Modern vehicles are becoming smarter and smarter, and in some cases smarter than us. Well, that is what automotive manufacturers and their attorneys think. The reality is your average car was designed to make sure soccer moms can get to Chipotle safely and to Hobby Lobby without rolling over. With that caveat, a lot of electronic aids have been added to these vehicles to ensure Karen doesn’t end up shiny side down in a ditch. That means if you want to take your car to an HPDE event or an autocross, chances are some of these electronic aids will become electronic hindrances that will keep you from having lots of tire-sliding fun. We can fix it!
The terms for what stability control is changes by name and functionality between manufacturers. Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Control, and the list goes on and on. Some vehicles have simple on/off switches on the dashboard to defeat these systems, but others have a much more complex — by design — process to turn the systems off completely. I have seen many cars where one touch of the button will turn off “some” of the traction control but leave on the stability control, which causes problems when the car begins to yaw in a corner and the system activates the brakes to slow the car down. The system is trying to save Karen’s life. It has no idea you are at a racetrack.
As much as we like to complain about these modern aids, which can hinder us at a racetrack, you have to give credit where credit is due. These systems are extremely effective at saving lives. Their ability to activate a single brake at a time, add counter steer into the system, and avoid tire slip is impressive. We are driving the safest vehicles ever designed. But, of course, as racing drivers, we can’t wait to turn all this stuff off for a fast lap. If you are someone who finds himself in a lot of different cars, or you are an instructor and want to help teach their students how to defeat these electronic attorneys, then these cheat sheets I am about to describe can help you.
Here is the workflow that does not work. You are sitting in grid, you jump into an unfamiliar car that you have no idea how to turn off the stability control. You start search on your smart phone for YouTube videos to defeat the system. You strain to see your phone screen in the sun. You have to endure seven minutes of a kid telling you to like and subscribe to his videos before he will explain how to turn off the system — which should take 20 seconds. The grid marshal is waving at you to roll out. You get yelled at for having your phone in your hand and holding up the show. You end up on track without turning off the system and then you are annoyed when the rear brakes activate on corner exit. This is not a solid plan.
When I know I am going to be jumping into a specific make or model of car at an event, either as a driver or as an instructor, I search for the proven method to completely defeat a system, type it out in a Word document, size it so it will fit in my pocket, print it, cut it, laminate it and then take it with me. When I get to an event I pull the instructions out of my pocket, quickly defeat the system, and them I’m out on course. If it is a student’s car, I will often give them the laminated card and tell them to keep it in their center console for future reference. What can I say? I’m a nice guy.
You might be thinking, “This all seems like a lot for the simple act of just pushing a button,” and you would be thinking incorrectly. Most cars are not a simple push of a button. You are only turning off a portion of the stability control and as soon as you turn off the ignition, the entire system resets to “on” again. Some vehicles need to have a fuse pulled to keep them from going into ice mode (Ford Fiesta ST). And most cars when you restart the car you will need to do through the entire process over again in order to turn the system completely off again. Oh, and obviously you have never tried to do this process on a 10th generation Honda Civic Type R. It is absolutely ridiculous as I will demonstrate below.
I came up with this process after doing some instructing at a Porsche club event where I was teaching people how to drive cars I can’t afford and have never driven. I wasn’t a very effective instructor because I was unfamiliar with the cars and their different settings. The students wanted to leave all electronic aids on, and I was trying to convince them to turn them off, but … I didn’t actually know how to do it myself. Embarrassing. After that experience, I was given the chance to drive a 10th-generation Honda Civic at an autocross where I found out that to get the VSC system off you need to run around the car three times while patting your head and rubbing your stomach.
The process for turning off VSC on a 10th generation Honda Civic is arduous and confusing. I have to use the laminated cheat sheet every single time. I do this because I don’t want to be frustrated at the track. I want to enjoy myself. And I don’t want my concentration directed at my phone or working the buttons on the dashboard. I want my concentration on what is ahead of me through the windshield. I have found with these new systems becoming more and more complex to defeat, a quick, handy checklist is a great solution to keep my head where it needs to be, thinking about driving.
Electronic stability can save your life and at the same moment absolutely ruin your lap times. Choose your own adventure. My two cents is to know how to defeat the systems, be prepared before you arrive on track and go out and feel the yaw! And when you put it into the fence in Turn 4, you didn’t get any of this advice from me. Good luck and keep the shiny side up!
Rob Krider is a four-time NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”