17th March 2015
Below is a guide to help you achieve the optimum line on any motor racing circuit. Keep it simple by following these steps.
There are many different racing lines, but most racers are never going to give up their hard earned experience. However, we’ve looked at the different lines that either a novice or an experienced racer could learn from. Remember, for our individual circuit guides make sure you visit our track guides, which can be viewed here.
The first and most important thing is to look at a corner in segments. Take Paddock Hill Bend, for instance. I used to be very nervous of this bend, but the best advice I was given was this: ‘Which part are you nervous about?’ This hadn’t occurred to me before; I hated the corner because of a crash, so it put me off the entire corner, not just one part.
I was told to break it down and realised I’m fine on the apex and exit – the problem is just with the braking. “So work on the braking,” I was told. I did and I built up confidence quickly and never looked back. It was great advice and it changed my outlook on many corners, and helped me build up speed and effectiveness.
Another tip is to work backwards. If your exit is too wide, you were either on the brakes too late and missed the apex, or on the power too early. So you must sort the braking or throttle input first. Brake earlier or apply slightly less throttle and you will come out of it inch-perfect knowing you are onto a good lap.
The entry and exit affects the speed into and out of the corner, and onto the following straight. A late apex is used to maximise the acceleration onto the following straight. In contrast, an early apex maximises the use of speed from the incoming straight; this is used when approaching a corner where the following straight is a lot shorter than the straight before the corner. Hitting the apex in the middle is a reasonable way to take a corner, keeping a good speed constant into and out of the corner, and maximising mid-corner minimum speed.
Breaking down each segment, there are four key areas:
- Braking point
- Turn-in point
Some people might say you can reduce this to three points and not include the exit, but this is linked with the braking, as I’ll explain shortly.
The first step is to analyse the corner; what type is it – short, long or hairpin? Does it have any extra relevance, such as leading onto the next straight or corner? If so, this will change everything, so look ahead. Always look through the corner.
The optimum line is the line that minimises time spent in the corner and maximises the overall speed. If you take the line with the smallest radius, this should suggest it would minimise the distance. However, travelling on the widest line at the highest speed compensates for this extra distance. Again, look at the corner and visualise the best line, and always take advantage of a track walk to look for a different perspective – both the driver’s view and the reverse.
Did you know most people don’t brake hard enough? Modern road cars allow you to really jump on the pedal. The best practice is to pick a few corners and experiment with different braking pressures to see the difference, but you need to give yourself room, and warm up the car and yourself first. Practice your braking with no one around you and check your mirrors before you slam the brakes on. What you are looking for is the right pressure on the pedal, without locking up, but effectively slowing the car down enough to start the turn. Be sensible and build up your braking. Your aim is to reduce the area you’re braking in, to be short and sharp. I look at it as a percentage game – 80% hard breaking and then slowly release the pressure as you turn in. You need to get most of the braking completed before you turn into the corner.
Most driver briefings say you should never brake in corners, which is absolutely true for a novice, but it depends on the car, driver, experience and even the corner. With Druids at Brands Hatch, for example, I approach the corner and brake just under the bridge with 80% braking pressure and then slowly release as I start my turn to the apex, with a slight pressure on the brakes to get the nose of the car in and power out. But this can go horribly wrong on track if you’re a beginner, so work with an instructor and build up to it. This massively helps with under-steer at this corner and it can also be used at the last corner at Donington to again help get the nose in, otherwise known as trail braking.
Pick your spot, look at references around you – a brake marker board, marshal’s post or even a tree – and build up confidence in the corner. All circuits have them, just look out on your installation lap or first lap to work out your boundaries. Once you’ve done this, it will help with consistency.
Again, take your time, but remember you must turn in at the correct point to hit the apex. Carry in too much speed or miss the turning in point and you will miss the apex. Too early and you will be too tight; too slow and you risk entry speed. This requires a similar approach to the braking. Think about finding your turning in point, and think ‘where is the apex?’ If you know where the apex is, that’s what you need to aim to be within, but again on some corners this might be late in the corner. So you will brake, turn in, apply the throttle and then come out and hit the apex. But generally, for most you will simply aim for the mid-part of the curb.
The apex is the sweet spot of any corner; it’s not necessarily the fulcrum or the middle, as it can change depending on the corner. The idea is to carry as much speed as possible through the corner, with the line that minimises the tightness and allows the optimum grip and speed.
Using Druids as an example again, it has two common lines that racers use. The conventional track day line, which is the one Paul Rivett in the Clio Cup uses, is to go in deep, turn in and clip the end of the curb, which creates more speed downhill to Graham Hill Bend. On the other hand, WTCC driver Tom Chilton takes a tighter line while trailing the brakes to help get the nose in. The latter does help defending and it is my preferred line, although it does sacrifices a little on speed down the hill. So both are optimum lines, but have different apexes. It’s dependent on the individual driver, so experiment with both.
Once the braking and apex have been mastered, you should now be able to apply throttle and start to reduce the steering input, and let the car drift to the outside of the track by allowing the car to increase speed without lifting. I see many drivers make a very common mistake here: most drivers believe that getting on the throttle is most important in mid-corner, when it’s quite the opposite. What happens is a driver will brake too late or too early and get on the power before the apex, come out of the corner too quickly and lift to adjust the corner, which massively reduces the speed down the straight.
As mentioned earlier, you must break each corner into segments to find the optimum line. If you run wide and lift you’ve probably got on the power too early. In most corners you do not need to get on the power until you have passed the apex. It sounds slower, but next time you watch Lewis Hamilton in a car, you’ll see he does exactly this – maybe a lot faster, but essentially applying the same principle.
All of these steps are guides and you need to take each corner on merit. It’s the same principle for wet weather driving too, but the more practice you get the quicker this process will become. All of this track work comes down to experience and time, but we thoroughly recommend making use of tuition.