Hey everyone! Today, we will be comparing track driving and city driving revolving around the little nuances and skills it takes to adequately drive in both environments. I have brought in a little help for this post. Mike R from RamsEyeTheTrackGuy is a complete track professional, where he started high performance driving in 2011. He currently does track days, amateur racing, rallycross, and also works as an instructor. Clearly, he will take care of the track portion of this post. I will be covering the city portion, because you all know how much I like talking smack about driving in the city.
THOSE WHO ARE LAST SHALL BE FIRST
I find that the biggest challenge for new track drivers isn't necessarily any particular task or skill. Rather, it's being overwhelmed by all the various tasks you have to do either at once or one right after the other and how to blend the transition smoothly. That means it's best to not make it a goal to pick up pace at first until you get the basics right. Quicker pace means things are happening even faster, corners are coming up sooner, and you get even more overwhelmed.
Being overwhelmed is a double-edged sword. Not only are you struggling to keep up with things that are happening right now, you're also far too busy thinking. You're trying to figure out where you're supposed to be on track (i.e. your line), things you're supposed to be doing (braking? accelerating? turning? any combination?), and how you're supposed to do them (how much turning, how smooth, how much power, etc.). The result is that you're far too distracted to listen to what the car is trying to tell you about grip levels, weight transfer, yaw, etc... the car could be yelling "I DON'T like this!" about what you're doing and all you can think about is whether or not you just missed that last apex. Pace will automatically pick up if you get the basics right.
START SLOW TO GO FAST
It's always best to start in a slow, softly sprung car. The softer suspensions and lower grip levels always make for much better learning because all weight transfer is exaggerated by body movements Since new drivers are often overwhelmed, feeling weight transfer without much body roll or pitch (i.e. in a stiff car) is often missed and you don't get a real sense for how the car reacts to inputs. Low grip levels also mean lower speeds if you run out of talent (and grip), so spinning out is safer or - worst case scenario - an off-track excursion is less likely to hit something (or hit something hard).
The softer suspension is also more forgiving of little corrections. New drivers always second guess themselves. “Should I be here? Should I be there? Oh, I missed my line, better yank the car over there!” Stiff, responsive cars can punish those mistakes. There's also nothing that better teaches response time delay than a softly sprung car. I've seen people in very fast cars which have lightning quick responses so that's all they know. They miss the concept that there is a delay between your input and the car doing what you want.
Don't do a bunch of mods at once. This probably sounds like a broken record, but it's only broken because it gets played so much. You'll hear it from a lot of track guys and gals. It's far harder (sometimes impossible) to pinpoint what mod actually helped and by how much when you combine a bunch of them at the same time. Some mods might even hurt with a particular car, a particular driving style, and a particular track. You may never know what that was if you can't isolate and benchmark each change.
Your best bet for mods is to first figure out a car's weaknesses on track (the vast majority of factory cars have a whole bunch). It's best to also get first hand experience by doing a few track days completely stock (aside from basic track prep likes brakes and brake fluid), but it's good to also scour forums for your car to confirm what you've found and find out about things you might've missed yourself. Make a list in order of most beneficial or best bang for the buck and start from the top. Do one at a time and if that mod is adjustable (coil overs, adjustable antiroll bars, etc.) tune it before you move on to the next so that you better understand how that affects the car and how to best tweak when you do the next mod.
KEEP A SAFE FOLLOWING DISTANCE
Don’t be that guy/gal that aggressively tailgates people as if their life depends on passing someone. Yes, I know some people sit in the left lane and it’s beyond infuriating, but how about we all try to keep calm and be the better person in this situation. If you’re in the city, keeping a safe following distance is both courteous to others and a healthy habit to develop. Keeping a safe following distance can ensure that:
-You have enough time to react when someone stops in front of you,
-It provides you with enough space to stop when dealing with bad road conditions or when driving larger vehicles,
-And it ensures that you are not solely focused on the driver right in front of you and are thus looking ahead and scanning the road.
If you drive as aggressively in the city as you do on the track, you will essentially:
-Irritate everyone around you,
-Either scare the crap out of everyone around you, or make people retaliate by slowing down even more,
-And be referred to as a, “Knob, wanker, or muppet.” (I’m working on my UK slang for you guys, how am I doing? It doesn’t sound as good with my accent.)
As you can see, city driving requires a calm and collected driving attitude. Something that none of us seem to actually have. Oh, and one more thing, drafting is not allowed.
DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF DIRECTION?
Giving people advice on track and performance driving is one thing, but correcting people on their city driving is on a whole other level. City driving is rather personal, and I doubt anyone really wants to read a discussion about how to drive in your own neighbourhood. So, instead I’m going to discuss driving outside of your neighbourhood. What I mean by this is that it’s important to learn how to navigate through various cities. Don’t be one of those drivers who is always blindly following their GPS. It’s beyond annoying to get stuck behind one of these people where their turn signals will come on and then go off, and then come on and go off again. This is generally mixed in with sporadic braking for no reason and poor attempts at turning onto oncoming one way streets.
I would highly recommend looking at a map and having a vague idea of what route you need to take prior to leaving your house. While familiarizing yourself with local road rules can seem like a waste of time, doing so helps avoid frustrating situations such as whether or not you can turn right on a red light. This will overall help you know the general layout of an area and prevent you from looking like a clueless tourist.
TO MOD OR NOT TO MOD, THAT IS THE QUESTION
I don’t know about you, but I feel like my vehicles are extensions of myself. Your car expresses your personality and is like a portable metal haven in society. After all, it’s the only place where you can talk to yourself in public and no one really cares. Modifications to your car take personalization, appearance, and performance to the next level.
In the city, one would generally modify their vehicle by adding cool rims, interesting decals, or a high quality stereo system. Sometimes, people like to create the illusion of owning a track car even though they don’t drive five miles past their local supermarket. In this case, they would get new coilovers, add a new aftermarket exhaust, and do everything humanly possible to make their Civic as loud as possible. Unfortunately, these individuals are missing crucial aspects to having a true track car. This involves your vehicle needing to be equipped with a roll cage, fire extinguisher, and a 6-point harness. You might want to actually go to the track at some point and post a bunch of photos on Facebook so that people know you went at least once. After all, the motto these days is that, “If it’s not on social media it didn’t happen.”
And that's it! Well, not really. We do have a Part 2 coming up! Do you prefer city or track driving? Let me know in the comments, otherwise I will assume that you're one of those people who drives like a clueless, lost tourist.