Video Review: Finding Common Driver Mistakes - Part 1

In the previous article we talked about video systems for your race car and what to consider when purchasing. Now that you have a video system how do you use it to improve? Here we discuss some common driver mistakes that you can spot by reviewing your video and what to do about them.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Race Car Roll Bar Camera 5.JPG

Cockpit/Roll Bar Camera Video Review

The most common video system is the cockpit or roll bar video camera. This camera gives you a view of the track ahead and your steering wheel inputs. You can use this field of view to find lots of areas for improvement. If you notice the bad habits or tendencies below while reviewing your video, note them down and spend a dedicated session on them when you are next on track or using your simulator.

Not Using All the Track

One of the easiest tendency to spot is not using the full width of the track. By not using the outside edge of the track before turning into the apex, you reduce the corner radius and, therefore, maximum available corner speed. Now there are some corners that require you to compromise to set up for the next corner in a series of corners, like esses. If you notice yourself doing this and have trouble knowing where the edge of the track is, put a flag, pole or tall box up against the very edge of your tire. Make sure it's big enough to see from the seated position. Then jump in your car (optionally with your race gear on) and strap in. Look where the marker is and now you know the very edge of your car. Knowing is half the battle! Now you know just exactly where you can place your outer wheel. Bonus tip: At the track try mounting a camera on the outside edge of the car so you can see the wheel and it's placement on the track. You can also use this technique for the inside wheel to determine if you are clipping the apex correctly.

Kanga Motorsports Datsun 240z Camera External Camera Placement.JPG

Cheating the Corner

This issue goes by many names cheating the corner, creeping inside or crabbing. Drivers unconsciously get ahead of themselves and start small but noticeable steering inputs bringing the car away from the outside of the track as you approach the corner. You can see this in your video by watching you hands and steering inputs; a strip of tape on the center point of the steering wheel can help you spot the small steering angles. By creeping in, or crabbing, you are reducing the radius of the corner. You might think you can't take the corner any faster and wonder how your competitors have higher cornering speeds. A slightly bigger radius will allow you to be faster in the corner. Use a track session and consciously focus on your hands and make sure you are not creeping in from the track edge. It might take you time to break this bad habit but once you do it will eventually become subconscious. Then you can use your conscious focus to work on other aspects of your driving.

Jiggling the Wheel

Realizing or being aware that you cheat the corner can often cause another problem where you jiggle the steering wheel before corner entry. This occurs because you start to cheat the corner, realize it and then turn back to put the car on the outside. This jiggle unsettles the car at the worst point either under braking or just before turn-in. The effect is excessive weight transfer and therefore reduced cornering grip. To fix this new problem, focus on the cause of "cheating the corner" so you don't need the correction.

Gripping the Steering Wheel too Tight

Are your hands tired after driving or do you find yourself not being able to sense the car well through the steering wheel? Look at your video are you gripping the steering wheel tightly or increasing your grip as you enter the braking zone or begin cornering? White knuckling the steering wheel can result in a lack of steering feedback. Nerves and adrenalin often result in drivers gripping the wheel tightly. If you can't feel what the tires are doing, you might not be smooth with your inputs and can't make small corrections during braking and cornering. If you find yourself griping the wheel tightly, focus on your hands during testing and see if you can reduce your grip. If you think of no grip as a 0 and maximum grip as a 10 then you want to be in the 3 range a light grip to feel but still with command of the steering wheel. I often remind myself on the straights to relax my hands. You will see in some of my videos that I stretch and flex my hands. Of course the best solution is to have a lighter grip on the steering wheel always, so keep working on it. Another way is to use a trigger word or phrase such as "light hands" to consciously remind yourself to relax your hands. A light grip can easily be practiced on a simulator without taking away any precious track time.

Steering to the Apex

When amateur track day drivers or racers start out, the first thing they learn is "The Line."  Part of the line is learning the turn-in, apex and track-out points. What often ends up happening is the driver segments the corner into these three points and drives from one to the other by connecting the dots. The problem with this behavior is that instead of driving a smooth arc through the corner the driver will turn in and then steer the car to the apex or if they notice they are not going to clip the apex they will correct mid corner and add more steering angle in order to clip the apex. This segmented cornering means you are not driving the car at the maximum limit for the corner, which reduces your cornering and exit speed. Adding more steering angle either scrubs speed or prevents you from getting to maximum throttle earlier. 

Watch your videos and see if you are steering down to the apex. Sometimes you make corrections in the corner based on the car and its handling so watch multiple corners and laps to see if you have developed this bad habit. Fix the habit by spending some time visualizing the corners and smooth sweeping arcs. Often a driver is not looking far enough ahead on track and steering the car to points on the track. As you drive on track the next time remind yourself to look further ahead. Spend a whole session seeing how far down the track you can look. If you notice you are doing it in specific corners spend a test session targeting those corners and making them sweeping arcs. With time and focused practice you can break the bad habit and hopefully improve your corner and exit speed in the process.

Pinching the Exit

Look at your steering angle when you exit the turn. Do you let the wheel unwind? Or do you still have large steering angle input as you track-out to the edge of the racing surface. Often drivers are worried they are going to run off the track and so put extra steering angle into the wheel. This results in scrubbing the tires and reducing your corner exit speed. When a corner is done correctly you should be able to let the car flow out to the exit. If you find yourself having to apply extra steering angle into the car and/or not unwinding the wheel on exit you might be early apexing causing you to run out of track. Trying apexing a little later and focus on your corner exits. Make sure you are unwinding the wheel on corner exit. 

Jerking the Wheel

Watch your video during initial turn in, especially in the fast corners. Are you hands quick and jerky? Do you yank the wheel? Your initial turn-in should be smooth and gradual, particularly in fast corners. Jerking the wheel causes excessive load transfer to the outside wheels and reduces overall cornering grip. There are a couple of things to work on to solve this issue. Like "Steering to the Apex," make sure you are treating the corner as a continuous arc from turn in, through the apex and track-out. Practice being smooth with your steering inputs during test sessions or on the simulator. Visualization techniques can also help here for making sure your subconscious inputs are smooth. I like to use a trigger phrase such as "slow hands."

Example Video: Cockpit View

If you watch the video below you will see some of the bad habits mentioned above and myself working on some of the issue such as flexing my hands.

Continuous Video Review

Lots more can be learned from video review especially if you can combine it with data review. The issues above are easy to find once you know what you are looking for, justby watching carefully. Watch your videos for:

  • Steering right/left before corner entry
  • Increasing steering angle input on apex approach
  • Excessive steering angle on corner exit
  • Jerky hand movements
  • Tightly clenched hands

From time to time, go back and check you videos to make sure you haven't reintroduced these bad habits as you have worked on new aspects of your performance driving.

In the next article we discuss how to use a pedal camera to critique your footwork and resolve any issues.

Other Racer Tips

James Chartres

San Jose, CA