Once the optimum route through the corner has been determined, it’s time to negotiate the turn in the quickest way possible. To do this will, you need a decent knowledge of your car’s limits, some time to learn the track, and a combination of car-control techniques.
It might be worth reading our introduction to the racing line before reading this article.
The corner (including the sections of track immediately before and after) can be divided into distinct zones which are shown in Diagram 1 below.
- Acceleration zone (prior to cornering)
- Pedal transition
- Braking zone
- Gear change
- Turn-in point
- Neutral throttle (or trail braking for experienced drivers)
- Apex point
- Acceleration (after hitting the apex)
- Full power
To get the best times on the track you need to be either accelerating or braking at all times while on the straights – any coasting means you’re losing precious seconds! Try to accelerate all the way up to the braking zone and use maximum throttle up to the last point.
Before you can begin braking, there is a short break as you release the throttle and apply the brake with your right foot. Left foot braking is an advanced technique which can reduce this time to the bare minimum.
Apply the brakes hard at your predetermined braking point using the threshold braking technique. Due to the forward weight transfers, there is a possibility that you may lock up one or more wheels (or activate ABS), but as you’re travelling in a straight line this will not necessarily cause any detrimental effects. Ensure that you have come off the brakes, or reduced braking to a minimum before you turn in. As you learn the track and your tyres warm up you will be able to leave the braking point later.
Once you have mastered the racing line and the various stages of driving through a corner shown in Diagram 1, you might consider taking things one step further with trail braking. This involves braking later and continuing to brake into the early phase of the corner before the apex. This can help improve your lap times, but also pushes your car closer to the limits of grip.
Trail braking should be considered in the following situations:
- If you have a car which is prone to understeer when turning into a corner
- If you have accidentally left your braking too late and need to further reduce speed to be able to take a corner
- If you have perfected the racing line and the phases of cornering and are looking to further improve lap times
1. If you have a car which naturally has a tendency to understeer, feathering the brake into a corner will maintain a forwards weight transfer and can provide additional grip at the front wheels. This can sometimes allow a faster cornering entry, but the success rate depends on the setup of your car.
2. If you find you have ploughed into a corner too fast and feel that there is a risk you might not be able to remain on the track , trail braking can help. Remember though that the less braking you can get away with mid-corner the better. So only use as much braking as you absolutely need to – this will leave you with greater reserves of grip which can be used to keep you on the track while cornering. This technique should be treated as a method of recovery rather than a matter of habit.
3. Once you have cornering down to a fine art, trail braking is a method of further improving your lap times. When performing this technique at speed, it’s important to remember that the majority of the braking should still be completed in a straight line. However to squeeze every last ounce of performance from your car, you can start to leave your braking point slightly later and continue to use the brakes in the corner prior to the apex. Before you turn in, progressively start to ease off the brakes until they are fully released at the apex ready for the acceleration phase. Some cars do not react well to trail braking, especially those prone to lift off oversteer – although there will be more grip available at the front wheels while trail braking, the rear will be more prone to break loose. Beware!
Before you turn into the corner you’ll usually need to change down. The golden rule here is to select a gear which will allow you to accelerate out of the bend efficiently. Heel and toe shifting can be a useful technique to master here as it allows you to brake and change down simultaneously while avoiding transmission shock loads which can unbalance the car and cause unwanted weight transfers.
Turn in point
When turning in, ensure your steering motion is smooth and progressive. The perfect corner involves tightening the steering until the apex (see diagram above) and then gradually unwinding the steering lock. If you find yourself increasing or correcting the steering lock as your travelling through the corner after the initial turn-in you’ve probably taken the wrong line.
Balanced / neutral throttle
The largest demand on the grip reserves of your tyres occurs between the turn in point and the apex. It is vitally important not to place additional demands on the tyres by accelerating or braking. This isn’t to say you can’t retain a constant speed, but the important factor is that the car is in a neutral state until after the apex. Understeer or oversteer are most likely to occur at this point.
Clipping the apex
When hitting the apex don’t be worried about cutting the corner slightly. During a corner, the weight is transferred to the outside wheels, and thus these are doing most of the gripping. Putting the inside wheels onto the rumble strip or slightly into the gravel shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Post apex acceleration
Once you’ve hit the apex, you should be able to start reducing the amount of steering lock. As you are doing this progressively increase the throttle up to the point of full power. The point at which you can apply full power depends on your car. Some cars will be able to apply full power straight after the apex, depending on the severity of the corner and the conditions.
The next corner
By now you should already be thinking about the next corner and position your car appropriately to allow you to use the racing line, this may affect your route and the first corner may require a compromised line.
Factors which affect cornering speed
The overall speed at which you can take a corner depends on a vast number of factors including your experience, the handling of your car, and the conditions of the track. For example, a turn with a beneficial camber can dramatically increase the speed that can be sustained. It’s really important not to second guess cornering speeds but build up the pace gradually lap by lap until you feel the limits of grip approaching.
All of the above guidance depends on your driving style and the car you’re using. You will not be able to use all the power of a Bugatti Veyron or McLaren F1 until you’re completely in a straight line, however if you’re in a lighter less powerful car you can apply the gas much closer to the apex point. It’s very rare to achieve the perfect corner, it takes knowledge of the track and the car and a great deal of practice!