(015) Racecar Driving Theory: Two Key Concepts That Will Save You A Lot Of Hassle

By now you should have a pretty good idea what this blog is all about. But just in case you don’t, let me sum up my view on racecar driving theory in a couple of sentences.

Throwing money at your racecar is really fun, but it doesn’t help cultivate any progression of racing skills. By educating yourself about racecar driving theory and why certain things happen you will become the fastest guy on the track. 

You may have heard me say it before: throwing tons of upgrades in your car will only make you a slightly faster poor driver. I truly believe (and proved during my first competitive racing season) that possessing a deeper knowledge of the racing world will get you both short term and long term results.

During the 2015 season I raced 12 times with a podium rate of 75%. I placed 1st at two events and finished 2nd seven times. 

Not bad for a beginner in his first season. There’s a lot more interesting information about my 2015 racing season. Maybe I’ll write a post about it. The point is that if I hadn’t intentionally educated myself about racecar driving theory and motorsport physics, I wouldn’t have performed as well as I did.

We can get into all that later, but right now I want to share two crucial racing concepts that will save you a lot of headache and make you faster.

Racecar Driving Theory #1: Weight Transfer

Weight transfer is the most fundamental concept in the racing world. Without a thorough understanding of its importance you will simply fail to grasp the majority of racing theory.

Knowledge of weight transfer is the foundation on which most other concepts are based. There’s no other way to say it; this is where you have to start.

Weight transfer is how weight shifts around a vehicle in motion. You’ve experienced it before during everyday highway driving. When you apply the brakes the front of the car drops toward the driving surface.

This is because an object wants to stay in motion (Newton’s first law). When the brakes are applied a portion of the vehicles weight is shifted toward the front of the vehicle, making the front end heavier than the rear.

This is very important to understand when driving a racecar at the limit. During this condition (forward weight transfer) a racecar can easily lose rear end grip and go into an oversteer. 

Understanding weight transfer will help you grasp the following:

  • Forward, rearward, lateral, and combinations of weight transfer
  • Which conditions leave a racecar vulnerable to loss of control
  • How to anticipate and mitigate losses of control
  • Manipulating weight transfer to your advantage

My free eBook, The Informed Racer Program, has several pages dedicated to how weight transfer is directly related to going faster. I think you’ll find it very useful.

Racecar Driving Theory #2: Tire Contact Patch

I stated earlier that I’m not a fan of throwing money at racecars when just starting out, because the biggest gains to be made are from increasing your motorsport theory knowledge and implementing that knowledge into your racing program.

But I make one exception. If you want to be competitive you absolutely must have an excellent set of tires with a soft compound and a large contact patch.

Pretty much everyone understands that having racing tires is better. But I’m afraid that many people don’t understand why.

There are two main factors that effect the gripping ability of tires.

  1. The compound that a tire is made from, and
  2. The area of contact patch

Let’s just say that the softer a tire compound is the more grip it will produce. So now let’s just focus on #2. Because contact patch is a concept that doesn’t get a lot of discussion time.

Just because two tires have the same height, width, and aspect ratio doesn’t mean they are the same. It’s extremely probable that their tread patterns are different, provided that the tires are two different models.

So what is it that makes one tire better than the other? 

The answer is contact patch. Let’s make a quick comparison between two radically different tread patterns.

racecar driving theory pic 1  racecar driving theory pic 2

The tire on the left is obviously an all season road tire. It has an intricate network of tiny passages that allow it to shed water very efficiently. This helps decrease the possibility of hydroplaning during everyday highway driving.

The tire on the right is a performance tire. It has a tread pattern that is relatively uninterrupted. It’s ability to shed water may not be as efficient as the all season tire, but it’s large sections of uncut tread give it a much higher ability to grip the driving surface.

The biggest difference between road tires and performance tires is the total amount of rubber that directly touches the driving surface. More rubber on the ground means more grip. 

If you cultivate a thorough understanding of why contact patch is important, you’ll be able to:

  • Make intelligent tire comparisons while shopping (which will result in better traction potentials)
  • Make strategic changes to tire pressures to maximize contact patch surface area

There are several other factors that directly effect contact patch. To read about them, click over to this previous post: The Importance of Performance Tires.

 

The trick to becoming a better racing driver is to never stop learning or implementing new knowledge into your racing program.

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