How to become a faster driver
Remember, though, that being fast is no good if you don't know how to be safe as well.
With lockdown restrictions slowly starting and continuing to ease in many places allowing more of us to get back out onto the road, you might well be itching to get out for a proper backroad blast or looking forward to heading out to a track day – so as to say you want to get behind the wheel of your car and feel the rush that only sheer speed can bring.
If you're feeling a bit rusty after a few months of more-or-less leaving the keys in the bowl, however, and are wanting to build your skills back up and become a faster driver – and, crucially, a safer one as well – here are a few pieces of advice on how to up your skills behind the wheel.
Get some proper training at a race track
I'm putting this piece of advice first – even though it might be a difficult thing to do given the current circumstances the world is facing – simply because from both my own experience and advice I've been given, it's the thing that will benefit you most when it comes to being a faster and safer driver.
After a journalist from a big Australian magazine scared the living daylights out of me as a young intern there in a Mk7.5 Golf 110TSI of all the cars in the world, I asked him, "Don't take this the wrong way, but how on Earth do you learn to drive like that?" His answer, simply put, was to get some time in on a track.
In addition to many tracks offering their own driver training days, many car manufacturers offering their own sort of 'driving experience days' at a track as well at which there will be professional instructors there to help you get the most out of your car in a safe and controlled environment, two months later, I'd booked myself a place at the Volkswagen Driving Experience, not because I own a Vee-Dub but simply because it was considerably cheaper than similar experiences at the time from the likes of Audi, BMW, and Jaguar – important if you're a student like I was then.
Not only will you get to spend the day fanging around something like a Golf R, but you'll have expert advice on hand from professional racing drivers as they guide you through a range of tasks that teach you things such as judging braking distances, wet weather control and managing the terrifying prospect of lift-off oversteer, detecting the limit of adhesion through a slalom course, and finally stringing together your lines through a few corners before finally hitting the track.
I assure you, I've never looked at driving the same way since. Learning things like the crucial need to always keep your foot on a pedal – slowly easing off the brakes as you enter the corner and only just letting go of the middle pedal completely as you kiss the apex and immediately transition to the throttle and ease onto it – have proven so useful in the context of fast street driving as they do on a track, and with a big focus on teaching you how to be safer and more in control if you do overstep the mark, it's experience that is invaluable to have.
Learn the road or track you're driving on, and identify any potential hazards
If you've found a favourite stretch of tarmac that you love to semi-regularly take your car for a blast on, one of the things that will help you to be quicker is learning the road – both in terms of the layout and surface of it, but also when it comes to potential hazards you may encounter on it.
Remembering the way corners string together, be it on a road or the race track, will allow you to think ahead and plan your line, braking point, and when you'll get back on the throttle, all of which will help you maintain more speed.
Learning the surface, too, is important, both in terms of the quality of the bitumen itself, as well as things like the camber of the corners. On one of my favourite roads to hit on a regular basis, for instance, I know that there's one off-camber uphill S-bend on which too high and entry speed on the initial left-hand turn will induce understeer, while on the exiting right-hand turn I find a variety of rear-drive cars are particularly prone to oversteer there.
Recognising and being incredibly aware of potential hazards is crucial for safe driving as well. Speaking as someone used to driving on South Australia's Adelaide Hills backroads on a regular basis, for instance, hazards I constantly have to be aware of range from cyclists that lack spatial awareness and drivers doing half the speed limit particularly on weekends and around tourist hotspots, to natural things such as bumps caused by tree roots that can upset the balance of the whole car to even rock falls.
And so, when you're going at a pace, being ready to get back on the brakes at a moment's notice is crucial for the safety of you and others, so make sure you stay alert.
Learn your car's limit and how to detect when you're nearing it
While it's certainly possible for a driver to 'run out of talent' before their car runs out of grip, learning where the limit of adhesion in your car is plays a major role in not only driving quickly but safely.
From car to car, you'll be able to tell that each will have its own way of letting you know that you're driving on the raggedy edge depending on variables such as the tyres or suspension. In some cars, then, you might feel a hint of body roll as you're nearing that limit, while in others you'll hear the tyres screech and feel the sidewalls start to deform before you reach that point, or in a car that's a bit hopeless you may even experience both. Overstep that mark of mechanical grip, and you'll start to experience understeer which you don't want to do if you don't fancy ending up on the wrong side of the road or in a guard rail or hedge.
For drivers of rear-wheel drive cars, knowing how to induce (or avoid inducing) and control oversteer is an important factor to consider too, given how us petrolheads like oversteer for reasons inexplicable to normal people.
In the interests of promoting safe driving, you're best leaving the big smoky drifts to a track, plus while they are fun it could well actually be slowing you down, so remembering to be smooth with the throttle is important. In wet weather conditions, this is particularly important, too, so learning how sensitive your car's throttle is will assist you in this department.
For all cars, learning the limits of your brakes is incredibly important as well as there are few feelings quite as buttock-clenching as pressing down on the middle pedal and feeling it go spongey and long as a sign you've overheated your stoppers.
Learn your limits as a driver, and work on ironing those creases out
It's important to identify not only where your car's weaknesses and limits are, but also where your own are, and in the same way that a lack of grip from your tyres, let's say, can be fixed by upgrading them, so too can your weaknesses as a driver be worked on once you've identified them.
Maybe you're finding your a bit ham-fisted (or I guess ham-footed, technically) with the pedals and you need to be more sensitive with your inputs, or you don't steer smoothly, progressively, and responsively enough. Maybe you're even finding its the speeds you're driving at themselves that have got you on edge.
Whatever it may be, don't be ashamed of it for one, as I think modern learner driver training is lacking considerably – I, for instance, never exceeded 60km/h or left the confines of a town in any of my driving lessons or my driving test, yet would then have to drive to the house I lived in at the time on what was essentially a touge road – depending on who your instructor is and so you're unlikely to learn anything from them about handling a car at speed if my experience is anything to go by, hence why track training with a professional is so crucial.
And that's the other reason not to be ashamed about it – because it's more than doable to work on building up your confidence behind the wheel. Between professional instruction and 'doing your homework' – which is to say, taking your car out for a blast and paying close attention to what you and the car are doing – I can assure you that while you won't be driving at a Schumacher level any time soon, you'll easily learn how to manage speed confidently and safely.
Now, get out there and have some fun! In a safe manner, though, of course
With these bits of advice in mind, now it's time to get out there and have some fun. Put in a little bit of effort and you'll get a massive reward as not only will you become a faster driver, but I truly believe a safer one as well.
And if anyone reading has any additional advice, as I'm sure there's plenty of other approaches and considerations to take into account, feel free to drop them below in the comments.