July 13, 2013
Speed Secrets Saturday: Rain.
One of the great pleasures of publishing Axis of Oversteer has been the chance to meet some of you readers, even if just virtually. I'm always amazed to to find out who stops by here and I take it as a personal badge of honor to count Ross Bentley among them.
Ross needs no introduction to many of you who have read his Speed Secrets series of books, required reading for anyone who loves doing what we do with cars. To supplement the book series Bentley has recently started a subscription newsletter, SPEED SECRETS WEEKLY, which will deliver articles penned by him and his extensive gang of some of the top driver coaches around, directly to your inbox. Sweet, please check it out.
To give you a taste of the kind of valuable content you can access there, Bentley has agreed to write a series of articles for a new Axis series: Speed Secrets Saturday.
The first piece is about driving in the rain and along with Ross, my thanks go to another great Axis friend, Jamey Price who has gone through his archive and choose these fantastic wet racing shots.
For another take on driving in the rain, have a look at "How I stopped worrying and learned to drive in the rain"
Racing In The Rain: Lessons from Enzo by Ross Bentley
Racing in the rain. Drivers either love it or hate it. There are very few drivers that have a “take it or leave it” attitude towards splashing around a race track. And drivers that hate the rain think that drivers that love it are either weird or stupid – or both.
I love racing in the rain.
That means that, depending on how you feel about wet race tracks, I now know what you think of me. But that’s okay, as long as you don’t get in my way as I slip and slide my way around. Don’t get in the way of my fun, please.
To borrow a line or two from my friend, Garth Stein, author of the best-selling novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, “I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience... [it is also] about the mind! It is about owning one's body... It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you.”
Hmmm… What does Garth know that will make you faster in the rain? Actually, if you’ve read The Art of Racing in the Rain, you know that it’s Enzo, the dog, who says this. And after many years of studying racing, he knows best. In fact, if he had had opposable thumbs, he’d have proven his point by getting behind the wheel himself. Bark, bark.
Having spent some time coaching Enzo… err, Garth, let me share with you a few of my favorite Speed Secrets for racing in the rain – or just quickly navigating your way around a wet circuit in any kind of driving event.
1. Initiate slowly, react quickly.
All of your inputs must be made as slowly, gently and smoothly as you possibly can make them. That includes your steering, throttle and braking movements. Did you notice I didn’t just refer to the brake application? That’s because it’s not just how you apply the brakes, but perhaps even more importantly, how you release them. Same with your steering – your steering output (meaning, how you unwind the steering) is just as important.
So, your goal is to make every deliberate movement of the controls as slowly as possible, as that will make you smoother, increasing overall traction.
But, when it’s time to react to the car sliding, do it quickly. Don’t let the car get too far out of line, otherwise you’ll get “behind in your steering” (as one NASCAR driver said years ago about why he spun out).
2. Make the car do something.
When I played tennis seriously, years ago, I played at my best when I attacked. If I was hesitant, I lost. When I skied moguls, I had to attack them, otherwise I’d get behind and be reactionary rather than being proactive. If I’m hiking down a steep, rocky trail I’ve found it’s best to attack there, as well. If I’m holding back, waiting to avoid slipping, I’m more likely to slip.
When I approach a turn in the rain, I find it best to enter just slightly faster than I think the car can handle, making it slide from the moment I enter the turn. If I don’t – if I enter at a “comfortable speed” – I then spend the rest of the turn waiting, waiting, waiting for the car to start sliding. If it’s doesn’t slide, well, I know that I’m slow; if it slides, it takes me somewhat by surprise. But if I purposely make the car slide from the very second I enter the turn, I know exactly what I have. I know the grip level, and I’m more than ready to deal with the slide.
3. If the car feels like it’s on rails, drive faster.
As I said, if the car is not sliding at all, then I know I’m slow. If I’m not sliding, I know I can increase my speed.
4. Relax your grip and breathe.
The next time you’re driving down the highway, grip the steering wheel as tightly as you can. Then notice how much vibration you sense coming back through the wheel. Next, relax your grip, holding the steering with a light grip, and notice how much more vibration you feel. The lighter your grip on the wheel, the more feedback you get from the car. If you’re having a difficult time sensing the limits of the car in the rain, I suspect you have too tight a grip on the steering wheel.
When you hold your breath, you tend to tense your arms, hands, and the rest of your body, and therefore reduce your ability to sense the limits of the tires. When you tense your hands and arms, you tend to hold your breath, or at a minimum, restrict it. Which comes first? Holding your breath, leading to tense hands and arms, restricting your ability to sense the limits of the car? Or tensing your hands and arms, leading to restricting breathing? It doesn’t matter. What matters is relaxing your hands and arms, and breathing (or the other way around).
But an even worse thing happens when you hold or restrict your breath: Your brain interprets it as fear and anxiety, and when that happens you kick into fight or flight mode, causing your brains to operate at less than its peak. By “less than its peak,” I mean that it processes information slower, and your vision tends to drop – you don’t look as far ahead. I don’t need to tell you that neither of these are good.
Deliberately practice breathing when driving in the rain. The more you do that, the more automatic it will be, and the more relaxed you’ll be. If you’ve ever seen in-car video of Hans Stuck driving in the rain, you’ll see that he’s playing like a little kid jumping up and down in a mud puddle. Often, he would yodel. Perhaps that was how he ensured he wasn’t holding his breath.
Racing in the rain can be the most fun you’ll ever experience in a car, especially if you keep these four tips in mind. And more important than keeping them in mind, if you deliberately practice them you’ll find yourself “car dancing” in the rain before you know it. If you don’t believe me, just ask Enzo.
For more of Ross' writing, along with articles by other famous and not-so-famous contributors, go to www.speedsecretsweekly.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.