Project Racer: Back to the Track with NASA, Part Two


The Apex

Notice the red dots in the diagram. These points are called apexes. An apex is the point in the turn where your car is closest to the inside corner of a turn. Finding the apex takes practice, but as you become faster, the line, and the apex will begin to feel like second nature because you will find that the line is mostly the natural trajectory of the car as mentioned before.

Turn two’s apex is what is called a late apex, and in some situations you will have to double apex, such as in turn four. If you notice, how you apex determines how your car is set up for the next turn; for example, when you late apex into turn five to hit a straightaway, you set yourself up in a straight line through turn six, up to turn seven.

NASA road racing
You don't always drive on the exact line. Some racers at turn 3, the car in front is slightly off line in a defensive blocking position which denies the other cars room to pass on the inside and the outside of the next turn.

One of west coasts’ Honda Challange master of race craft Tom Paule taught me that the most important turn on the track is the turn before the longest straightaway. Why is this? Because as momentum drivers, we thrive on straightaways to gain speed, so, to gain speed and perpetually become faster throughout the entire track, drivers must set themselves up perfectly through the turn in order to place themselves in the position that would optimally gain them the most speed. On Big Willow, that magic turn would be turn five.

nasa racing
 Sometimes you can't drive on the line because of a tight battle.


hard braking

Slow in, Fast out

Another very common phrase you’ll hear will be “slow in, fast out”. The misnomer is the idea that bombing into a turn, screeching tires, four wheel drifting, and 70% out of control is the fastest way around the turn. Sure it may FEEL fast, but all you’re doing is scrubbing off speed. Smooth, hard braking, while keeping your car in complete control is actually the fastest way around the turn, though it may not feel like it. Braking distance is discretionary, depending on the type of brakes and pads you have, the weight of your car, and so forth. Each car is different, so each time you come to a corner, choose a benchmark of where you want to brake, and slowly work your way towards shortening your braking distance.

The best example to start with would be turn one. I chose turn one because from the apex of nine all the way to turn one, you are bombing down the straightaway at around 130 mph, then diving into a 90 degree angled turn. Braking too soon into the turn causes you to lose momentum, where braking too late will cause you to spin out. Either way, you lose. Finding the perfect braking zone is important though this turn, since you’ll want to conserve as much speed as possible from the straightaway.

hard braking
Brake too hard or too late and you can flatspot your tires or even crash.


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