To help you prepare for the 2021 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, we bring you the latest in our “One Lap Around” series. In this installment, Dion Von Moltke from NASA partner Racers360 provided the screen grabs and the instructions for getting around Daytona International Speedway. Be sure to watch the video linked at the end of this feature to tie everything together.
In this video and in these images, we’re on board with NASA alumnus Mike Skeen, who is driving a big-horsepower car. But we’re also going to be talking about the subtle differences that you’ll see between high-horsepower cars and lower horsepower cars. Also, if you have a little bit of downforce, we’ll talk about some of the differences. So, no matter what you drive, you’ll find this useful and get a lot of insights as to how to attack a quick lap around Daytona.
A lot of drivers say Daytona is a really easy racetrack. I actually disagree with that. I think, yes, it’s probably easier to get within a second or two, but that last little bit of time is actually really technical. It requires a lot of patience.
Daytona is not a track where we can just kind of miss a little bit of an apex here or there. Hitting our apex at Turn 1, Turn 3, Turn 5, Turn 6, and the Bus Stop. Every one of those, we have to hit. It’s very, very important around here.
What you really want to focus on here is the brakes into Turn 1, especially tricky in the wet. Transitioning on and off the ovals is really tough. It’s really difficult to put power down out of Turn 6, which is probably one of the most important sections. And then the high-speed Bus Stop. You’ve got to be fast in, but you have to be fast out. Those are the main points. So let’s start digging in here and going into Turn 1.
We do absolutely want to hug the bottom of the tri-oval while we come through it. But we have to let the car start to get free, start to fade right toward the wall, before we brake for Turn 1 so that you can get as straight as possible into the Turn 1 braking zone.
The braking zone varies widely here. The brake markers are difficult to see as you approach. So for most cars, we’ll be looking to brake somewhere between the No. 1 board and the end of the grass infield. I typically use the end of the grass as sort of a reference point. So as you come through the tri-oval, identify those braking markers early, identify the end of the grass early. Let the car transition, start conservative and then start working closer and closer toward the end of the grass. That’ll end up being a pretty decent brake marker.
The entry to Turn 1 starts to flatten out. In the wet, one of the most important things is to have your hands as straight as possible over the painted line. It gets really slick. Braking through here, I like to get pretty close to the first grass, the little apex where the white line is worn at the edge of the track. And then you transition to the right a bit and it widens out. A lot of drivers love to go super wide in here because you think that would make sense, but the road actually goes a little off camber. You’ll see the road fall away, and that’s where I want to avoid.
The important thing in Turn 1 is the exit. We’re braking in, I don’t want to carry a lot of speed through the middle of Turn 1. There’s some very subtle differences. So if you’re in a lower horsepower car, or more of a downforce car, for the most part, we will be apexing at the start of the white tire wall to the left. In a higher horsepower car, we’re going to be apexing just beyond the end of it.
In a high-horsepower, low-grip car, you don’t want to end up tracking all the way out. Hold about midtrack so you can be easily flat through the chicane. Now in a lot of cars, probably the vast majority of cars, we can exit all the way out to the right and still be easily flat through Turn 2. If Turn 2 is easily flat for you, well, then we want to apex slightly earlier. Use a little bit more track. And if you can use all of the track and still be easily flat, well that early apex means you can roll more speed through the middle of Turn 1, which is going to help.
Turn 3, International Horseshoe
What’s important here is patience and getting down to the apex. So we need a nice, long trail brake. We only want to start to pick up the throttle as we can start to unwind our steering wheel. This is going to be an earlier turn-in than you think, as well. So, we typically think a late apex here, that we want a super late aggressive turn-in. But that makes us have to over-slow. And you miss just a little bit of the camber here without an early turn-in. It’s just a slight grade of camber in here that you can get in and use. So that’s why we have a little bit early of a turn-in point.
Notice how we’re on the apex, curbing here, just past the middle of the curve. And right about now, as we’re starting to be able to unwind the steering wheel, that’s where we’re starting our initial throttle application. If you were back to throttle any earlier than that, you over-slowed or you just stopped being patient enough. It’s super important to be patient here, so we have one solid, quick application on the throttle to get back to full throttle.
So Turn 4 is a really fast kink. In lower-horsepower cars, in most downforce cars, it’s going to be flat. In almost anything else where you don’t have downforce, you probably have, I’m going to ballpark here, over 350 horsepower, it’s probably not quite flat. It’s going to be a little bit of a lift. If you need to lift, you want to do that speed manipulation early. So when you come in, you want to be lifting a bit early. A little bit of a coast, and then feeding the throttle in right about the apex point, not much earlier than that. And then I like to use this apex curb. It adds a little bit of grip to the car, opens up the radius of the corner. Out of Turn 4, unwind the steering wheel, let the car be as free as possible.
