Basics For The HPDE Road Racer
- Watch your flaggers. Know where the flag stands are and be sure to check them every time you go by them. These people may be your only indicator to a problem on the track and can help prevent a serious incident if something goes wrong. Pay close attention to them.
- Leave your EGO at the door. I can't stress that enough. I see way too many guys wrecking their cars just because they THOUGHT they are great drivers. HPDE is NOT racing. You are a student and you are on track with other students. These people are your friends so please be courteous and respect the safety of both them and yourself.
- Plan for the unexpected. If you come into a corner too hot, you may need to ride it out and go off track a bit to regain control. The most important thing to remember in this situation is to remain calm and predictable (both for yourself and for the other drivers on track). If you accidentally get two or four wheels off track, RIDE IT OUT! Don't panic and try to yank the car back onto the pavement. The uneven traction can easily cause the car to spin and when you regain traction you'll probably be pointed at a wall. Stay smooth and allow the car to slow itself until you can safely bring it back on track. You should also pay particular attention to your mirrors to make sure you don't come back on right in front of another driver. Make sure the track is clear before you re-enter.
- Pay attention in the classroom. Make sure you fully understand the different flags used on track. Also, make sure you know the passing zones and procedures for each event. Classroom sessions can also alert you to any issues with the track (such as an oil spill heading into a particular turn). Paying attention here can really make a big difference once you're out on the track.
- Keep it safe. Any time that you find unsafe conditions on the track, GET OFF THE TRACK. Pull into the pit. Don't be afraid to end your day early. It's far better than having it ended early for you.
- Don't lift in a corner. This rule applies mainly to beginning drivers. If you lift throttle in a corner, the load of the car will transfer forward, the rear tires get light, and the back end can snap around on you. If the rear then grabs, you'll be heading directly into the inside of the corner, possibly at a wall or other fixed obstacle. This technique is actually called Lift Throttle Oversteer and can actually be used by more experienced drivers to help rotate the car a little quicker in a turn. It should only be performed after you have gained a good understanding of your vehicle's handling and how to keep the car under good control while cornering.
- Warm Up/Cool Down Lap. While the first and last lap of each session on track may not give you the same thrill as your regular high-speed laps, they are still very important for the safety of your vehicle. Warming up your fluids, tires and brakes gradually will help them to perform their best once you begin your hot laps. Cool down laps also help to gradually reduce the heat levels in these same components and will help to extend the life of these parts on your vehicle. Although driven at a slower pace, pay attention to the track during these laps. You will have a chance to really follow your "perfect line" around the track and may also reveal some on-track markers (e.g., tire marks, notch in pavement, clump of grass, patch of dirt, etc.) that you can use for turn-in and braking points.
- Slow In / Fast Out. This is generally the fastest way to get around the track. As you enter a turn, slow the car enough so that you can successfully complete the turn and hit your apex. If you start turning and the car keeps going straight (push/understeer) you are likely entering the turn too fast. While entering the turn faster might sound like a good idea, it will generally slow down your lap times since you won't be set up properly to exit the turn at maximum throttle. Exiting the turn properly ensures the faster speeds down the next straight and goes a long way to lowering your lap times (e.g., losing 0.5 seconds through a turn and then making up 1.0 seconds driving faster on the next straight).
- Look ahead. The proper line is key for fast times. Looking ahead allows you to keep the car on the proper line. This may mean looking all the way to the next turn even before you are out of the current turn. This can often require looking out the side windows rather than just through the windshield. Keeping your eyes far ahead also increases safety as you will flag stations sooner and be notified of any potential issues that might be coming up on track.
- Use the whole track. This goes along with following the proper line. In general, you want to make the turn as gradual as possible (maximize the turn radius) to allow for greater speed. However, stick to a 'clean' line. Gravel and marbles will often accumulate primarily off line and you will lose traction if you stray into it.
- Find an experienced driver. Whenever possible, ride with an experienced driver before your runs to get a good idea of the proper line for the track. Even better, co-driving your car with a good driver can provde even greater feedback on what your car can do for a particular course, and where you can pick up more time.
- Brake in a straight line. Try to get your hard braking done in a straight line and then pick an apex that allows you to straighten the car as soon as possible and get back on throttle for the next straight. As you progress, you will work to minimize your brake zone which will, in turn, allow you to carry your increased speed further down track before you begin to brake.
- Unwind the wheel. As you accelerate out of the turn, begin to straighten the wheel as soon as possible to increase your control of the car and generate more speed. Straightening the steering will decrease the possibility of oversteer and will also make it easier to correct if the rear does begin to step out. Again, use the whole track to maximize your speed.
- DO NOT BLINDLY FOLLOW THE GUY IN FRONT! You will be surprised how many guys DO NOT take the correct line. Even experienced drivers who do know the correct line will often take a "bad" line to increase their overall knowledge of the track and how to handle different situations. Blindly following a bad line can result in an off track experience and will generally make for slower lap times.
- BE SMOOTH!!!! Do not force the car or yourself. Rapid changes to steering, throttle, or brakes will result in greatly increased squat/dive/body roll and can cause you car to behave unexpectedly. Drive smoothly and you will naturally find yourself becoming a faster driver.
