The line is the path around the track, that when driven at the limit, will yield the fastest lap time.
The line through any particular corner is accomplished using a “connect the dots” approach. There is a specific turn-in, or corner entry point, which is the point where you begin turning the wheel. At the approximate middle of the corner is the apex, which is the point in the turn where the inside wheels are closest to the inside edge of the pavement. At the end of the turn is the corner exit, which is the point where the car is no longer turning, and the wheel is straight.
Going quickly requires that you learn the line and drive it consistently and precisely. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to learning the line is overdriving the car while trying to learn the line, particularly at corner entry.
If you are going slower than the traction limits will allow, you can place the car exactly where you want to. If you are going too fast, the car will be controlling you, and you will be forced to follow the line established by the speed of the car.
The proper line often can be felt. Some things to look for:
At the turn-in point, the car should be as close to the outside edge of the track as possible, this will allow the car to travel the arc of the greatest radius through the corner. At the apex, the car should be as close as possible to the inside edge of the track, and at corner exit the car should be all of the way to the outside edge of the track again. Many turns have “berms” ——— usually a concrete curbing — at the apex and corner exit. Racing drivers commonly drive on the berms to increase the radius of the turn by another few inches. I don’t advocate that in a street car, but I ask my students to try to just feel the edge of the berm, to know they have used the whole width of the track. Note: It can be helpful in learning the line to look at where the rubber has been left on the berm by the race cars.
Hot tip: You will know when you are on the correct line when you turn in at corner entry and do not have to change the wheel position again until you begin to “unwind” the wheel about 50 to 75 percent of the way through the corner. You must hit your apex, and wind up at the outside edge of the track for this to be meaningful.
This is what you will want to feel: At corner entry the car should turn in easily. The car will lean on its suspension, and “take a set.” When it does, you should gently begin to apply a small amount of throttle, because the car is more stable under throttle than if just rolling free. Gently increase the throttle, feeling how much the car can take. If the car begins to go wide —remember, you must hit your apex! — either stop increasing throttle application, or lift very slightly. Lifting quickly will probably spin the car if you are anywhere near the limit, but lifting just a little will just point the car in to the apex.
As you pass your apex point, you should be able to gradually apply more throttle. As you do, you will feel the car tell you it wants to go straighter — because you are going faster — and you will have to unwind the wheel. This unwinding should carry you all of the way out against the edge of the track at your corner exit point. If the entire corner felt smooth, and felt like the car was developing consistent g force from the beginning to the end of the corner, you probably nailed it.
Most drivers use visual reference points to establish where they apply their brakes, the turn-in point, the apex and corner-exit points. It is the easiest way to be consistent, particularly when learning a new track. Look for objects that will always be there, and that won’t move. Cones are a bad idea. A missing chunk of pavement is a good idea. When establishing a braking point, be conservative. First, because of “slow in, fast out” and secondly because as the day progresses you will probably be exiting the previous corner faster, and therefore carrying more speed into the braking zone.
Hot tip: While learning the line, if you find yourself running out of pavement at corner exit, you probably turned in too early. If you have pavement left over at corner exit, try turning in a little later. You must hit your apex for this to work!