Safe Driving Tips
SUNCOAST PCA DRIVERS’ EDUCATION SAFE DRIVING TIPs
SAFETY – COURTESY – SPEED
COMMON SENSE HIGH SPEED DRIVING
High speed driving can be an extremely satisfying, but potentially dangerous experience. This booklet is designed to help you find your experience safer and more satisfying.
To get the most out of your next Suncoast Region PCA Drivers’ Education (DE) event, please read this over several times before coming to the track. Then read it again after your track experience to help you put it all together.
This session is broken down into the three major elements of the Drivers’ Education experience: The Driver, the Car and High Speed Driving Techniques. A good understanding of them all is a critical step towards becoming a good driver.
PART I – THE DRIVER
One of the most time consuming processes in Drivers’ Education events, besides learning the proper driving line around the track, is showing students how to unlearn bad driving habits they have developed over years of street driving. The following is a list of new habits that you can practice on the street to help you be prepared to learn the most during your time on the track.
Improper seat position can cause discomfort, fatigue and in some cases, could prevent you from controlling the car quickly enough to avoid a problem on the track or the street. First, slide your seat forward so your left leg is slightly bent when pushing the clutch all the way to the floor. Then, adjust the seatback so your wrists touch the top of the steering wheel when your arms are fully extended in front of you. The seat height can be adjusted for comfort but remember; on the track your helmet will require an additional 1 to 2 inches above your head. Put the seat in this position now and you will be comfortable with it by the time you get to the track.
The most difficult aspect of high speed driving is learning to handle the car smoothly. Any jerky movements tend to upset the suspension, resulting in less tire adhesion and therefore less potential speed. While you won’t be traveling anywhere near the limit of tire adhesion in our school, starting to be smooth now will improve your overall performance. Training your feet to be smooth is not easy and requires quite a bit of concentration at first.
The key is to always think “squeeze and un-squeeze” the pedals – never stab or release the pedals abruptly. Squeeze on the gas and un-squeeze when you get off the gas. Squeeze on the brakes and un-squeeze when you release the brakes. Squeeze on the clutch and un-squeeze when you release the clutch. Your ultimate pedal pressure will be the same but the transition will be much smoother.
Remember, being smooth when releasing pressure on the pedals is just as important as being smooth when applying pressure to them. You must learn to be quick, but smooth!!
A mental image that may help is to imagine your car is half full of water. Drive so smoothly that you don’t spill any water out the windows. Start to practice this on the street today.
One common bad street habit is placing your left foot on or near the clutch pedal when you really have no intention or need to shift. The only time your foot should touch the clutch pedal is when you are actually shifting gears. At all other times your foot should be resting on the floor to the left of the clutch pedal. This will allow you to use your left leg to brace your body in the seat during hard cornering. Resting your foot on the clutch, even lightly, will wear out the throw-out bearing prematurely.
Porsche clutches are not cheap to replace!
On the street you can drive with one hand on the wheel, elbow out the window, talking on your cell phone and usually get away with it. Traveling at high speed on a race track requires quite different hand habits. You must be in full control of the car to be able to quickly and safely avoid any potential problems. This means both hands must be on the wheel at all times unless shifting gears.
Do not use the gear shift as a hand rest!
The best position is left hand at 9:00 and right hand at 3:00. This position automatically gives you the widest possible range of steering input. It also keeps your hands out of the way of the airbag if your car is so equipped. In most race cars the steering ratio is so tight that the driver can turn full left to right lock without moving his hands on the wheel. Street vehicles have a much lower steering ratio – so that the car is not so sensitive that we go off the road when we sneeze! Therefore, you will find some corners that require greater rotation of the wheel than you can manage without moving your hands.
For these corners we use a technique called “walking the wheel.” When approaching a sharp corner remove your “turning” hand (left corner – left hand, right corner – right hand) from its normal position and grab the wheel at 12:00. Turn the wheel by pulling down with that hand (pulling the wheel down gives your arm more control than pushing it up and over.) At the same time, release the other hand allowing the wheel to slip through. When the wheel has turned ¼ rotations, your hands will once again be at the 9:00 and 3:00 positions. Grip with both hands and turn the corner. Reverse the sequence after the corner to get back to normal.
Some very tight corners might require doing this twice. The object of this technique is to have both hands gripping the wheel at 9:00 and 3:00 at the apex or center of the turn. This gives you the best chance to provide quick corrective steering input in either direction if needed. This is another easy technique to practice on the street. Note that smoothness counts with steering inputs just as much as pedal inputs. Never jerk the wheel. Anticipate the turn-in point and the exit and turn the wheel smoothly.
Although it may be hard to imagine, there will probably be cars on the track that will be faster than you. Therefore it is critical that you are always aware of the traffic behind you.
The best way to do this is to have your rear view mirrors positioned correctly. On the track your instructor may wish to move the passenger mirror so he or she will have a clear view to the rear while you are driving. However, when you are alone on the track or on the street, try adjusting your mirrors as follows:
- The inside mirror should be centered to see directly behind the car.
