Every veteran trackday rider or roadracer eventually realizes there is no single silver bullet to riding consistently fast. There are single tips that lead to significant improvement, but a well-rounded trackday rider or racer must have many arrows in the quiver. Casey Stoner felt that his strength came from his ability to adapt his style to the corner, not simply hope the corner matched his style—a great goal for us all.
Over the years I have seen track riders and drivers fasten onto one coaching tip, to the detriment of their lap time and continued improvement. This tip then dictated their approach to every corner. At a car trackday last month I saw something that prompted this column.
Who Is The Fastest?
I like to ride with fast drivers to see what they’re doing in hopes of improving my own driving, so I asked if I could ride with “a fast driver.” I was pointed to a gentleman in an extremely high-performance street-legal car and we went out for the session. He raced Formula Fords in the past and had a string of high-performance cars. He was really good, really fast, very knowledgeable, and aware. Impressive.
But there were three spots during the lap where his car was below its performance limit, the loads too light in comparison with the rest of the lap. Don’t get me wrong, this guy was flying, so the three spots where the car was not at the limit stood out.
As we pulled back into the pits after passing just about everything out there, he said, “I had a chance to work with a professional instructor and he told me I wasn’t going to the brakes hard enough. I’ve been working on that…going to the brakes harder.”
So Here’s The Problem
Every bit of coaching advice you will ever hear or read is for specific instances and rarely stands alone without additional comment and color. His instructor had probably felt this driver go to the brakes early and without a lot of force, thus instructing him to leave the throttle pinned longer on the straight and go to the brakes later and of course harder before the corner.
Good info, but there were three spots on this track where the instructor would have had this driver ignore the “brake harder” advice: the entries to the three long-radius (often double-apex) corners. This driver was nailing the brakes hard at these long, gradual entries, overslowing his car—or to state it in another way, he was slowing his car too early.
At YCRS we discuss the slowest point of the corner, the place where the bike/car is running the lowest mph. In long-radius corners the bike is slowest somewhere around 50 to 65 percent of the way through the corner. Note that radius, track width, pavement conditions, and corner location must be considered, but generally the slowest point of a long-radius corner is significantly well into the corner.
So my driver was nailing the brakes hard at the entry, bringing his speed own too early and unloading the tires during the corner entry, finally reloading the car at the midcorner direction change and firing it out. On two of the corners the car was unloaded for over two seconds. That’s two seconds of too slow, twice.
And keep in mind that late, hard braking feels very dramatic. He was indeed getting the car well down the straight before braking, but his technique didn’t match the long, gradual entrance of the three long-radius corners because he was braking too hard. He was killing his speed and then loafing (relative term—he was still rolling well) through the corner until the direction change.
In the passenger seat I initially thought something had gone wrong, that he’d seen a red flag or something had broken because we were braking so hard at a point when the car should be loaded under the brakes but still sailing off into the corner with lighter braking and heavier cornering loads. It surprised me and I hoped we wouldn’t get hit from behind.
Precisely and exactly the same thing on two wheels. In fact, watching (and listening to) Formula 1 is fantastic training for all motorcyclists. The better the car, the more closely its driving resembles good motorcycle riding, and this guy’s car and tires were at a high level. It was a pleasure to ride with him and interesting to see him just a bit too hung up on one technique applied to all corners—to the detriment of his lap time.
There are many instances of championship-winning bike racers having success in cars: Kenny Roberts Senior, Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, Scott Russell, Dale Quarterley during my riding time and, of course, John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, and many others through history. More recently, Chris Peris was asked to participate in a car test at Inde Motorsports Ranch with car racers and he set the fastest time. Chris had never been to a car school, he simply “drove like I ride.” At the pointy end, bike riding and car driving are amazingly similar. If someone tells you differently, they have never been consistently at the limit in a car or on a bike. Please see my earlier column on car driving to improve your bike riding.
The Big Takeaways
1) Brakes control your speed, yes, but also your steering geometry and front-tire contact patch. In these long-radius entries, we are using the brakes for geometry and contact patch control as well as speed control.
So you think, “Well, why brake at all, why not just turn it in and then brake when you get to midway?” Some corners are like that, but usually we are braking all the way into the corner, all the way to the slowest point. Entering these corners without the brakes loses the ability to easily and constantly control our speed as well as our steering geometry and contact patch. That gets scary as you go faster, so repeat what I’ve written before: More speed, more brakes. To put it more plainly: the faster you ride, the more brakes you need. You must change your speed for the corner, not hope the corner changes for your speed. More speed, more brakes.
2) Very few riding tips can be delivered correctly in a single sentence. Be cautious of grabbing one technique and applying it to every situation. In this case, the driver’s instructor wanted to get him down the straight farther and faster before braking, but I bet money that the instructor would have identified this track’s three long-radius entries and said, “In these three entries you want to use the brakes lighter and longer because the car doesn’t need to be slowed until late.”