There is a reason NASA makes sure HPDE drivers sit in classrooms for “downloads” after each outing on track. Yes, there is always that initial gathering of HPDE participants before the first session of the day, but the real substance of what it takes to become a better driver only develops as the day progresses. Oftentimes, there is a need to quiz a participant over actions taken on the track and, more often than not, being completely new to the sport, they have no real comprehension of why they dropped all four wheels in the dirt. Instructors, on the other hand, talk about how a particular agricultural excursion began a corner or two before the actual “off.”
HPDE drivers always approach the first morning outing with a degree of apprehension and that is to be expected. But classroom participation is all part of the process. To go fast down the straight, safely, you first must exit the preceding corner fast, which means, working backward from the exit, you need to gradually move your braking points farther down the track, adding just 2 or 3 mph to your entry speed, turning in with just a tad more speed, and exiting as you roll onto the gas a little harder. With each lap, those small adjustments begin to add up.
You will encounter corners where following tried-and-true approaches to turning through a corner is not the plan because it is not the apex of the turn you encounter that is important, but rather the turn that follows. I often hear them referred to as “throw-away turns.” Coming off the banking at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to enter the roval’s road course forces you to ignore the first corner’s obvious apex and focus on the corner that follows. Ignore the sharp 90-degree left turn to set up for the just-as-sharp right turn that leads to a short straight. Just don’t ever get this exit off the oval wrong or you will be introduced to a nasty concrete barrier.
Every HPDE1 driver relishes the rush of excitement that follows a clean pass through any circuit’s esses. Laid out the way they are on circuits, they are essentially designed to lull drivers into a false sense of security – a sweep to the left and then a sweep to the right. Repeat! In much the same way we encounter throw-away turns, esses need to be looked at as a whole. Track designers want to unsettle you – figuratively and practically. Pinch the mini-carousel at the top of Sonoma’s drag strip and by the second turn in the esses you will rotate nicely into the concrete wall. I know because I did it once!
One of the reasons you should walk the track prior to any outing is to look at the shape of the esses and the condition of any rumble strips alongside them. Preparation for esses is important because the exit is usually much more important. It doesn’t matter a whole lot which direction you are circulating around Buttonwillow Raceway, the esses done wrong can set you up for another agricultural excursion!
The reason we all join NASA is that we understand it’s not about going in a straight line. The more experience you gain through the HPDE programs, the more you come to appreciate that corners are where it’s all going to happen, and if you really want to be consistent, turning in good times, you first must master turning your car!