How to Lose Control

Posted on March 30, 2016

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How To Lose Control

By: Rob Oakman

How many times have you seen a driver lose it, miss everything, only to roll out into traffic and wreck a bunch of cars? What about the people that slide down the track harmlessly only for the machine to grip hard and shoot off into a wall? How about the people who seem like they are about to recover from a spin, only to lose it and spin back the other way?

What these drivers have failed to do is lose control properly.

Time to lock it down and wet yourself. (courtesy of Blancpain GT Series)

Time to lock it down and wet yourself. (courtesy of Blancpain GT Series)

Losing Control

It’s going to happen.

Understanding when you have lost control is easier than you may think. It’s simply the moment that your inputs no longer have any effect on your direction. The hard part is knowing how to react when it happens. Reflex often has us fighting for control in the moment, trying desperately to wrestle the machine back into line, but just like every other aspect in racing, you need to be focused on the future, not the moment. You need to accept the inevitable fact that you don’t have control right now, but you will soon, and that’s what you need to be ready for.

1. Lock It Down

The moment you have lost control, get on the brakes and keep your foot down until you stop, or until you have a reasonable chance to regain control. At any point during your slide your tires can bite and fire you off in any direction they happen to be pointed. Until you know where you are, where you’re headed and where your tires are pointed, lock it down.

Don’t worry about saving your tires. They are cheaper than  a wreck and are probably junk from the initial slide anyway.

The Mulsanne is not the place to roll back onto the track. (courtesy of 24h-lemans.com)

The Mulsanne is not the place to roll back onto the track. (courtesy of 24h-lemans.com)

2. Know Where You Are And Where You’re Going

Understanding where you are on track right now, and where you’re likely headed is very important in deciding what to do next. If you’re headed into danger and have little chance of regaining control (or you can’t tell), then keep the brakes on and don’t let off. If you are headed into an open space, or you have a reasonable chance of regaining control, then choose how you’re going to try to recover, wait for your chance, and make your inputs deliberate.

Imagine you’re spinning mid track, headed down into an open area, and the machine is about to face forward again. You can attempt to regain control by steering into the spin and releasing the brakes as you come around, ready to catch the back end when it tries to spin the other way, with little risk of making things worse.

If however, you’re spinning along the wall, in the middle of traffic, or you’re in the grass and moving fast, keep you brakes locked and hold on.

3. Know Where Your Wheels Are Pointed

If you spin down the track, bleeding off speed, and you don’t have your brakes locked down, at some point the tires are going to grip again. If your tires grip and are pointed at the wall, guess what you’re about to hit. Even if you’re locked down, if you end up facing the right way and you want to regain control, but your wheels are pointed the wrong way, bad things are still going to happen.

It’s easy to forget where your steering wheel is pointed. It’s even easier to forget that when you’re going backwards you need to reverse which way you turn the wheel. If you have any doubt, just lock it down and let the machine come to rest.

Charlie Kimball will have to wait before rejoining the track at St Pete's (photo by John Cote)

Charlie Kimball will have to wait before rejoining the track at St Pete’s (photo by John Cote)

4. Stop And Assess

Far too often a driver loses control, then, just as the machine slows, they let it roll into traffic. Bam! Big wreck. Sometimes they let it run into a wall, or roll into a gravel trap and get stuck. I’ve always wondered what the hell people are thinking when they roll like that. Get on the brakes and stop! Look around and figure out where you are, then look for corner workers, or if possible, assess when the track is clear yourself before you move. Don’t just roll. That’s a stupid way to ring up a big parts bill and piss a lot of people off.

I’ve also heard the excuses about drivers being confused about where they were after a spin, or that they thought they’d stopped. Rubbish! Even if you have come to a complete stop, most racetracks are not completely flat. So even if you do come to a stop, the moment you let off the brakes, the car will start to roll again. This can be into traffic, into a gravel trap, up onto a curb, or into a wall. Don’t be that person that writes off half the field because you rolled into traffic at 5 mph backwards. Lock it down and stop!

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