I'm sure you have heard — and maybe even been taught — that driving with a focus on being slow into the turn and fast out is the quickest way around a corner. It is one of the most common phrases muttered by instructors worldwide, and yet despite this superlative fact, I am going to tell you why it's wrong.
OK. It isn't entirely wrong. The theory is sound and for most amateurs it is the easiest way to learn without over-stepping the mark. But the fact is it is also the easiest method to teach. It is far harder to teach an amateur driver how to release the brake efficiently and roll additional speed into the bend, but still maintain the same solid exit speed. Just because it is the easiest, simplest method to instruct, doesn't mean we should believe it to be gospel. Because it isn't.
New drivers should exercise the "slow in, fast out" technique when they are getting started. Focusing on a good exit is key to building the foundation to becoming a faster driver. But as you improve you need to go beyond this method, and ignore the "slow in" portion. There is, in fact, no reason why you cannot be both "fast in" and "fast out."
Of course, being slow into the turn is relative. There are some truly fast drivers out there that, while it might seem to the amateur eye that they are driving unbelievably hard into the turn, are actually giving up just a touch on entry compared to other pro drivers. But they usually have a slightly better exit. Having that exit is great, but these drivers are typically middle-of-the-pack guys. By all standards brilliant drivers, but not quite at the pinnacle of their sport. So why is that?
It is because the best of the best have developed a way to maximize both entry and exit speeds. They brake at the same point, but as they approach the spot where they must begin to turn in they start reducing brake pressure far more rapidly, to roll more speed to apex. At lower speeds the time gains can be quite substantial (more so than at high speed), perhaps in the region of a tenth of a second or so (depending on the type of bend).
While it is true that the slower in, faster out driver may gain back around five to eight of those hundredths with their stronger exit, the driver who can roll the speed in still ends up with a few hundredths net gain. While that might not seem like much, add that up over a 14-turn racetrack and you can find yourself losing a few tenths very quickly.
Rolling speed like this also helps the balance of the car. Because when we release the brake we effectively flatten out our machine's platform, meaning the front and rear wheels have a far more equal weight distribution. So there is more load on the back of the car and therefore more rear grip, which enables you to carry more speed in.
Now the flatter platform may make it tougher to rotate the car mid-corner, because we do not have as much weight on the nose as we once did. So if we can adjust our car's setup, we may be able to run it a little looser because our driving style allows for more rear grip on entry. If you cannot change your setup then you can still release the brake to roll speed in, but maintain a few percent of brake pressure right down to apex to manipulate the front to bite and aid in rotation.
I have been privy to many data sets and been teammates with some of the top drivers in the world — such as Lewis Hamilton, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Will Power and others. What is common among all of them is the philosophy of using a slightly earlier turn-in, releasing the brake and rolling a lot of speed to apex. I have also driven with drivers who concentrate on corner exit and do not focus as much on rolling speed into the turn. Despite some of these drivers being very quick, they can never quite match the top guys, especially when on new tires (the extra grip is more readily available if you can take advantage of it on entry).
There is little doubt that the "slow in, fast out" technique is a starting point to build upon. It is a step up the ladder to truly becoming elite. A vital step to master, no doubt, but don't think it is the golden key. It is now down to you to push on and go beyond the typical instruction.
Amateur racers generally work on being "slow in, fast out." But the pros, well, they're "fast in, fast out." Because, after all, who the hell said we have to go slow, anyway?
About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.
Photo Credit: KTM