- The two outside mirrors should cover all the remaining areas behind the car.
Most people set these so they can see the sides of their car on the inside edges of the mirrors because they think they need a reference point. This is not the best position because unless the outside mirrors are quite curved, there will be two blind spots just off the rear fenders. Set the outside mirrors so you must move your head at least 3 inches to the left or right of your normal driving position to see the edge of your car in the respective mirror. With this setup you will never lose sight of an overtaking car.
It will appear first in your center mirror, then in the outside mirror as it gets closer, and then in your peripheral vision as it gets beside your door. An additional benefit of this mirror position occurs when driving at night. You will see the lights of the cars in your lane only in your center mirror –the one with nighttime glare reduction. When a car pulls out to pass, you will immediately see their headlights in the outside mirror at full strength. This will get your attention.
Suncoast PCA Drivers’ Education events strive to be safe and fun. Even though the event is held on a race track, it is NOT a racing school. It simply provides an opportunity for owners of high performance cars to learn to drive them in a high performance manner in a much safer environment than on the street. There are strict rules governing where, when and how you may pass other cars and how close you can get to another car.
There are no trophies or prizes. No lap times are recorded. Any drivers disregarding the rules and driving beyond their capabilities endanger themselves and others and will not be tolerated! The only thing they have to gain is a Black Flag and dismissal from the event.
On the positive side, if you come to the event with an open mind, a great attitude and a small ego you will have more fun and learn more about yourself and your car than you ever thought possible. In addition to the wonderful time, the skills you learn could save your life and that of others.
By the way, it’s OK to be a little nervous. Be assured that you will not be asked, nor expected, to drive any faster than you feel comfortable. We want you to have fun and come back again. Remember, the excellent driver uses his superior skills and superior talents to avoid situations that require them. All of the SUNCOAST PCA instructors are looking forward to helping you and your Porsche along that road to excellence.
PART II – THE CAR
The Porsche is one of the few cars that can be taken right off the showroom floor and driven safely at high speeds, but a few recommendations are in order. These are especially important for older Porsches that may have lost some of their performance potential if they have not been given proper care and maintenance. This is one reason why the SUNCOAST PCA insists that all cars participating in our Drivers’ Education events complete a pre-event Tech Inspection.
You will be placing far more stress on your car than you ever do on the street. A well-tuned car will have a much easier time and will probably result in a trouble free event. It is recommended that you top off the oil system at the track the day of the event to insure adequate oil supply under hard cornering. On all four cylinder engines it may be a good idea to overfill by one-half quart. Synthetic oils are recommended for all Porsches, but especially 944’s and 928’s. Oil supplements and heavier or racing grade oils should not be needed. All entrants are encouraged to bring extra oil to the track.
Keep in mind that track driving is very tough on brakes because you are constantly using them hard and there is not sufficient time cool them. Do not put your emergency brake on after your run as the brakes may be hot enough to fuse the pads to the drum.
Why do street cars run out of brakes on the track? Several things can happen; the brake fluid boils, the pads become glazed and the drums and/or rotors may become warped. Fluid boiling is often felt as the brakes going away or getting spongy. Any air or moisture trapped in the brake fluid will cause this problem and bleeding or changing the fluid is the only answer. Use a brake fluid which has a much higher boiling point, these are available from any performance dealer. Installation of heavy duty or competition brake pads or shoes will generally eliminate the glazing. However, we emphasize that none of this should be necessary for your first few times on the track. As your speed builds these issues may pop up.
Tires are your only contact with the road. For this reason it is important to get good ones, such as those with a VR or ZR rating and good tread, balanced and mounted on good, true rims. Tire pressure should be in the 30-40psi range and should be checked frequently. Tighten lug nuts before the first run of the day. A torque wrench is critical, especially for magnesium lug nuts. Do not tighten lug nuts after a session on the track. The result will be over tightening upon cooling.
Some drivers feel the need to run on racing tires on the track, but if you plan on using them only one or two times a year, save your money. For optimum performance they require a different suspension setting and driving technique which cannot be mastered with minimal practice. Used racing tires may be a cheaper alternative but can be very dangerous since they take a set from the rotation and stress of the corner of the car they were originally on. This will probably not be duplicated on your car. Old racing tires also dry out with time and give little or no warning of break away when they reach their limit of adhesion. This usually leads to crumpled fenders and bruised egos. Invest in a good set of VR or ZR rated street radials – you will be happier, safer and probably faster for it. Tires should have a minimum of 1,000 miles on them before driving on the track.
If you feel you have a malfunction in your car – get some help. Don’t go out on the track to see if it’s true – you may be right. There will be a lot of knowledgeable people around who will gladly help you. Ask one of the instructors. If they can’t help you they will find someone who can.
PART III – TECHNIQUES OF HIGH SPEED DRIVING
There are several cardinal rules which should be learned and never compromised if you wish to stay in control on the track:
- Check your mirrors.
