The School of Torque: Understanding cornering with TRACK & TARMAC
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Whether you’re driving on the race track or your favourite stretch of tarmac, understanding cornering is pivotal to speed – and safety.
There’s no confusing diagrams or pretentious how-to videos here. Just logical, straight-forward instructions that will improve your understanding of driving and make you a better driver.
Over the next few months TRACK & TARMAC will look at a variety of driving techniques essential to smooth, speedy driving; beginning with cornering.
You’ll hear a lot of people talk about ‘the racing line’, and in truth that is a big part of it. But there’s more to getting through a corner quickly that geometry alone.
There are a lot of physics at play in getting hundreds (sometimes thousands) of kilograms to change direction cleanly. In order, the braking point, turn-in point, the correct line and the exit point are as relevant to cornering as knowing the type of corner you’re facing.
The braking point
Let’s start by looking at your braking point – simply, the point before entering a corner at which you should apply the brakes.
It takes practice, but in the simplest possible terms you need to find the point nearest the corner that lets you to brake with as much force as the road’s grip allows. Yep, it’s the long way of saying brake late and hard.
When you’ve picked your braking point, brake purposefully, and where-ever possible, while your vehicle is still in a straight line. It’s also time to gear-down to the right ratio for driving out of the corner.
As the vehicle reaches the speed required to take the corner, release the brake pedal smoothly (we’ll talk about trail braking at a later date). By doing this you’re not only slowing the car to take the corner, but transitioning its weight over the wheels that help you steer.
The turn-in point
Once the nose of the car is settled over the front wheels, and the car is travelling at a comfortable speed to take the turn, you need to find a point to turn-in or commit to the corner.
Focus your view on the apex (or mid-point) of the corner so that you can determine exactly when and how sharp you need to turn. Then, make the turn in one progressive movement that allows you to hold the same steering angle throughout the turn.
By correctly judging your turn-in point you’ll sail through the corner in text-book fashion without needing to correct your steering input as you go.
Remember: If you turn in too early, you’ll lose exit speed. Turn in too late and you’ll need to take action to correct the car, which usually means applying more brake.
The correct line
By this point you’ll feel the corner coming together. You’ve settled the nose, you’re aiming for the apex, and everything is proceeding as planned.
As you ‘hit’ the apex – the point of the corner where the wheels of the are at their closest point to the edge of the tarmac – its time to shift your vision out of the turn and get back on the throttle.
Of course there are a lot of variables at play here. Not every corner has a single apex, and not every bend can be seen through. But for the sake of the lesson it’s important you understand the basics. We’ll talk about slow corners, fast corners, opening and closing radii and camber at a later date.
The exit point
As you pass the apex of the corner you need to look toward where the car will exit the corner.
Feed on the throttle gradually (remembering that the weight of the vehicle will now transition rearward), and open the steering so that the car pushes wider toward the outside of your lane, or the opposite side of the racetrack, from the apex.
As you reach this point, and the steering wheels are straight again, you can accelerate fully and begin looking for your next braking point.
The instructions here are meant as a guide only. A lot of dynamics are at play when cornering a car and much will depend on the type of car you drive, the tyres fitted, your suspension setup, and the type of road you drive on!
As the School of Torque gets more involved, so too will the depth of instruction we provide. We’ll talk about driving position, outward vision, gear and pedal control, steering input and brake modulation.
They’re little things most of us do naturally every day. But taking a moment to read through the notes above and consciously consider them next time you’re at the wheel will help you to better understand the art of driving.