It’s amazing how easy it is to pride yourself on your driving skills … until you sit next to someone for whom driving is a profession.
Suddenly you realise that maybe you’re not as good as you think you are, that maybe there is a better way to do it.
Obviously driving on the road is a very different situation to driving on a racetrack. For starters, only half the width of the bitumen belongs to you, but you can still draw on some of the skills that race drivers use, to be a better driver on the open road.
Watch any race driver in action and you will see them travelling in as straight a line as they possibly can, because a straight line truly is the shortest distance between two points. That’s the racing line that commentators will talk about.
There is rarely a perfect line for any corner in all circumstances. It will depend on what type of corner is involved, the way your car behaves in response to your driving, the conditions at the time, and the strategy you use, which will all involve the points at which you brake and turn in, the apex of the corner, and the position, direction and distance of the next corner.
First up, the braking point. So, just how good are your brakes? How quickly can you drop your speed from 100kmh to 60 or 50 or whatever the advised corner speed is? What does your car do if you lock the front wheels … and just how brave are you?
All of those factors will affect where and when you brake. The smart thing to do, when you are learning to do this, is give yourself plenty of braking time when you are new to that section of the road or track. As it becomes more familiar, you can reduce the braking area – but beware of familiarity breeding contempt, because that way lies danger.
The ideal is to get most of the braking done before you actually enter the corner, to maintain car stability. You can add a little light pressure going in, to help reduce understeer but this is something best learned from an expert.
To get the right line through the corner, you need to turn at the correct point – the apex. That’s the closest point to the inside of the corner. Brake too early or too late and you will miss that point, which means you miss having a clean direct line, and may have to adjust your turn mid-way through the turn, which could de-stabilise the car and is not efficient. Again, learning what the apex is, and how best to handle it for the most consistent drive, is something you need to be taught by an expert.
Of course, there is rarely one lonely corner on a road or a racetrack. There is usually another somewhere along the way. If it’s close to the first one, then where it is, what shape and direction it is and how it needs to be approached can also affect your choice of line through the first corner.
To become really good at this, whether you want to be a race driver, or just a better driver on the freeway and around the suburbs, is to practise, because practise really does make perfect.
The best way to get a handle on all of this is to learn first from the experts and experiment with what they are telling you in a safe environment.
Norwell Motorplex offers defensive driver training courses and race driving courses, as well as being the home of the Supercars Official Driving Experience, so why not treat yourself to some lessons with the best in the business?