"When you grasp the steering wheel, be conscious of your fingertips as the first contact and explore the minimal inputs required to change direction. Plant your heel on the floor to index your foot's position and actively use your toes first for braking and throttle."
Advanced Driver Tuning: “Fingers and Toes”
by Greg Haas
Greg Haas, owner of Advanced Driver Tuning, was one of our first reader submitters last year and has submitted another very useful article about honing the skills necessary to effectively use the controls of the car. Experienced track drivers are mindful of not maintaining a death grip on the steering wheel. By holding the wheel as gently as possible, we maximize the amount we can feel through the steering mechanism. Another great piece of advice I received from an instructor was to imagine there was an egg between my foot and the brake and accelerator pedals. The point of all this is to be smooth when using the controls of the car and to allow yourself to feel how the car is reacting. Take a look at Greg's useful tips and then consider taking one of his courses, which he describes in detail below.
The best possible training scenario for a FATT (Friday at the Track) event is a rainy morning followed by midday clearing and dry sunny conditions in the afternoon. As an instructor, this is simply perfect because we start with drivers who must absolutely respect the realities of traction in the morning. With the eventual clearing in the afternoon, we are rewarded with a field of drivers whose inputs are much smoother and who are really using their eyes to plan ahead. This makes us feel like the best instructors in the world even though the magical lessons were courtesy of Mother Nature.
My mantra on these rainy track days is always “fingers and toes.” Yes I do say it out loud and am often greeted with looks of confusion. At first is sounds kind of delicate and very touchy-feely for the apparently burly world of motorsports. With explanation however, it begins to make sense and becomes the path to a successful rain event.
One tends to lose touch (couldn't resist) with the delicacy of driving at high speeds on-track for a lot of reasons. Good tires provide a lot of resistance in cornering and seem to take some muscle to change direction. Braking can also be very aggressive, especially in a well set up car. When the track begins to straighten out, the fun seems to begin when the foot pushes down on the long pedal and the thigh muscle strives to press it through the firewall. On a good day, with the right car, this can be what it's all about and life is great (until it's not). Delicacy; “pah!” Smoothness is for Hollandaise sauce!
The rain has been called the great equalizer in racing circles and rightly so. This is where the skills really apply. Vision is highly compromised and you find yourself peering deeply into the mist as you search for the not so wet spots. Your butt is on high alert as you feel the chassis loads on the car skittering across the surface. Suddenly the racing circuit becomes a series of drag strips connected by access roads and your toes press on the throttle to get the maximum acceleration balanced with the inevitable wheel spin. Braking zones must become straight lines whenever possible and toes dance on the pedal as tires go in and out of lock-up. Soon the cornering transition begins as you blend in steering ever so gently with your fingertips encouraging the turn while feeling for the inevitable disconnection that lets you know you asked for too much too soon and it's time to soften up. Mastery of this dance takes a lot of patience and discipline.
Every session in a vehicle presents an opportunity to refine these skills. While it may be ill advised to habitually probe the limits of traction on the way to the Quickee Mart, it sure makes a lot of sense to drive as if you could. When you grasp the steering wheel, be conscious of your fingertips as the first contact and explore the minimal inputs required to change direction. Plant your heel on the floor to index your foot's position and actively use your toes first for braking and throttle. Visually plan ahead so you are able to minimize your inputs and yet gain maximum results. All of these exercises prepare your body for maximum performance on the track. By habitually positioning yourself well in any vehicle, you are prepared for immediate and effective intuitive inputs. When you begin to practice the language your vehicle communicates, it becomes increasingly seamless to extract the most from your valuable track time.
The Advanced Driver Tuning events are designed to provide a full day that allows one to explore the nature of feedback and input from the car. By using Police Interceptors we are able to replicate most of the vehicle responses that normally remain cloaked in the technology and refinement of most track cars. While it may seem cumbersome at first, the CVPI is an excellent training vehicle. It has served well for providing thousands of students, from racers to teens, with information they can use in minimum traction conditions provided on a wet skid pad. Every car is equipped with a standard tire that will serve all phases of the training. This benefit allows the advanced student to compare and contrast their control from the lowest speed and traction conditions to the limits of the vehicle and tires at higher circuit lap conditions.
Preparatory exercises include skills for braking in and out of threshold, blended braking and steering, and exploration of control systems such as ABS. These exercises allow students to warm up to the cars and recognize refinements they can make to their inputs. Throughout these activities, crucial use of ocular driving is reinforced in a variety of situations thereby helping to refine control. The CVPI also allows for a team learning approach with the in-car instructor providing individual coaching that fits each student's needs while the other students in the car can absorb the information and apply it to their stint behind the wheel. As this program progresses from starting exercises to track laps, all of the driver's inputs are refined and reinforced. The n
et result is a variety of tools even the most experienced drivers will use to reduce lap times and set up their cars for optimum performance.
When driving at the highest levels of performance, the partnership with the vehicle is paramount. You will never force a car to defy physics, but you certainly can encourage it to bend them a little. The next time storm clouds are boiling above your favorite venue just smile and remember “fingers and toes”.
“Think fast, go faster”