The Racing Line
The racing line is not geometrically perfect. It can best be described as a variable radius, because it sacrifices corner entry in favour of expanding the space available for the exit. You spend a little more time setting up for the corner by turning in a hint later, clip the apex slightly further around the corner and reap the benefits as you depart.
This means taking control of the biggest part of the equation, speed, by braking early so you have enough grip in the middle of the corner to make a clean getaway. The tighter the turn, the harder the tyres have to work, so you brake earlier and harder to give them the stability they need at the apex for when you start to accelerate.
When you look at a corner, you might think there’s nothing to it in terms of choosing the direction you follow. Yet, by making subtle adjustments, you can position the car so it follows a gentler path.
Racing drivers cut corners to shorten the distance their machines have to travel and increase the radius of their turn. They use the full width of the track because there’s nothing coming the other way and have the maximum possible amount of grip at their disposal. On the road, this is a dangerous and lazy habit, and not what I’m suggesting at all.
Using the available space between the roadside and the white line, you can shape the corner to your advantage. By turning in from a wider position, accurately cutting in towards the centre of the corner and gradually releasing the steering as you leave, you can potentially drive around it faster, or in safety terms will have more grip in hand to tackle irregularities in the road surface. This method will allow you to see further ahead and keep a margin in reserve for safety and dealing with hazards.
When I raced at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a NASCAR support race, the track conditions would change by the hour depending on the temperature. During the daytime, I found the fastest way around the kidney-shaped oval was to enter the two flat-out turns by turning in quite late, missing the apex by a few feet and straight-lining the exit. However at night, when the temperature dropped, the car became unstable and was ‘walking’ towards the wall on my right.
‘Get your ass down on that white line,’ came a voice over the radio. It was my first night outing on an oval so I obeyed, ran all the way down to the white border and listened to the motor perk up on the way out. Longer radius. Duh.
The voice belonged to the NASCAR legend that was Dick Trickle, winner of basically every race around a circle. Delaying your turn-in gives you a truer perspective of the corner. You have to make a tighter arc at the beginning, which forces you to reduce speed early, and gives the car (and you) room to breathe on the exit, and a straighter line for acceleration.