Overdriving your car can turn you into your own worst enemy. Overdriving leads to mistakes, missed shifts and poor handling — not to mention the physical and mental stress it can put on you. The cause of that understeer or oversteer? It might be you. So how do you know when you’re overdriving and what can you do to prevent it?
Fighting handling issues with your car is usually difficult to figure out. Making changes to your car isn’t always consistent, and sometimes it may seem like you are compounding the issue. We’ve all had those weekends where whatever change you make to the car seems to make it worse. This may lead to a frustrated driver and maybe even a few bent body panels. So when you encounter handling issues, instead of making adjustments to your car, you might be better off making adjustments to your driving. We drivers never want to admit we are the problem, but believe it or not, sometimes we are. So how can you figure out when you’re overdriving?
As a driver, it is easy to get tunnel vision, preventing you from realizing what you’re doing wrong. Step back and use all the tools you can to figure it out. Reviewing data is a good way to see the results of trying different lines and braking points. The main goal to reduce lap times is to get out of the corner faster and back to the throttle sooner. Using any type of data system is important to show you what’s faster or slower. Even if you can’t afford a full data-acquisition system, there are alternatives such as the AiM Solo, which is a great, affordable tool for $400. In my club racing days, I could not afford a data system, so the next best tool for me was a predictive lap timer from Rumble Strip Racing Products. A predictive lap timer gives you instant in-car feedback, comparing it to your fastest lap. This is one of the best tools to use while you change your driving style during a session to see whether you are getting faster or slower.
Reviewing in-car footage of a session or a race has always been my best tool to figure out when and where I’m overdriving my car. Now, it’s important to place your camera in the right position to see over the nose of the car and your hands on the steering wheel. If you don’t have a GoPro, you need to get one. My GoPro is my favorite tool to use to review my sessions and critique myself. After a track session, you can play Monday-morning quarterback and see when and where you’re making mistakes.
When you’re struggling to figure out your issues, it’s important to ask for help. Have someone look at your in-car footage to see if they can find something you missed, for instance, if you are turning into a corner too early. Getting a second opinion can be helpful, and you might learn a few things to help your solve your handling issues. Also try following behind a competitor on track to see if you can pick up a few new lines to make your car work for you. So, what are some causes of overdriving?
Entering the corner too fast will not let your car “take a set” for the corners, which can result in over- or understeer on entry. This will not allow you to get back to power early out of the turn. Being too aggressive with the steering wheel will upset the car. Constantly sawing on the wheel will add a significant amount of time to your lap. Each time you’re scrubbing or sliding your tire, time is lost. Focus on being as smooth as possible and watch your lap times start to fall.
Not only is it important to be smooth with the steering wheel, but also with the pedals. If you manage to break traction at the back when applying throttle, you’re probably in a powerful car and need to be less aggressive. If you’re spinning wheels, the power is not transferring to the road and you’re not benefiting from all the horses under the hood. You also can run into trouble by lifting off the throttle mid-corner. This scenario has a few names: lift-off oversteer, snap oversteer, trailing-throttle oversteer, throttle-off oversteer.
So next time you’re having a difficult time with setup or the handling of your car, remember there are a few things you can adjust with your driving style before you make unnecessary adjustments that could make things worse.
Kyle Loustaunau is NASA’s 2014 Western States Champion in Spec Miata and the winner of the 2014 Mazda Club Racer Shootout. He is currently racing professionally in the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup series.