There is something lovely that, sadly, most racecars lack. It's called an emergency brake and mastering the use of it will make you a master driver. Here's how to do it. And as an added bonus, here's what happens when you put a NASCAR driver in a rally car.
I'm a NASCAR driver and I've been paid to drive racecars since I was 18 years old, which includes numerous racecars ranging from Formula cars to USAC Midgets and stockcars, I've even raced on dirt.
Therefore, I believed that there is nothing in a car I had not done or could not do. Well, I was wrong. There's one thing that none of the above race cars ever offered me a chance to do and its using something that, sadly, most road cars are slowly losing as our cars get more and more automated. It's a beautiful hand-sized lever that might be a plastic mold in a cheaper car or a beautiful leather-wrapped and stitched perfection in an expensive one. This intrinsic lever is known as the Emergency brake or E-Brake for short.
The E-Brake is to the car guy what the triple-layered chocolate cake covered in ice cream is to the 21-year-old college sorority girl with societally reinforced body issues. It's our guilty pleasure, only used when we can find that empty parking lot devoid of cops, or stupidly in front of girls thinking a tire screeching, smoke-shrouded halt is going to make their clothes fall off. A word to the wise, it doesn't. She's far more interested in the cake, because she can only take so many skinny lattes, skinny popcorns, and stupid boys vying for her attention. (You want a girl? Buy her chocolate cake).
You will probably more likely end up wrapped around pole, or slamming into the girl with your car, which is not the kind of slamming you were probably... oh nevermind.
Now back to the instruction! I was recently in the Isle Of Man, covering a Subaru attempt at a world record, with three time British Rally Champion, Mark Higgins. So when he wasn't putting a Subaru through its paces, he was at a large airport, instructing journalists how to do a E-brake turn.
Well, I am not a journalist, so on this windy and cold day I walked up confidently thinking: "I got this. Hey Mark-who-ever-you-are, I am Parker Fucking Kligerman, and I raced in the Daytona 500. Hold my $1.25 water bottle (I would love to say Beer here, but that would be a terrible message) and watch this!"
Oh, watch he did, as I finally got strapped in to this lightly modified Subaru BRZ. He started to give instruction on where to go and I was like: Yea yea... yawn…It's a freaking road car. Shut up and let me drive!
So off I went!
No sooner than we were off that I started to realize I've never really had someone sit beside me in a car trying and tell me what to do. This annoyed me. I wasn't focused, I was overdriving, and I was looking like a massive cocky idiot.
All this led to my first attempt at the E-Brake turn, calling on all my years of trying this is in numerous race teams rental cars (shhhh!) I downshifted from 4th into 3rd, then 2nd, pushed in the clutch thinking I was just going to whip around this corner designed by putting one cone in the middle of the track. Well, I didn't. I spun out. Oh the embarrassment! Then came the sudden realization that while I can whip a NASCAR stocker over 200 mph around an oval I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. Suddenly, there was what I was referring to as the 3rd element in my driving as I no longer had just a steering wheel and pedals, I had a lever to use!
Humbled, I turned to my instructor.
OK, Mark! Explain what I did wrong, almighty god of the hand brake turn.
The verdict: "You're pushing the clutch in too early, needed to continue doing normal downshifting all the way to 1st gear, then at the last point you push in the clutch and pull the E-Brake."
Fine Mr. Know-it-all Higgins, I will do that.
Next attempt, I headed down to the corner same sequence but this time was different! I made it to the exit point in a controlled drift but I countersteered the wheel, as I learned rally drivers don't like using the wheel (They do a tremendous amount of controlling the car purely with the pedals. It was truly fascinating.)
I then didn't get the clutch out and power down soon enough and therefore didn't control the slide. Mr. Higgins, then explained the "don't countersteer" thing and soon I was on to attempt three (3 for Dale).
Well third time is indeed the charm, as I downshifted from 4th to 3rd to 2nd to 1st and put in the clutch, pulled the E-brake, didn't countersteer and let the E-brake steer the car around, as I let the clutch out applied the throttle and boom I NAILED IT! Please hold your applause as I got a real excited remark from the almighty E-brake driving coach himself: "Finally."
Well, my talent finally reared its most cocky self unto the controls of this unsuspecting Subaru BRZ. I could do an E-Brake turn.
So I had done it, I could now E-Brake turn. As a last gift Subaru allowed us the chance to drive a Subaru Group-N rally car. Now we are talking! A racecar! Behind the wheels of a race car I usually feel more comfortable then on my own two feet.
This will be fun I thought... that is until it was my turn and the damn throttle-positioning sensor kept failing from the "level of commitment" in my driving.
Therefore it was plan B which, to my horror, was a right-hand-drive rally car. Not quite to the same spec as the group-N car but a rally car none the less. The problem? I have never even seen a right hand drive car in my life. I got a run down from the parking lot and back to "learn" how to shift with my left hand. I turned to Mark and said I've never even seen one of these (like most NASCAR drivers, we weren't even aware there was a Dover in England). He gave me a worried looks and blurted out "really?"
Whatever. It has wheels, I'll figure out! As we lined up for my flying lap on this rally course set up of cones on a half racetrack, half airplane runway I dropped the clutch and set off.
Too my surprise it was EASY, my tepidness showed, as I was hesitant with my shifts and a little off line being on the right side of the car for the first time. Nevertheless, I struggled with the gearbox from 3rd to 2nd gear so we developed a system wherein my friend in the right side would reach over and put it the gear for me when I yelled 'CLUTCHED.'
It was TRUE co-driving. Honestly, I wish there was video as it was spectacular.
I did my lap and when it was all said and done, I realized…Shit! I didn't use the handbrake!
Well so much for all that training...