The previous installment of “Driving Tips” discussed methods for optimizing the seating position to improve communication between car and driver with added benefits of maximum control and reduced fatigue. Now we are going to cover the principle control input: the steering wheel. The pedals are secondary to be covered in a future article.
The foundation of steering control is a solid reference position, which is where your hands naturally rest on the steering wheel. Despite arguments to the contrary, the only positions a racer should consider for his hands are 9 and 3 o’clock. The spokes are generally the best way to locate your hands, with thumbs resting on the rim for safety rather than over the spokes. This position provides maximum leverage and the greatest range of motion.
Experiment with the vehicle stopped. Place both hands on the wheel and, without repositioning your hands, turn the wheel as far as you can in one direction and then the other. Try this with hands at 10 and 2, 9 and 3, and 8 and 4. This example should make the reasoning quite apparent. Furthermore, with a reference position established, the driver knows where the front wheels are pointed at all times.
This is critical when the car slides and the driver relies on his intuition to point the wheels in the direction he is looking. When extreme steering inputs are needed with a shuffle or hand-over-fist, a driver must develop a habit of always returning to the reference position. Rally drivers use a colored band around the top of the steering wheel to help re-establish their reference when sliding around corners. This band is rarely used in road racing because steering inputs are rarely extreme enough to require repositioning the hands. Proper hand discipline informs the brain of the steering position without the driver looking at the wheel.
As with any skill, developing a proper reference takes practice so it becomes involuntary. Practice every moment that you are behind the wheel. Do not let your hands get lazy by changing position or resting on the shifter any longer than necessary to change gears. When a driver has both hands on the wheel from the moment he begins driving, his intention is established. When he rests his hand on the shifter, even between shifts, his mind is elsewhere rather than in the driver mindset. With practice, the hands will become uncomfortable resting anywhere but 9 and 3, and this is when you know you have a natural, subconscious reference position. This is the foundation on which to build your steering control skills.
Here is a video showing proper hand discipline:
Note the reference position is established even between shifts and when the reference is lost, mistakes follow.
Joshua Allan is a driving coach living in California. A mechanical engineer, Allan has worked in the design offices of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and has been a vehicle development test driver for Maserati in Italy. He is a five-time champion in a PTD Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Learn more at RacerMentor.com