Slow Hands: The Art of Racing

Posted on March 5, 2013


Slow Hands
The Art of Racing

By: Rob Oakman

Senna in the rain

Senna in the Rain

Ever notice how some racers – the ones that win all the time – always look like their hands are barely moving? Are they magic? Some of them may be. But for most it’s because of a simple truth. Everything you do behind the wheel has to be set-up in advance.

This counts for literally everything. What lines to take, when to pass, where to brake, turn-in, apex, accelerate, even who to blame for a bad performance, all these things are decided before they happen in a race.

Obviously, if you are thinking about what you are doing while you race then you are already too late to do anything about anything that happens. Your nervous system simply can’t work fast enough. Ever hear someone say you need to “Be in the moment”. They don’t know what they are talking about. If you are “In the moment” then you are sloppy. Being in the moment means you are still reacting and not being where you need to be, and that is the future. You see Racing is the art of projection.

Senna Slide

Senna Slide

When you set up a chassis what you are doing is creating a situation where one end will just begin to slide more likely than the other when you are pushing for speed. “Neutral” means that if you go a bit too fast you get a 4-wheel drift situation or either end might slide first depending on the specific corner you are in. A “Tight” chassis means that, if you push too hard, the front will tend to slide first while “Loose” means the rear will slide. Any of these set-ups can be fast entirely dependent on driving style. But just because the chassis has a preference doesn’t mean you have to let it do what it wants; nor should you. All of these chassis biases only happen most of the time. At any point the chassis could randomly decided to do the opposite. What you need to be is proactive and make it do what you want.

The Art of Racing in the rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by: Garth Stein

If you have read the book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein you should remember the line “That which we manifest is before us”. In other words, “You go where you look”. Imagine being behind the wheel at speed. You approach a corner, hit the breaking zone, look to the apex, hit your marks, and turn in, what happens next? Does the chassis push, does it get loose, does it four-wheel drift? If you leave it to the chassis to decide it might do any of those things, in any corner, at any time, even with a bias to loose or tight. That means that you are reacting to whatever the chassis is going to do. Your hands are always trying to “catch up” to what the chassis is doing. This is why some driver’s hands move around a lot. So how do you do it properly?

Let’s imagine driving into that corner again. This time as you approach the braking zone, imagine you go just a bit farther before you hit the brakes so you can trail them a bit as you start the turn. At turn in you begin to release pressure from the brakes and pitch (Turn the wheel sharply) the chassis into the corner. You know without a doubt that the chassis is going to want to spin on you. Instead of waiting for the chassis to decide what it wants to do, you have decided for it. So, as the chassis turns, you are already beginning to turn the wheel into the slide you know is coming. Because of this your hands are always ahead of what the chassis is doing so they look like they are barely moving, because they are. A loose chassis can be run to act tight in a similar manner by breaking early and driving through the corner under power. This takes weight off the front end. Remember, the reason to do this is to make sure the chassis doesn’t surprise you.

Fearless Gilles

fearless Gilles getting a bit too far ahead.

Keeping ahead of your chassis is important for several reasons. First, it is the Racers job to control the chassis, to make it go where you want it to. If you don’t make the chassis do what you want than you are at its mercy. Instead of following the chassis you should be leading it.
Second, if you remember from the article on the Straightaway, you know that the less you turn the wheel the faster you will go. If your hands are constantly sawing on the wheel as you try to follow the chassis through the corner, you are wasting energy as the tires scrub the track surface. You also unsettle the chassis by shifting the weight around as you move the wheel about. An unsettled chassis is like a tired child, temperamental at the best of times, homicidal in the worst.

Third, by creating a bias that you purposely counteract you can help get more out of your chassis in other areas. I personally like a tight chassis that I can drive loose. I do this because there is a slightly larger rear weight bias that helps me get more rear bite (Traction on the rear wheels under power) exiting the corner. It also allows me to aim for later apexes in corners leading onto straightaways. This makes for a higher end of straight speed. It is easier to pass at the end of a straight then most anywhere else. Trust me, it works.

Projecting goes way beyond running a fast lap time. Setting up you passing, choosing when to pit in long races, figuring out the type of people that around, behind, and in front of you has to be considered and planned for. Even set-up requires forethought. Knowing when you want the chassis to come in (When it will work best) is a matter of strategy and needs to be considered. Knowing what corners you need to be quick to set up for passing zones changes your chassis set-up and gearing.
Really I could write an entire book on the things you need to consider, plan, and execute when you race but I don’t want to overwhelm or scare you with a flood of info here. I’ll continue to break things down individually but do take this to heart.

The way to really control the chassis, to truly run on the edge in, through, and out of the corner, is to decide what you want the chassis to do and make that happen. If you make the chassis loose you can expect it to be loose. If you make it tight you expect that too. By leading the chassis instead of following it you are truly getting the most out of what you have. And this is the secret to slow hands.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to send them along below and follow OakmanOnRacing.

Posted in: How to Race