“If you choose to race in the UK, you are going to get wet,” warns the MSA’s Go Motorsport video for novice racers. My last session at Silverstone may not have been in the rain, but the track was soaking wet and slippery following a downpour the night before.
This was my first experience learning wet lines. The dry racing line is polished by the passage of thousands of cars, meaning the surface of the quick dry line becomes like an ice rink in the wet. Add rubber oil and grease to the picture, and the familiar line becomes an unwelcoming place to be.
My instructor, Anthony, demonstrated the difference in grip levels by starting me on a normal dry line. The Megane I was driving understeered for what seemed like an eternity through Copse and Luffield, and twitched nervously coming into Maggots and Becketts.
Next, wet lines. He got me to avoid turning in where you normally would, going deeper and round the outside of corners to avoid the apex and pick up the less-used tarmac. The difference was extraordinary. There was so much more grip available that the understeer vanished, and braking in the middle of the track reduced the nervous back end stepping out. It was almost like driving in the dry in comparison to the normal racing line. Crossing the racing line makes you really feel the difference in grip. As I began to push more, I had a few moments – a slight tank-slapper coming out Brooklands and a few eye-widening slides coming back onto Club Straight. But my confidence increased as I began to attack Copse and improved my line through Maggots.
It was almost a dream track day – apart from one first-timer in a Porsche Boxster, the track was empty. As I left, Sky Sports were preparing to film a feature on the ARDS test which will appear in their F1 coverage soon.
Overall, another fantastically fun day, another great lesson and another eye-opening step on my journey to learn to race.
Silverstone’s National Circuit
In last week’s sweltering heat, I took to Silverstone’s historic international circuit in a blissfully air conditioned Toyota GT86.
I was back for some more 1:1 tuition. This time covering heel and toe, trail braking and lines.
Silverstone’s historic international circuit omits the chicane at Vale for a fast kink. After a few laps getting used to the different entry, it was a lot of fun guiding the car in and out of ‘fast Vale’. The historic circuit was being prepared for the Silverstone Classic, where Denis Welch was to tragically lose his life on Sunday.
I took several things away from my time on the historic layout. The first: Corner entry. I’d been slightly nervously avoiding getting right to the edge of the track on corner entry, with the effect of creating a much tighter corner than is necessary. Jack, my instructor, showed me the difference of taking the car to the track limits: The corners become straighter, exit speed is increased, time is saved.
The second point was controlling the weight of the car. There’s a lot of inertia in a one-tonne car travelling at speed. I’d already covered using a balanced throttle to balance the car, but this time I learnt to use the brakes to transfer weight forward and over the front wheels. This allows them to grip better, and consequently helps the car turn in. If the weight is too far back, the front tires skid pointlessly and the car develops understeer. Instead of coming off the brakes before turning in, the technique is to gradually bleed off them before getting back on the throttle.
These two points, along with a little more experience with heel and toe have helped to increase my confidence. Thanks to the great instructors at Silverstone, I still feel like I’m learning a huge amount every time I get behind the wheel.
On to the next lesson.
Over the last few months I’ve been edging closer to my short-term aim of being ready to sit in a race car for the first time. Every time I get on track my confidence increases, but there’s still a long way to go and a lot to learn. Then again, that’s what makes this such an exciting process. My latest lesson focussed on heel and toe, and despite some fumbling and frankly, nervousness, the difference it makes is instantly astounding: It eliminates the back-end twitching on a downshift and makes the car feel more stable.
This was the first time I’d had a lesson on it, having attempted to teach myself the technique. Unsurprisingly I was making a few rookie mistakes, including trying to shift too early and being blipping the throttle too much. Tension from over-thinking also led to missed shifts, but when I relaxed into it and got a nice blip on a downshift before clipping the apex, it started to feel much better. My vision through corners is starting to improve, but is another area that also needs a lot of work.
Anyway, a few more lessons and I’ll be suiting up ready to go testing. Cannot wait.