October 13, 2011
How I stopped worrying and learned to love driving in the rain.
Well, OK maybe "love" is too strong a word, but certainly "enjoy" and not sit in the garage waiting for the rain to pass. Fully wet track days are statistically pretty rare here, but what if you ever move to the UK? If you are disturbed by rain you would never get on track!
Visibility varied from none to barely enough to see the next corner. There were substantial delays but eventually they made the decision to open up the track and I was out for the Time Trials.
First few laps were a bit cautious but by the end I managed the second best time in class, less than a 1/2 second behind my friend Luke who had cleverly rented a set of Hoosier Wet race tires. I was driving on Michelin Super Sport excellent tires though they may be, with over 7000 miles on them they don't quite have the same level of grip.
I noticed looking at old videos I was about 15 seconds a lap faster, in worse conditions, than the last time I was at the Glen in the rain. Back then, Stee and I would marvel at how CG would blow by us in the Carrera S he had at the time. So what did I change?
I would have to say it was 95% mental, I just stopped being afraid. Sure, I kept my guard up but I was not anxious. The other 5% was probably better tires. I did not do anything to the car other than set the shocks to full soft but there are a number of things I learned. They seem obvious now but I'll skip the ones you will typical hear a driver's briefings and in the classrooms. Maybe some can help my fellow tracktards.
1. Look at the track:
Get to know where water is puddling, where rivers are forming, this will change throughout the day, so know what to expect
2. Don't brake in puddles and rivers!
Seems obvious but if you run a particular track often, your braking points will be engrained in your memory and you will tend to want to follow the same pattern regardless. A good example of this was the run into turn 7 (the Toe) at Watkins Glen where a river forms diagonally from left to right, just about where you might think of braking. The right play there is to go against your instinct and actually brake later, past the river where there is no standing water.
3. Cold brakes grab.
If you are running race compound pads remember that on your first few laps your cold brake pads will be very grabby, not much of an issue in the dry but in the wet you might find yourself skating on ABS right when you fist start to pick up speed. Both Stee and I had this same experience in the bumpy braking area for turn 8, but only on the first lap or two.
4. Both axles count.
If you are driving a RWD car, remember your rear wheels have to get passed the river as well. Sounds stupid but there is an interval of time there and if you are only thinking of your front wheels, you might feed power in just that split second too early...
5. Your corner speed is largely irrelevant.
Speed in the rain is not made on the turns, it's made in a straight line, coming out of the turn. Traction is why 911's are so awesome in the rain. (if you do it right).
6. invert your braking, apex and track out.
As there is little speed to be made up in the turns, you want to minimize the time you spend there.
The "Dry line"(blue) will almost always be more slippery so you have two different strategies for turns: the classic rimshot (green) or the elbow (red) where you would come in braking on the inside, park it, turn and shoot out. Which one will work best will depend on the turn, the conditions and your car.
7. There is no rain line.
Regardless of what they tell you, every corner is different, every car is different and conditions will vary. Turn 9 was a good example, the best line through was the dry line. Why? because it's off camber and if you just did the prescribed wide arc you would end up in deeper water and gain nothing. Taking the dry line at the appropriate speed worked for both me and the Freep.
8. Learn to let go of the brake.
Sounds counter intuitive especially if you have ABS and new fangled traction control but that's what saved me at the end of the clip above. In the braking zone into turn 1 the car started coming around. rather than trying to fight it I released the brake which allowed the car to settle.
9. Straight line hydroplaning is scary.
Can't help you there, when you hit a puddle at over 100 and it moves you over 5 feet, it's just unnatural and it sucks and proof that in the end you always have to dance with physics!
To show you good rain driving in a scary place, I included a clip of CG in a PCA race at Daytona. Never seen Daytona wet before and CG does a very artistic 720º on the infield. No worries though, he will make his way back through the field to a top five finish.
170 mph in the rain? That's just plain sick!