7 Driving Techniques You Should Learn from a Race Car Driver & Why
Driving your conventional 4-door sedan may not seem to have anything in common with the experience of driving a $10 – $15 million Formula 1 (F1) car. The former is for average folk, while the latter is for the exceptionally gifted drivers out there, and it’s fair to assume all racing skills are only useful for race tracks. But they’re not worlds apart. In fact, there are a number of driving techniques you can learn from a race car driver, that will help make your daily drive to work or those summer road trips better. Not only are they good for improved performance, they’re actually great for your safety as well.
1. Use your eyes like a camera
Let’s start with your eyes and brain here. On the track, a race car driver uses his or her eyes like a film camera, capturing different “shots”, primarily focusing on what’s far ahead of them or where they want to go. They’re not fixed just on what’s directly in front of them.
This is an important skill for you as a driver. Too many people fix their eyes on the car ahead of them, rather than the flow of traffic in the distance. For a race car driver, doing so means putting yourself in a bad position. For you, that could mean ending up in a serious or fatal accident. Keep this in mind: your brain needs time to process the road conditions ahead, and you can only do so if you have time to see what’s taking place beforehand. That calls for looking into the distance, not the foreground.
2. Brake “left-footedly”
Like the left hand, you have individuals who use their left foot more than their right. Some of the best race car drivers are in this category, preferring to brake with their left foot. Braking with the left significantly reduces the time it takes to slow down, which of course, is vital at times when driving. The reason for this stems from the fact that your left foot is closer to the brake.
Drivers of race cars need to often decelerate from speeds of 250km/h to 80km/h around sharp corners, so quick braking is essential. For the average citizen, quick braking matters not for the finesse of turning around bends (although it is impressive), but to avoid losing control of your car or prevent a rear-end collision. A second can mean the difference between escape or impact. Braking with the right usually wastes that precious fraction of time, which often translates to a distance of 30 – 50 feet travelled. Left-foot braking, however, cuts that time down by several seconds. In turn, you stop much faster than you would with traditional braking.
3. One move at a time
For some odd reason, a lot of drivers think the busier they are behind the wheel, the better their driving skills are. They believe the constant steering, braking, accelerating and shifting of gears makes them more skilled since they’re able to multitask so well. They are mistaken. Watch a race one day – the occasional dash cam footage will show a level of stillness you may have not noticed before. The driver is usually focused on turning the wheel.
They maintain this focus to avoid losing control of their cars. Anytime they accelerate, brake or steer, there is the potential of breaking traction, which isn’t always desirable. A loss of traction is something you certainly don’t want as a driver, especially when the roads are slippery due to rain or ice. Unless you have refined chops as a racer yourself, you’ll want to maintain a smooth and steady drive by focusing on one thing at a time, without steering or braking/accelerating too hard.
4. Grip the wheel…and pull
Here’s a strange tip: don’t just grip the wheel, pull it. Race car drivers practice this weird little hack to gain superior control of their steering. So if the driver has to turn left, for example, they’ll pull down with their left hand (or if making a right, they’ll push down with the right) as if this allows for more dexterity and as a result, more control (although some recommend pulling down and pushing up with one hand).
For both race car drivers and yourself, more dexterity and control means a better driving experience. In terms of safety, you can weave around obstacles such as potholes, or distracted drivers instantaneously. Also, sharp turns that require plenty of stability won’t faze you.
5. Regaining control after sliding
Remember too, that racing isn’t all about speed, and safety plays a big part in the sport as well. That’s why drivers practice how to escape a slide at length since it can actually happen on a race track. Of course, there’s a difference between sliding and drifting (which is common in some motorsport such as rally racing). Drifting is controlled – sliding is not and since it puts the racer in danger, they must put their eyes where they want the car to stop, turn the wheel in that direction and maintain that position while slowly braking.
For both the race car driver and the average joe, doing so can prevent a collision with another vehicle. However, this technique is even more paramount for the average driver, because other motorists most likely won’t have the skills of a professional racer who can quickly dodge an out-of-control car.
6. Driving in wet/slippery conditions
Racing in the rain is no doubt riskier than racing on dry pavement. So the race car driver has to keep his vehicle balanced, in order to not spin out on the slippery surface. In motorsports, there’s a “racing line”, which is the path they should follow to complete a course as quickly as possible. However, in rainy weather, racers can’t follow these lines completely, and they’ll have to focus more on finding patches of road that offer the most grip.
Of course, rain can be dangerous both to the racers and regular drivers. But how can you abandon your “racing lines” to find your grip? Well apart from equipping your vehicle with the appropriate tires, you should take your attention off doing the speed limit and trying to beat the amber light. Rather, focus on early braking, maintaining your distance with other cars, and looking out for slick patches of road that may cause skids. The goal here isn’t to get to your point B faster, but to get there safely.
7. Surviving a tire blowout
Tire blowouts occur on race tracks too. It can be devastating for the driver since it may cost them the chance of a winning title, like what happened to F1 racer Sebastian Vettel last fall. Nevertheless, drivers remain calm and keep their car moving straight until they’re moving slow enough to drive off to the pit stop. They don’t stomp on the brake or try to steer off the road, as this could cause their car to spin out of control, smashing into other vehicles.
This technique can be hard to pull off because it goes against everything your mind is telling you in such a frightening situation. But it can save lives. Again, this driving technique is probably more urgent for the average citizen, because a lot of drivers out there don’t have the reflexes, poise and muscle memory to stay away from you if you’re out of control. So remaining in a straight path will keep you and all those around you safe.
Learning from the masters
There are a ton of racing legends out there who have their own tips on how to drive a car. Of course, classic heroes like Mario Andretti or modern phenoms such Lewis Hamilton have their own tricks which they may not share with you. However, they all follow some basic driving techniques that you can also use. And they’re not only useful for performance, but your safety as well. So the next time you see something about a race car driver, don’t dismiss them as overpaid young men who get to sit all day – their skillset has relevance for you as well.