- Braking, shifting and hard acceleration should only be done when the wheels are in a straight line.
- Never lift your right foot unless your wheels are in a straight line.
- Check your mirrors again.
A race track may seem intimidating at first glance but it can simply be broken down into a series of corners linked by straightaways. Learning the proper techniques of handling these two elements and connecting them smoothly is the key to successful high speed driving.
After exiting the corner you will have a little time on your hands – use it well. First, check your mirrors to make sure everyone is where you thought they were. Establish your line on the straight and stick with it. Erratic lane changes tend to confuse drivers behind you.
For faster cars, wave by them by, indicating by pointing to the side on which you wish them to pass. Give one distinct point-by for each passing car. Don’t try to beat a faster car into the corner. If he doesn’t pass you on this straight, he will on the next – so you might as well let him by now and concentrate on your own driving.
Maintain your line when being passed and ease off the gas. The car passing you may be much faster than you in the corners but may not be able to get around you in the straights unless you slow down slightly. Also take this time to check your instruments. Know the normal position of the gauges so you can recognize immediately when the figures are other than normal. Check your mirrors again and start planning your strategy for the next corner.
The line is the route taken into, through and out of the corners. It will vary slightly for different cars and drivers but the basics are the same. Determining the proper and appropriate line for your car and executing it smoothly is the key to becoming a faster driver. We will break the corner down into its parts; the approach, the entrance and the exit.
The car is positioned on the extreme outside of the track, wheels straight. All braking and downshifting are done here before the wheels are turned. Use your brakes, not your gearbox to slow – brakes are easily replaced while gearboxes are not. The purpose of downshifting is to be in the proper gear when you reapply the power.
Braking should always precede a downshift. Double clutching is never necessary in a Porsche unless the gearbox is malfunctioning. You should be in the proper gear and at the correct speed to enter the corner. No further braking or shifting should be done once the turn is started. Your entry speed into the corner should be well below that at which you can negotiate the corner. With experience, this speed can be gradually increased.
Once the approach sequence is complete, turn the wheel so as to bring the car in to the apex. The apex is defined as a part of the track which is the innermost part of the radius of the turn. It is the point at which you are farthest into the corner, in other words, where you have the car furthest to the inside of the corner. At this point the entrance sequence is complete and you begin to exit the turn.
Your instructor should point out the apexes. Have him explain the relative merits of an early or late apex once you see what they are. In general, an early apex is good for an expanding radius corner or where you are going to set up for an immediate successive corner turning in the same direction. It has a big disadvantage in that you will more quickly run out of road in the exit phase – it is therefore more dangerous.
Late apex corners are good for tight hairpins and corners where you will immediately set up for a corner in the opposite direction. Late apexes will bring you out in the middle of the road and are therefore much safer. If in doubt, given a choice, use the late apex.
Once the wheel is turned to bring the car to the apex, the slip angle of the tires is established, as is the theoretical maximum speed at which the car can negotiate this segment. If you are near the maximum speed any further turning of the wheel to the apex or power increase will result in under-steer, or push, since it will be increasing the slip angle of the front tires. Any sudden decrease in power will result, especially in a Porsche, in over-steer, or loose.
Over-steer is the tendency for the rear end to want to swing out – this is a characteristic of rear engine cars. It is very important, especially in rear engine Porsches, to never lift your foot off the gas when cornering. A sudden decrease in power to the rear wheels and its resulting over-steer will send you sliding or spinning off the track.
It is better to keep an even throttle to the apex even if your speed is a bit too high. You will be able to correct with your steering wheel. Your corner will be sloppy and slow but you will survive. If you find that you really goofed and cannot make it around the corner it is better to drive off the course with wheels straight and car under control than fight it to the point of spinning.
For those of you who have ignored all the previous information and find yourself violently spinning, the only recourse is to lock up all the wheels with the brakes and depress the clutch. “If you spin, both feet in!”. Do not try to save it with the steering; just hold what you have until you come to a complete stop. Then take a deep breath and carefully proceed to the pits and have a discussion with the Chief Track Instructor (CTI) while your car is being checked.
The first part of the corner is tighter than the second half and is therefore taken at a slower speed. The second half has a larger radius that allows you to straighten out the wheel and accelerate through the exit. This results in a smaller slip angle and a higher possible speed. If the approach and entry to the apex are correct the exit will be easy, fun and fast.
The total procedure can be summed up very simply and should be committed to memory: 1. Concentrate 2. Brake and downshift in a straight line 3. Turn the wheel using even throttle (turn-in) 4. Hit the Apex 5. Accelerate out using the entire road (track-out) Go slowly enough so you can be smooth. With smoothness and consistency speed will automatically follow. If you insist on flogging your car around the track at the beginning you will find yourself doing the same thing at the end. The only difference being that you will be waving everyone else by. Come prepared to learn and have fun, and remember, SAFETY – COURTESY – SPEED