If you can morph into the chameleon of racecar drivers, chances are you will be successful in whatever you decide to drive. And that's good, because as Ricky Bobby said, "if you ain't first, you're last." The obvious question is how your driving should differ based on the car's configuration. Honestly, it's simple stuff.
Every car has different tendencies and every car requires a slightly different driving style. As a driver, adaptation is the key to success.
To figure out what to do, we first must understand what happens during the corner. Take a front-wheel-drive car, for example. In many of my column entries we have discussed that when you apply power, the rear squats. Therefore, the front tires become light, with the cars' weight distribution piling to the rear. On any car this is the perfect recipe to create understeer. But on an FWD car, those light, unloaded front tires are attempting to deliver the power and accelerate us out of the turn, and the tendency will be to have very poor traction, which will make the understeer even worse. Long story short, most FWD cars will have terminal push.
So we need to adjust our driving to minimize our inherent issue. We therefore dive bomb the apex, turning in a fraction earlier than normal and use a massive amount of trail braking to keep the front end down and with grip for as long as possible. Our mid corner goal should be to sacrifice a touch of rolling speed in the name of pivoting the car quickly around its axis. By doing this we straighten out the exit and limit the amount of time we have on power while still turning. We must be extra patient waiting on the throttle until the car is rotated sufficiently to allow us an aggressive power application, without inducing unnecessary understeer.
An all-wheel-drive car will behave similar to a FWD machine, in terms of the car will likely want to understeer. The main difference will be that it will not be quite as susceptible to the vicious power-down-push that you experience with a FWD. Take the Nissan GT-R, for example. Amazing handling car, no doubt, but the AWD produces a lot of mid corner understeer, especially in the tighter turns. The difference is the power down does not drastically increase the push. In fact the rear has a tendency to break loose. This is likely because of the increased steering lock mid turn, due to the understeer, and when the front does eventually grip up, the vast amount of lock hooks the front, causing the rear to snap.
RWD machines are far easier to deal with. For the simple reason that you can actually use the throttle to help you turn, because all the power is directly connected to the rear axle. So if we apply power, the rear tires lose a touch of traction and slide, helping us rotate the car mid corner. With this ability it means we can concentrate on releasing the brake early on entry and rolling a lot of speed through apex (this will be with almost no pedals whatsoever). The reason we can do this and gain a lot of speed on entry and mid corner is because we do not need to focus as much on rotating the car, as power will actually help us now, not hurt us. Of course, don't completely neglect rotation. The laws of physics still apply and when we apply power the weight will still shift back leaving the front tires light. But as I said, the throttle can now help compensate for this.
Another thing to bear in mind is whether your car is low, or high, on horsepower. If you have a car like a Miata or Subaru BRZ, where the power is relatively low compared to its handling performance, you must focus on maintaining momentum through the turn. Simply, the car does not have enough power to turn on its axis and go. So we must focus on rolling speed into and through the corner so we don't rely as much on acceleration out of the turn. If you are in a high-powered, lower grip car then we must do the opposite. Our key advantage is our high power, so focus on that. Brake late, turn the car aggressively and quickly and get back to power early and hard. We lose a touch of time mid corner but maximize our entry and exit, knowing our car can pull that lower mid corner speed due to its big engine.
An example of this is the driving styles between an IndyCar and a Grand-Am sports car. Yes, IndyCar has high horsepower but it has a massive amount of grip, too. In fact, the power-to-grip ratio is stacked more heavily on the side of grip. So we maximize our mid corner speed and keep up our momentum. The Grand-Am car is low grip in relation to its power. So we are aggressive and focus on turning the car and relying on its big V8 to overcome its grip deficiency.
Everything in racing is logic. The theory is simple and easy to accomplish if you have a good feel for what is happening with your car. Focus on your car's strengths and limit its weaknesses. Be prepared to change your driving style. Most amateur racers do not have the ability to change much on their car's setup, which can mean only one thing: YOU must change.
Jean Girard said, "The matador shall dance with the blind shoemaker." Adapt to become the matador. Don't, and you will end up as the shoemaker.
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.