Today every top-level rally car comes with a handbrake to help turn into a corner. Back in the day, drivers had to rely on momentum. Here's how they did the 'pendulum turn.'
It's very much a 'you gotta turn left to go right' sort of situation. The basic principle (first figured out by Scandinavian drivers who took over the rally scene in the '60s and '70s) is to get the weight and momentum built up on the wrong side of the car, then snap all of that potential energy the right way around a tight turn.
Check out this vintage clip dug up by the great Axis of Oversteer for a video demo.
As you can see, the Opel Kadett and Lancia Stratos drivers approach this sharp right hairpin already turned to the left. They then flick back over to the right, and the car swings around like a pendulum. All they have to do is countersteer through the ensuing slide and they're fine.
Back when I spent a day at rally school we learned this technique in a front-drive Fiesta and I found out that the principle of a pendulum turn might be simple, but actually processing it in the moment is insane.
What it all came down to was braking. Braking with your left foot is really what holds all that momentum at bay until the exact moment you plan on releasing it for the turn. Here's what I wrote back in 2013.
As I'm getting a hang of sliding the car, it's time for the Scandinavian flick - the pendulum turn - the holy grail of car control. Car people speak about the Scandi flick in hushed tones. The basic idea is to use the weight of the car in your favor: you throw the car in the opposite direction than you want to go, then flick back and the weight of the car slews you into a big slide. The instructors explain that to make our left hand turn we will have to:
- lift off the gas
- turn as hard as you can to the right
- lightly get on the brakes with the left foot
- turn as hard as you can to the left
- get off the brake
- get back on the gas
This is all supposed to happen in a split second. On Team O'Neil's multi-day programs, students get a whole day on the Scandi flick. [...] It turns out, if you stop thinking, it's not the hardest thing in the world to do. You just have to be totally committed to doing absolutely everything wrong in the car. Absolutely every part of the maneuver is counter intuitive. Only on the last run do I manage to get it right, letting the car swing all the way out before getting back on the gas and the little Fiesta pulls itself out of the slide.
It looks like these rear-drive old rally cars use a bit more throttle than you need in a modern front-driver, but the principle of using the car's weight to your advantage is the same.
And all that will ever get you as good as these drivers is practice. How you'll figure out to do that without crashing your car or getting arrested is maybe the even tougher question.
(Hat tip to Axis of Oversteer!)