When racers want to be more competitive and work their way up the standings, they often start looking at modifications for their car. Grippier tires, better suspension and engine modifications such as tuners, intake, exhaust, cams and turbos are the first things that come to mind. Here’s the secret: there is something that will boost you up the leaderboard even faster than any of those modifications.
Attending a driver training school like DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA can shave seconds off your lap times. Cams and turbos will get you down the straights a little quicker and suspension and tires will help soak up the bumps to keep more traction on the ground, but knowing how to navigate the course, finding the right lines and how to set up the car when entering and exiting corners can get you much closer to spraying your competitors with champagne.
One of the many techniques you’ll learn at driving school is using your left foot to brake. It greatly reduces the time it takes to go from the throttle to the brakes and back to the throttle. These quicker inputs increase both your time on the throttle and on the brakes helping you utilize every bit of the track and make the car dance around the corners!
While it may seem a little counter intuitive to be on the brakes and the throttle at the same time, also known as pedal sharing, it helps transfer weight to where you need it without losing as much momentum vs. being solely on the brakes or throttle. For example as you power through a corner and the car starts to go wide, some brake application without lifting the throttle will help transfer weight to the front wheels and tighten up your corner without losing as much speed as you would have if you lifted off the throttle. It’s also useful for turbo cars in keeping the turbo spooling while braking through the corners.
Jeremy Clarkson says, "He who shall be last, shall be sideways and smiling." While sliding sideways is super fun and it’s amazing to watch professional rally drivers do spectacular drifts around broad corners, it’s not the fastest way around the RallyCross track. Learning how to rotate the car and set it up properly into corners will get it pointing at the exit of the corner sooner, adding feet to the next straight. This gives you more time on the throttle where a big awesome looking power slide will carry you sideways much farther through the corner netting you a much smaller straight after the turn. Lift-turn-wait and lift-turn-brake are two basic methods used to initiate this rotation. Once you’ve mastered those you can start linking corners and doing more advanced maneuvers such as Scandinavian flicks!
The one thing that will get drilled into you the most is EYES UP!! If you’re looking at the track directly in front of your hood, you’re constantly adjusting for that short distance. When you start looking through the corners and even one or two corners ahead you start making fewer and smaller adjustments as you’ll aim for where you’re looking. This will make you smoother and will result in a better line and faster times. It also makes you aware of the upcoming corner so you set the car up correctly coming out of the previous corner, linking them together instead driving around them as two separate corners.
One of the best things about driver training is, unlike spending $2500 or more on a fancy turbo kit, you can apply it to every car you drive, making it a much better bang for the buck. Once you learn these techniques you can practice and apply them to your racing and watch the time fly off your laps! Your name will rise on the leaderboard on your way to being the next Colin McRae or Richard Burns.
Words by Geoff Thomas
Photo by Greggar Helgeland