Art of Driving: Smoothly does it.

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As the first in a series of regular articles covering driving techniques, tips and tricks, resident performance driver coach, Neil Furber, will be teaching us a few things about smoothness and its importance in driving…

Perhaps you’ve just bought your first sports car, maybe you’re an old hand with years of racing experience behind you. In my experience, we can all benefit from a little added smoothness. Being ‘smooth’ means different things to different drivers. To be clear, we are talking about the way in which you load the car during bends and when changing speed. As opposed to being ‘gentle’, smoothness relates to a transition from one state to another. To clarify, you can reach really high ‘g’ loading in braking or cornering, but with a smooth progression to that point. Gentle driving is low intensity – i.e. low ‘g’ forces.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s relate it to your driving. Fundamentally, cars do nearly all the wonderful things we driving enthusiasts enjoy by virtue of their tyres and how they generate dynamic forces from their interaction with the ground. Smoothness, then, comes from how we generate these forces. Jabbing at the brake pedal isn’t a smooth driver input. Consequently, it exerts sharp, jolting forces on the car. A progressive squeeze on the pedal works wonders – both in terms of passenger comfort and the maximum braking performance achievable. (If you seek to become an expert driver, the nature of the squeeze becomes even more important, but we can cover that in a future article.)

Quick wins

If you are somewhere between ‘novice’ and ‘strong intermediate’, the most value I can bring to you with this article is to encourage you to consider your steering. For sweeping bends, gentle kinks and almost everything up to the classic Alpine hairpin, most modern sports cars can be threaded through the corners with what I call ‘fixed grip’ steering. Quite simply, rather than feeding the wheel through your hands or using any number of lazy and inefficient grips, you can hold the wheel at what most refer to as ‘quarter to three’. That is with your hands spaced to the maximum and with symmetry across the wheel – the same as F1 drivers…

Whilst you may do rather well already using alternatives, if I can persuade you to polish your hand discipline – and emulate the F1 pros – you’ll create a new foundation to achieve even greater heights. There are numerous bio-mechanical and mathematical reasons as to why this is worthwhile, but, in short, you will improve precision and feel whilst reducing fatigue.

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Hands at ‘quarter to three’ – maximum spacing and symmetry

Gently does it

Maximum improvement for novice drivers tends to come from lifting your vision further up the road as well as relaxing your arms and grip of the wheel. This helps transform steering inputs into smooth, progressive movements whilst aiming for a target point in the bend. Get it right and your hands will move fluidly from the ‘home’ position to a given steering wheel angle and pause there. Neither hand has released its grip; your thumbs are still near the lateral spokes of the wheel rim. A steady steering wheel position can be held for the mid portion of a long bend if you have things right. As the next straight approaches, a smooth unwind of the wheel back to the ‘home’ position is what you’re aiming for. Fluid.

If you’re a much more capable driver than the average, and are fully fluent with everything in the last paragraph, you’re ready for the next level – yaw inputs. Yaw is the term we use for rotation about the vertical axis; it’s a reference to the direction the car is pointing. Whilst this may sound overly technical, using correct terminology can be useful as you progress and talk to racing drivers or engineers in motorsport. During heavy cornering or full-blown circuit driving, you are building very high loads in the tyres. How you guide your car from driving straight to being heavily loaded in the bends becomes more important the closer you are to the limits of grip. Up near tyre limits, the first few degrees by which you turn the steering wheel are critical. Rush it, and you are likely to understeer at corner entry (head straight on) rather than follow your desired trajectory. Take things gently and you set the car up to generate stronger lateral forces for maximum cornering speeds. Think about things this way: for the first half fist-width of steering, take things super gently and start a little earlier than you would otherwise. Once the car is starting to respond, wind the lock on a little more quickly with smooth progression to the maximum you’ll need for the bend. After you’ve mastered all this, you can start to tweak the rate you wind on the lock to generate specific yaw inputs (promote rotation or keep the car super stable) to suit the corner and where you are trying to place your car.

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Lazy and inefficient grips – left to right: cruisin’, one-armed bandit, holdin’ on

Drama queen?

Whenever I discuss this topic with drivers first receiving coaching, a good proportion say they like to steer strongly to ‘feel’ the car. Of course, how you choose to interact with your toy of choice is very much up to you. Quick, jerky or digital steering inputs will make the car generate forces quickly, which can be very exciting. It provides lots of drama. On the other hand, if you want to drive truly ‘quickly’ on the track we aren’t talking about what the speedometer reads or the speed of your hands and feet. The quickest drivers pick great lines and eek out every little bit of performance from the way they link straights to corners and vice versa.

The techniques I have covered so far will unlock access to extra performance sought for track driving and lower lap times. But, equally, they lay the foundations for the very best road driving. Greater stability in wet bends, less likelihood of overcooking a corner entry, not to mention mechanical sympathy and improved comfort for both passenger and driver. Get things right and you can build extra margin for error during spirited cornering and you can start to focus on how the tyres ‘feel’ as you load them up.

We’ll come back to feel in future articles, but, for now, keep things silky smooth; try to persuade the car to do things rather than grabbing it by the scruff of the neck.

Fixed grip’ steering in flowing bends
Using a ‘fixed’ grip of the steering wheel, relaxing your arms and improving your vision makes for smoother, more precise steering.

Neil Furber

Neil joins the Garage Sportique team as our resident performance driver coach. If you’ve got questions on driving, get in touch with him or read his regular articles for techniques, tips and tricks to level-up your own driving both on road and on track.

An automotive engineer by training – and formerly a mechanical design engineer for Red Bull Racing from their second season in the sport until they’d won four consecutive Formula One world championships – his technical knowledge of how cars work and how to make them do what you want is unrivalled in the driver coaching industry. A planned relocation to the French Alps prompted a career change and his underlying passion for the art of driving became his calling.

Over twenty-five years of studying cars and driving with plenty of hours spent at the limit of grip helped forge this new career path. These days he coaches drivers on road, on track and at the limit of grip. When he’s not doing that, Neil writes driving and vehicle technology articles for the motoring magazines and is currently working on a three volume series of driving books expected to hit the shelves from late 2022.

If you’d like to learn from Neil directly, you can reach him through his website - https://www.drive7tenths.com

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