Turn 5, West Horseshoe
For Turn 5, brake with straight hands down the inside of the road. Now that typically would make no sense at all, but what’s going to happen here is you’re going to brake kind of beyond where you think you’re turning in, and you’re actually going to come out a little bit wider and be able turn in and hit your apex.
Typically your braking zone is going to be somewhere around the start of the access road on the right, maybe just past that. That’s ballpark. You want to have a nice hard hit, then start to trail off. The track will go away from you to the right. So if you follow the white line, well then you’re apexing way too early. But if you brake with your hands straight, you’re going to transition out to about the middle of the track. And you’ve got to be looking through the corner here already. And we’re transitioning off the brakes for that last little bit of trail braking.
This is where we’re coming off the last little bit of brakes. Wait for the car. It’s really easy to get to throttle too soon. But if you get to throttle before that last little bit of transition, then you’re under-steering all the way out to the exit curb, and you can’t get back to full throttle. So what’s really important is, we’ve got to wait for the car to rotate. The car rotates, it heads toward that second apex at the end of the curb. And that’s where we want to feed in the throttle, only once we can really start to unwind that steering wheel.
Notice the theme here at Daytona is patience to throttle, because that means you are going to have one nice, aggressive throttle application, and you come out and you use all of this exit curb early.
Turn 6 is one of the most important corners on this racetrack. It’s really easy to roll too much speed through the middle of Turn 6. It opens up really wide, which makes it feel like you can roll more speed. But simply, when we talk about what’s important here — the exit — getting back to full throttle as early as possible to carry our speed all the way down to the Bus Stop.
A great reference point for our brake zone is going to be, roughly, this first access road on the right. That’s where most cars will be braking. Low-horsepower cars, you might be able to get just beyond that. But ballpark, that’s really going to be a great place to identify and use as a reference point for the start of your weekend.
You want to be apexing right about mid curb, right where the curb sticks out farthest. That’s going to be your apex point. You’re not going to be touching the throttle any earlier than that. Hugging a little bit tighter to the left, because it gets really dirty and really bumpy over to the right. You want to be about a half car width to a car width off that yellow curb to the right
Again, in the wet, be careful with the transition. You want to have your hands as straight as possible as you go over the painted line.
The Bus Stop
The Bus Stop is one of the most intimidating corners on this racetrack, let’s first talk about the braking markers. Just to start off your weekend, it doesn’t hurt to start at the No. 3 board and slowly work your way in from there. For some of you, that’s going to be really early. This is a really difficult corner because entry speed matters. Not as much as the exit, but it does matter.
So what’s the most important part here? The first curb and the last curb are the most important parts here. We want to use every little bit of both of them. So coming in, by using more of the first curb, you’re able to slowly turn in more and open up the radius of this corner. If or when you have to avoid this curb, if you miss this curb, it starts to get a lot tighter when you transition to the right. If you’re having to sacrifice not using this curb for the car’s security or endurance, you’re going to be losing a lot of time. So whatever you could do to run over this curb, if you can, you’ve got to do it.
For the third curb, I like to just have my front right tire go on the edge of it. You want enough speed to where you are starting to come off the brakes, and then you’re coasting, coasting, coasting. The car takes you about three fourths of the way back to the left, and I’m not getting back the throttle until I’ve got my car pointed toward the third curb on the right. You’ve got to make sure you’re not too early to throttle here, or else you’ll understeer. If you have to lift off of it, now you’re losing time all the way down to Turn 1. This is one of the most important parts of Daytona, that once you apply the throttle, you’ve got to have a consistent, nice, smooth arc up to full throttle, and not have to lift off of it. Those lifts, once you get back to full throttle and have to lift off, it will cost you a lot at Daytona.
So you wait, you start to get the car angled toward the third curb. This is where I’m starting to feed the throttle back in. Some drivers love to use more of this third curb. And to be honest with you, some weekends, I use a lot of it. Some weekends, I barely use any of it.
But what’s important here is to unwind the steering wheel as early as possible right now. There’s sort of a hump in here, so the rear likes to get nice and light. So it’s really important to open those hands to use every little bit of the last curb. Because the earlier you can get the car straight, the earlier you can get back to full throttle.
Once again, in wet conditions, that painted line that you cross is sketchy. The Bus Stop can be really tricky in the wet. You kind of still have to use that first curb, but you want to be off all inputs. You don’t want to be braking over it, and you don’t want to be throttling over it. You want your hands as straight as possible, and you just try to avoid all of the paint, all of the curbs, as much as possible. This is a tough place in the wet.
Use every last bit of the fourth curb, then let the car be free. Keep the throttle flat until it’s time to brake for Turn 1.