This guide is intended to help impart some of the key concepts required to begin learning how to drive safely on an enclosed track.
Driver Education Mission Statement
The Northeast Region of PCA (NER/PCA) is committed to providing a comprehensive program employing a safe learning environment in which our members may learn and experience both their own and their cars’ full potential for safe operation and car control on a track course. Driver Education (DE) is neither a race program nor any sort of race-preparatory program. There is no official timing at DE events.
DE not only provides sheer mental and physical exhilaration, but also enhances our members’ overall driving skills, resulting in their acquisition of improved, car-control skills. This, in turn, leads to safer operation both on and off the track. In fact, skills learned on the track are directly transferable to and enhance defensive, street operation.
The success of our program depends on consistent instruction and information for all participants and instructors in PCA/NER DE Events. Direct, concise, and consistent instruction cannot be over-emphasized. Keep checking our documents, as they are periodically revised.
Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the contents and terminology in this manual. These terms and core notions should be imparted to every student at all instruction meetings (drivers, novices, instructors, etc.) and during all in-car instruction sessions.
The DE Track Committee acknowledges and appreciates your continuing efforts to promote the enjoyment and safe learning experience at NER/PCA DE events.
Objectives for Beginning DE Participants
The NER/PCA DE program is designed to impart a solid foundation of knowledge to the student. The key notions taught form the basic, building blocks upon which all driving skills are developed. Students are taught safe-driving skills on an enclosed, track under an instructor’s supervision. At a minimum, students will be taught the following:
How to drive the proper line of the track;
How to utilize Turn-in, Apex, and Track-out cones as landmarks for navigation;
Proper braking, shifting, and cornering techniques;
Proper seating, grasping of steering wheel, use of mirrors, etc.;
Use of your vision (ocular driving), to look ahead, behind, etc.;
Passing zones and no-passing zones;
Proper use of passing signals and your responsibilities in both passing a car and being passed;
General vehicle dynamics and car control;
The numbers and names of corners and straights of the track;
How to pre-visualize driving a proper lap;
Motorsport park safety and corner-worker techniques and sponsibilities; and
How to have fun and learn while meeting some very nice people.
The Proper Line of the Track
The safest and most efficient way around a track is known as “the line.” It is also the shortest way around the course and uses the entire course surface from one side to the other. It is vital to know where to place the car on the line so each turn can be consistently driven safely and smoothly.
Figure A shows the correct line around the course. Following this line through corners permits safe, late-apex turns while minimizing the distance travelled from turn entry (Turn-in) to exit (Track-out). The radius of the turn is increased which promotes a sweeping arc through turns. This basic technique should be used all the way around the course.
Figure B shows the incorrect line around the same corner. It cannot be taken safely since the radius is reduced and results in a sharper turn instead of a sweeping arc. This line does not use the entire surface available.
The turn-in, apex, and track-out cones are key elements in the learning process which help you master proper cornering technique. Once these skills are mastered, you should be able to find the proper line around any course in two or three laps without the need for markers. Knowing “the line” and driving it properly every lap is the key to safe, smooth driving both on the track and public streets and highways.
Basic Notions of Track Driving
Acceleration, Braking, & Cornering, the three basic elements of driving.
A vehicle has only 100% capability. If you are using 100% of its capability for braking, you have 0% left over for either acceleration or cornering; if you are using 80% of its capability for cornering, you only have 20% left for acceleration and 0% for braking or 20% left for braking and 0% for acceleration.
Steering Wheel Position
Hands should be at 9 and 3 o’clock and in contact with the wheel at all times (except when shifting).
Turn-in, Apex, Track-out Points
Use turn-in cone as a reference to begin turn, the apex cone marks where the car should be at the mid-point in the turn, and the track-out cone as the target as you unwind the turn.
Braking and Shifting
All braking and downshifting must be done in a straight line. All braking should be finished be-fore a turn is initiated. Upshifting should be done after exiting turns with the wheels straight.
Never lift off the throttle while in a turn; use maintenance throttle, or smoothly increase the throttle through the turn.
Use of Steering Wheel
Use smooth, firm motions to minimize wasted use of the wheel.
Use brakes to slow down; do not use the transmission to slow the car. Make all transitions smoothly When moving from throttle to brake, brake to throttle, entry to, or exit from a corner, all actions should be smooth and decisive. Avoid any actions that could possibly unsettle the car.
Either be on the throttle (even maintenance throttle) or on the brake — never coast!
Proper Cornering Sequence
Safe cornering requires a conscious and repeatable sequence of driver actions to properly enter and exit turns. This sequence must be smooth and flowing and requires regular practice to make it a habit. The sequence is as follows, assuming turn entry from a straight section of the course:
While driving in a straight line and looking ahead, smoothly lift off the throttle.
Smoothly and progressively apply the brakes in a straight line. Not all turns require use of the brakes.
Using heel-toe technique, downshift to the appropriate gear to maintain torque to provide for acceleration out of the turn. Not all turns require downshifting.
Off the Brake
While looking ahead to the apex and beyond, smoothly release the brakes when you’re ready to turn in.
Quick Breath & Turn-In
Take a quick breath before turning in. Practice ocular driving. Never look where you are. Always look ahead to the next point by physically turning your head. Slowly and smoothly turn the wheel to initiate the turn. Let your hands follow the eyes and use progressive steering.
After initiating the turn, smoothly apply maintenance throttle, then progressively increase the throttle as you pass the apex and begin to track out to the track-out point.
As you pass the apex, smoothly and progressively open the steering wheel. Let the car unwind to the track-out point. This is not always needed. Your instructor will explain when and how.
Talk Yourself Around the Course
An excellent way to learn a track at any point in your driving career is to talk yourself through the course. This is also a good technique when you haven’t driven a session as well as you might. For a corner, for example, think and visualize the following:
Lift off the throttle.
On the brake.
Off the brake.
Quick breath & turn in.
On the throttle.
At the end of the run group, as you slowly and safely turn to the paddock, review the session with your instructor. Identify areas and skills with which you feel comfortable as well as turns and skills you need to improve.
Be absolutely sure you have the course memorized turn by turn, in order.
Use the course map to relive the session and talk yourself through each turn over and over. Lift, brake, downshift, off the brake, breath and turn in, on the throttle, track out. Visualize every turn in order and include any improvements needed. Visualize and memorize one perfect lap after another. Recognize mistakes but do not dwell on them. Always end by visualizing a perfect lap.
Flagging is an important part of safety and communication on the track. To that end, all drivers, from beginners to most advanced, should study the Flags document and know what each flag means. Any variances will be addressed in the Drivers’ Meeting each morning at NER DE events.
While NER has pro flaggers, a number of regions do not. Participants are asked to do a stint as a flagger as their work assignment. It is even more important to know the flags, therefore, as your fellow participants’ safety depends upon everyone knowing the meanings of all the flags and reacting quickly while flagging.
All drivers on their first lap should make sure they know where all the flaggers are.
Print out and study the flags and their descriptions.
All the above information can be intimidating at times, but if you learn and adhere to the basic principles of safe DE, you will have a lot of fun. Witness all the participants who return to the track time after time.
This document was originally written by Douglas W. Adams & Russell Castagna, former members of the NER Track Committee. It was revised in 2004 by Track Committee members Arnie Zann, Bruce Hauben, and Margo Pinkerton.