Different corners and different conditions may require fast hands or slow hands – but always smooth hands
Racing coaches will hammer on being smooth, to ease the car into doing what you want it to do so as not to upset the chassis – and being smooth on the steering wheel is a critical component of that. Sometimes those hand movements will need to be fast, sometimes slow. But, always, smooth.
“Smooth hands, no matter what,” says Tom Long, Mazda factory driver and driving coach. “You can have quick hands and still be smooth. And whenever dealing with high-speed corners, that’s where slow hands come in, which are smooth as well. The farther ahead your eyes are looking, the smoother your hands are going to be because they’re not reacting to information that’s invalid or late.”
Long was one of the judges at the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout held last December at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving facility within the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports complex just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. MazdaMotorsports.com used the occasion to pick his brain on the topic, along with a couple of his fellow judges, Andrew Carbonell and Oliver Askew.
The challenging Bondurant track provided good examples for the pro drivers to use to explain the concepts. The circuit’s first two turns are a 90-degree right-left combination that requires quick hand movements. The next significant turn is a long sweeper – a good example of a corner where slow hand movements are critical.
“Turn 1 is not nearly as important [as Turn 2],” explains Askew, the 2017 USF2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires champion. “The exit of Turn 2 leads onto a long straightaway, so it’s important to have a late, sharp turn into Turn 1 so you have a good angle to get through Turn 2. If you’re too slow on the entry into Turn 1, you’re not going to have the car pointed properly to get through Turn 2 and onto the throttle as soon as possible.”
Carbonell takes us into the next real turn on the track, Turn 4, the long sweeper: “That requires slow hands because it’s such a long-duration and late-apex corner,” he says. “If you’re going too fast with your hands, you’ll get down to the apex too soon. You have to slow down your hand speed so that by the time you’ve added the total input that you’re planning on adding, you’re also getting to the point in the corner that you’re looking for. If you’re too fast or too soon in your steering approach, now you’ve apexed too soon.”
“You also have to be smooth when you have fast hands – you can’t have fast hands and also snap the car loose. Load the tire, then continue to add steering input as the tire loads and the suspension loads. With a chicane, it’s a very fast transition of weight from one side to the other, and you have to be fast. You’ve got to be fast enough with your hands to kind of beat the weight to the tire. If the weight beats you, it kind of shocks the tire and you lose grip. If you’re too slow, you can mis-time the weight transfer.”
It’s not just the hands that need to be smooth, of course, even if that’s the primary topic of discussion here. The feet come into play as well.
“On some long corners, you have to be extremely smooth on the brake release – if you release too quick, the car is going to oversteer – and getting back to the throttle, to kind of set the weight on the rear of the car to maintain the slip angle,” says Askew. “I like to think about the connection between the wheel and brake and throttle as a pendulum – they’re all connected together and they all need to work in harmony.”
And that sounds like a topic for future discussion. In the meantime, consider where you might use fast hands, where you might use slow hands, and remember that whichever the situation requires, always be smooth.