Is Being Smooth Or Agressive Faster?

Posted on April 21, 2015

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What Is Faster? Smooth vs Aggressive

By: Rob Oakman

In-Car Video of Lewis Hamilton's Pole winning lap in Australia (Courtesy of mercedesamgf1.com)

In-Car Video of Lewis Hamilton’s Pole winning lap in Australia (Courtesy of mercedesamgf1.com)

We all want to get faster no matter how well we usually finish. Chasing perfection is as much a part of racing as chasing the checkered flag. But if you ask around for advice on how to drive faster, someone will inevitably tell you that you need to be smoother. Ask someone else and they may say you just need to be more aggressive. So who is right?

First thing’s first. What the hell do they mean by smooth or aggressive?

The What:

Smooth means that you move everything as little as possible so you don’t scrub off speed. From your hands on the wheel, your feet on the pedals, to the chassis on the track, make only the inputs you need and nothing more. Carry momentum carefully throughout each corner to preserve the chassis balance, and plan your passes in advance so you get by as quickly and cleanly as possible.

Smooth doesn’t mean slowing down more.

Aggressive means that you need to get as much out of the chassis as you possibly can. You need to be decisive on steering inputs and the pedals so you don’t waste speed or make extra unnecessary moves. Carry momentum as far into and through the corner as possible to preserve speed and pass as quickly and decisively as possible by planning ahead to avoid costly battles.

Aggressive doesn’t mean over-driving.

What these two pieces of advice are saying is basically the same thing. Get all you can from what you have without using too much or too little. To get everything out of the chassis as you possibly can without over or under driving the machine you need to be both smooth and aggressive.

The Why:

Video of Hinch testing at Barber in 2015 (courtesy of motorsport.com)

Video of Hinch testing at Barber in 2015
(courtesy of motorsport.com)

To get the most out of what you have, you need to minimize every input you do because every movement you make takes energy. And all of the energy being produced is made by the engine. At full power you don’t get any more than you are already getting.

Smooth – Trying to get too much speed into and out of the corner costs you time. Every movement of the tires, every slide, every change in direction takes energy away from making you go faster in a straight line. From directly scrubbing off speed to overheating, wearing your tires, to wasting fuel, being overaggressive can cost you a lot of time. Lessening the inputs by being smooth will increase the power available to go fast.

Aggressive – Braking early, rolling through the corner, hanging behind a slower machine looking for a place to pass instead of having a plan, and so many other conservative mistakes, rob you of time and speed. Being decisive, pushing hard without getting sloppy, and looking ahead will save time on the watch and help your equipment last to the checkered.

The How:

Ever notice that the best drivers seem to barely move their hands? That’s smooth. But they always seem to be right on the edge where if they pushed just a bit more, they would be all over the place. That’s aggressive. These racers and drivers make it look easy because they have learned the balance between the two.

The way to tell if you are achieving the balance is by three means — the watch, your hands and feet, and your ass. Seriously!

In-car with the Viper Exchange team winning at CTMP in 2014 (courtesy of viperexchangeracing/youtube)

In-car with the Viper Exchange team winning at CTMP in 2014 (courtesy of viperexchangeracing/youtube)

The Watch – As you push harder and harder, the stopwatch will tell you where you are gaining and losing time. Split times will tell you where you are gaining and losing by section. By trying different levels of agression and by paying attention to how much you are moving your hands and feet, the watch will tell you what is working and what is not.

Your Hands and Feet – As you practice pay attention to your hands and feet. Are you moving them a lot? If so, you need to train them.

New drivers won’t have refined reactions, so your body will naturally want to trust your two most sensitive senses — touch and sight. But these are slow ways for your brain to react because the distance between your brain and your hands and feet — where the corrections must be made to the controls — are so far away.

Experienced drivers tend to overcorrect because they try to make up for the steering naturally lightening and loading up repeatedly while the tires travel along the surface of a corner. No track surface is perfect. If you chase the steering loading, you are making multiple tiny inputs that are unnecessary and will upset your chassis.

Both new and experienced drivers need to force themselves in practice to make one continuous input that smoothly increases then decreases from turn in to turn out. Only make corrections when you are about to spin or drive off line. You often see people dancing on the pedals and jerking at the wheel. Point the nose into the corner, keep your hands stable and your arms fairly loose with elbows bent. Don’t move them unless it is desperate. Keep your feet from jumping all over the pedals. If you are constantly having to jump on and off the throttle and the brake then you need to force yourself to wait to hit the throttle only when you don’t have to release it again.

Practice these techniques lap after lap and you will quickly find that you will need to make very few movements at speed, even when the chassis is handling badly.

In-car with Bruno Spengler keeping the butterfly steering wheel steady at the  Lausitzring (Courtesy of dtm.com)

In-car with Bruno Spengler keeping the butterfly steering wheel steady at the Lausitzring (Courtesy of dtm.com)

Your Ass – This is what tells you if you are loose or tight, pushing off line or about to spin. Your ass tells you everything and it never lies. It’s understandable to think it’s your eyes or your inner ear that gives you the fastest input but, your head is free to move about a fair bit and is subject to all the vibration of the machine which can confuse those senses. Also it takes too long for the nerve impulses to travel from your eyes and inner ear to your brain and out to your hands and feet to make effective corrections. Your body needs a faster route so your body learns to trust the only thing affixed to the chassis that is close to your grabbers and kickers — your ass (Well, it’s the nerves around your center of gravity really, but your ass for the sake of brevity). Rotation, acceleration, deceleration — reacting to these all become reflex through your spine. It’s why you can react on the wheel and pedals faster than your brain could process the incoming nerve impulses and send them back out. Your spine is an extension of your brain after all, and goes right down to your ass. What you need to do is trust your ass knows what to do and stop trying to think your way through the corners.

To train your ass you need to practice by forcefully keeping your hands and feet steady. Your brain thinks they need to move a lot so it will take time. Then as you progress through your day, your hands a feet getting more and more stable, keep increasing how hard you go into, through, and out of the corners. As you push harder and harder, keeping everything as steady as possible, you will learn to trust your ass as you feel the balance of your chassis and what you have to do to go fast. Pretty soon you will look as smooth as the best drivers out there and you will find yourself racing with them.

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.
Subscribe for new articles and follow on twitter at @oakmanonracing. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything else, feel free to ask.

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Posted in: How to Race