Above vehicle preparation, the most important thing you can take to the track with you is driver skill. A good driver in a mediocre car can be bullet quick compared with a mediocre driver in a first-class machine. Don't expect to set fast lap times your first few times out. Better yet, attending an autocross driver's school or on-track classes such as those sponsored by the SCCA or NASA is a great place to learn vehicle dynamics and the proper line through a corner. After attending several driving schools, you will learn that a measured and consistent performance in the cockpit will always deliver superior lap times over frenetic maneuvers attempting to save the car after an ill-advised corner entry.
Entire libraries have been written in the name of describing the art of driving, so we'll limit our discussion to corner entry and corner exit. Novice drivers assume that a fast entry into a corner will equal a faster exit speed. While not entirely untrue, for the entry-level driver, the better approach is to be smooth on corner entry under full control. Combining this with the proper line through the corner will allow you to apply the throttle sooner. This will ultimately produce a higher exit speed and a lower lap time. The critical corner on any autocross or road course is always the one that leads onto the longest straight. To conquer that corner, the essential points to consider are to brake and downshift in a straight line-you can master the art of trail braking once you have the basics down. The apex of many turns is not the geometric center of the corner. Often, it is much later in the curve. Good autocross racers prefer walking the course slowly, which gives them time to study each turn in depth. The whole idea of cornering quickly is to widen the turn as much as possible. There is a lifetime learning curve available to those interested in becoming proficient, but the only way to do that is to dive right in and start logging seat time.
If you plan to change alignment, we've found that a bubble gauge like this one from Interc
A power steering cooler is also a wise investment, especially for autocross or road course
This illustration points out the basics of negotiating a corner. Taking a line that widens
Before you ever put a tire on course, make sure you are comfortable in the car with your a
An essential part of learning to drive is to understand vehicle dynamics. In a corner, wei
The second poor-handling tendency is to oversteer, as exhibited here, where the rear of th
The combination of a good suspension and sticky tires is tough to beat. We used a set of t
Tires-The Big Equalizer
If there is one single component that has the greatest effect on handling and lap times, it is unquestionably tires. We'll dive into some basics to give you an idea of what to look for rather than just fall in with the rest of the cats who follow the hot tire of the week chatter on the Internet.
We'll assume you've already worked out the largest tire and wheel combo you can stuff under your car. Choose the lightest, widest wheels you can cram under those wheelwells. A wider wheel can plant much more tread on the ground. If you're not sure of an ideal width, all tire manufacturers list recommendations for each tire size. As for rim diameter, the most popular size is 17, but 18 is gaining favor.
The biggest compromise when choosing a tire is the dilemma between traction and treadwear. Gumball soft race rubber is great for quick lap times, but it's possible to kill a set of tires in as little as two race sessions if you put in a bunch of laps. Perhaps more realistic is the wide selection of DOT-legal tires from a multitude of companies. Race sanctioning bodies that establish tire rules usually employ the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) treadwear rating. This is a reference number that indicates how quickly the tread will wear. Using 100 as the reference number, a 200 tire will last twice as long. This rating is listed directly on the sidewall. Generally, a lower number refers to a softer tread. A lower number does not necessarily mean a stickier tire since tire construction, tread depth, and a dozen other variables also come into play. While most tire companies offer only one compound of DOT race tire, there are some, such as Hoosier, that offer an autocross and road race tire. While you might be tempted to try a set of autocross tires on a road course, the heat generated by the road course will literally melt the tread right off a set of autocross tires in perhaps one to three laps.
The combination of a good suspension and sticky tires is tough to beat. We used a set of these Toyo Proxes R1R tires on our test Chevelle. The Toyo Proxes R1R tires have a 140 treadwear rating that is easily found on the sidewall of the tire. The scuff pattern on the edge of the tread indicates air pressure on this front tire is very close to ideal as it is planting virtually all of the tread on the pavement without rolling over onto the sidewall.
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