Ford Driving Tip – Rear-wheel Drive versus Front-wheel

The Ford Performance Racing School uses the Focus and the Mustang, which means the lines it teaches can vary with the front- and rear-wheel-drive platforms.

Q: Why is the line different for rear-wheel drive versus front-wheel, or high horsepower versus low horsepower, or is there a difference?

A: A car has a fixed amount of grip, and although we can change which corner(s)/tire(s) have more grip at any dynamic moment by braking, accelerating or turning, we cannot increase the total amount of grip available. That grip may be spent 100 percent on turning, accelerating or braking. For example, if we are turning and accelerating at the same time, that total grip must be shared by various tires. These laws of weight transfer and of grip sharing as seen on friction circles, apply to all cars, front- or rear-wheel drive.

In a low-horsepower car, acceleration uses a small amount of grip. Thus we use most of our grip for turning, keeping the corner speed as high as possible all the way through the turn. This means we turn in and hold nearly a constant radius though the turn, apexing only slightly late. If we slow down 5 mph more on the turn-in and make a very late apex, our low-horsepower car takes a long time to recover that extra 5 mph that we slowed, even though we have grip to spare on the exit. It’s safe and comfortable, but not fast.

Conversely, in a high-powered car, if we slow that extra 5 mph to set up for a late apex, then we can gain that 5 mph back rapidly once we reduce steering input and in fact will be back to 100 percent throttle much earlier than trying to hold a high mid-corner speed on a constant arc. Both cars run a traditional outside-inside-outside line with a late apex, but the later apex is more accentuated in the higher horsepower car.

Front-wheel-drive cars are generally prepossessed of weight over the front wheels compared to rear-wheel-drive cars. When accelerating out of a turn, weight is transferred to the rear of the car, taking away the front tires’ ability to grip, while the tires already have dual duties of turning and accelerating. This is why front-wheel-drive cars tend toward understeer on corner exit. Thus a front-wheel-drive car likely will favor the later apex, like a higher horsepower rear-drive car to minimize its turning duties during the acceleration phase of the turn. The tradeoff is that with all that weight up front (read that as “grip” up front) the front-wheel-drive drive car brakes very well and can be rotated very quickly at mid corner so it is pointed and ready for full throttle relatively soon.

The basic late-apex line is the same starting point for all types of cars, but you can see that the line will need subtle changes if you want to optimize your lap time in a particular car. I have oversimplified the physics at work here, but just think in those simple terms about what is happening in each phase of the turn, and what is being asked of each tire. The key is optimizing the available grip at all times, and you can see that different cars demand different lines and techniques to do that.

Charlie Putman is a driving instructor with the Ford Performance Racing School. He also is a professional driver in the IMSA Tudor United Sports Car Championship, Continental Tire Sports Car Championship, FIA Blancpain GT Series, Creventic Endurance Series and the ADAC GT Series.


  1. The Adds to the right of the window were so annoying that I could not read the article. I’m sure it was good, but don’t know

  2. Here’s my view on it. If the car understeers, you turn in a bit earlier and/or trail brake more. If it oversteers, vice versa. The more the engine is over/ahead of the front axle, the more it’s going to understeer. You can change that with setup……antiroll bars, dampers, tire pressures, springs, etc.

    As far as the line for high vs low power, I wouldn’t change a thing. With a low power/momentum car you have to commit to turn in speed more, especially in higher speed turns, because if you realize you have more grip/exit space than anticipated apex out, you can’t rely on the power to push it out to the exit……you don’t have that luxury. Put it in your memory bank, carry more entry speed next time. The challenge with higher horsepower is managing that power on exit, especially out of slower turns and for me anyway, in a car that oversteers(especially snap oversteer).
    With a higher horsepower car you do have the luxury of apexing later if you want in slower turns, but it’s not necessary…….6 one way, half a dozen the other. One carries more speed in but can’t get on the power as hard on exit. The other apexes later(less speed in) but can get on the power harder. At the exit they’re both going the same speed.
    If you want to save your front tires, you’ll apex later. If you want to save your rears in a rear drive car and/or save fuel, you’ll apex earlier.

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