- Watch your mirrors. If you find someone in your mirrors that wasn't there before, they are faster than you. It doesn't matter if you are driving a much higher horsepower car, the other driver managed to catch up to you so let them by. Allowing faster drivers to pass also gives you a chance to study what they're doing that makes them fast. Use this opportunity to your advantage and learn from these drivers whenever possible, Also, try not to get frustrated if other drivers don't let you by right away. Everyone in HPDE is a student and learning to properly check your mirrors takes time. If you find yourself stuck in traffic for an extended period of time, you can always pull into the pit and let the course marshal know you want some space. They will do their best to get you back out onto a 'clean' track.
- Do NOT use your brakes on the cool down lap. This lap should be driven at a much slower pace to cool the brakes and fluids in your car. Use it not only to cool down but also drive the "perfect" race line in super slow motion. Driving the perfect line slowly helps to reinforce this 'habit' and will go a long way toward helping you duplicate this same line at speed. When you return to the pits, make sure you do NOT apply the handbrake. Chock the wheels or leave the car in gear to keep it from moving. After a minute or two, roll the car forward 6"-8" to allow the brake pads to sit in a slightly different location on the rotor. This will allow the part of the rotor that is inside the caliper to breath too. Pop the hood. While the hood is up, look for any fluid leaks and double check your brake fluid level.
- Use your brakes. When slowing the vehicle, use only the brakes. Never use your transmission/engine to slow your car as you enter a turn. Brakes are much more effective and you have much more control over them. Brake pads are also much less expensive to replace than your transmission. It may sound "cool" to hear your car whine down as you enter a turn, but you're placing a lot of stress on your transmission and its "uncontrolled deceleration" that can spin your tail end around. Brake steady/hard and shift only at the very end of your brake zone.
- You can also learn the layout of various road courses by watching HPDE videos on YouTube, but don't rely on their "line" since they may be wrong or specific to their cars setup. Always have a goal for each session. Perhaps focus on how better to enter and exit a particular turn while compressing your brake zone and getting on the throttle a little sooner. It will make your sessions more worthwhile and accelerate your learning curve.
- Weight transfer and balance. The GTR is a very heavy car often 500 to 800 lbs more than other cars on the track with similar power. You have to manage that weight and try to keep it on all four tires. During hard braking and acceleration and in hard or fast turns you will tend to move weight to two of the four tires and loose some traction. Being smoother on throttle and brakes allows you to make your car handle better, use the tires more evenly, and prolong the life of your tires (reduced heat).
- Temperature monitoring. Fluid gauges are handy and help you monitor oil water and trans fluid temps and pressures. Many cars have a tendency to heat up fluids so be careful and if trans temps get too high you can always slow down and pit early to protect overheating. Extra cooling systems help to reduce this risk and are helpful for regular track use.
Preparation starts before the event.
- Eat well the night before and be sure to drink fluids but not too much caffeine or alcohol that could lead to dehydration.
- Get enough sleep the night or two before - don't be too busy and tired.
- M2000 and M2005 helmets are motorcycle rated while SA2005 is for auto motorsports. Check the helmet rules for your event and they may allow M rated helmets sometimes.
- The latest ratings are M2010 and SA2010 but may be harder to find since they just came out. You can also use a balaclava to cover your head and hair and reduce the sweat in your helmet liner but some helmets allow you to remove and wash the liner.
- Before you make a big investment you can also try CG lock to put on the stock seat belt that helps to lock the belt a little. You can also twist the stock belt a few times before snapping it on to reduce motion. A simple four point harness like those by Schroth or Status can be easily installed/removed and will hold you in place much more securely than the OEM 3-point belts. 6-point harnesses and HANS with rollbar or harness bar is better but more costly.
- Check your brakes, tires, fluids, and filters. Click here to view a list of recommended maintenance items that you should check before each event.
Clean your car.
- I like to go with a clean car, washed and recently waxed is best. Helps to remove dirt and scuffs more easily if you have some wax. Looks better than a dirty car.
Be your own critic and teacher.
- Instructors vary, some know how to drive very well but are not good communicators. You can still learn a great deal from watching them drive your car. If you see their lap times are consistently 2 seconds faster than yours you can watch how they handle the course and how smooth they might be on braking, shifting (heel/toe) and throttle. You can critique your laps so that you can be more self aware of what you are needing to work on but changes don't always follow so fast so keep trying. The worst is to develop bad habits and be slow to make changes. Sometimes it is good to work with the same instructor but also good to work with several as advice offered with a little different angle can make more sense and resonate better.
Using an in helmet voice system.
- Sometimes my instructor will have a mic and earphone wireless system for me to use in the helmet which we install before we go out. The helmet blocks sound so without it the instructor has to shout to you during the events in the car which is noisy. You can purchase a system and let your instructor use it.
- When the classroom instruction starts pay close attention to all the track rules and study the course itself to see where the tightest corners are, where the sweeping high speed turns are and where the longest straightaways are. In general tight corners will require you to slow down to the right entry speed which can be different for each car but pretty slow. While you can brake late and hard for tight corners you will heat and wear your brakes more. Staying smooth and arriving at the corner without slamming on the brakes is a good place to start. If you want to go fast you have to be patient and make it out of the corner first before you can straighten your wheel and get back on the throttle. The highest speeds you get on a straight will depend on how fast you enter the straight so the setup before the straights are critical. If you mess up and have to slow down before the straight you will never reach a higher speed no matter how hard you get on throttle.
Be open to new ideas.
- As always there is much to learn. Be open to suggestions and give yourself a chance to soak things in. Be courteous and friendly. Have a good time and be safe.