end up having to pump up the brake pedal to slow down.
If it is a wet track, I would advise you to stay off the kerbs. If you’re racing you may disagree, but if you’re there for a fun day out, weigh up the risk. Kerbs can be slippery and unpredictable to drive on. Watch any wet Formula 1 race and you’ll see proof of how dangerous they can be.
Are the wet and dry lines the same on a circuit?
It’s an interesting question and the answer is, every circuit is different. Take Silverstone for example. Silverstone’s dry line is very slippery in the wet for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it gets used nearly every day of the year for something, which makes the racing line tarmac very smooth (super smooth tarmac delivers very little grip in the wet). Add a layer of emulsified tyre rubber into the mix and years of oil and other slippery chemicals that come to the surface in the wet and the traditional dry line becomes an ice-rink. Many drivers at Silverstone report using a much wider line in the wet around the corners to get more grip.
As a general rule in the wet you are searching out the parts of a circuit that have not been polished and therefore, contaminated, with rubber and chemicals that reduce the coefficient of friction between the tyre and the road so significantly. Avoiding dry line apex and clipping points is sound advice, positioning your vehicle “off line” if safe to do so, may find you more grip. I say “may” because every circuit has its nuances and you’ll need to learn these as you go.
Stop, stop, stop!
We’ve discussed wet track lines for the corners but what about the straights? The braking zones can be just as challenging at speed as the corners. Adverse cambers, settlement and differing split grip surfaces can all affect your vehicle stability when braking. You need to know if the vehicle you are driving is set up for the conditions. Can you adjust damper or anti-roll bar settings to increase your enjoyment and safety? Your wheels need to be a little more compliant with the road when it is raining.
Know your vehicles dynamic capability before you leave home, don’t leave it to chance. A wet track is not a good place to experiment unless you are a professional or have good track knowledge. Also, if you have adjustable dampers, ensure they are set correctly front to rear and side to side. We check these settings when training with clients at Millbrook Proving Ground and I have lost count of the cars we have adjusted prior to training due to imbalanced settings.
Prepare to have fun
Of course, the whole point of a day on the track is enjoyment and preparation is key to that. Take some time in the days before your visit to research the track. YouTube is a great source of learning material and motoring forums are heaving with advice on what to expect at any circuit in the UK; and don’t forget to make sure your car is in good condition for the test ahead. I always say that preparation for a corner takes place long before the corner begins – I’m sure there’s a similar motto waiting to come out of me for track days as well.