“Okay driver, focus on nailing your brake point into turn 5. Remember to trail-brake turning in toward apex, and then as you accelerate, allow the car’s momentum to naturally carry you toward track out at corner exit.”
No matter if you’re a first-timer, developing track day novice, or experienced runner, getting the most out of a track day requires a command of the unique high performance driving terminology. Common driving vocabulary won’t cut it; driving on track involves very different instructions and concepts.
First-time track day participants will likely be briefed on these concepts by their instructor, but to be ahead of the game, we suggest you go into the track day armed with the necessary knowledge so you’re already conversational.
Enter as many of these into your lexicon as possible to maximize driver development, fun, and safety. Not to mention, you’ll still rely on this terminology someday when you’re discussing car setup and behavior with your race engineers.
The apex of a corner is the point where the vehicle’s inside wheels come closest to the inside of the track. Sometimes at apex, the inside wheel(s) actually “clip,” or make contact with the corner’s curbing, but not always.
Apex points vary according to the type of turn, radius, speed, elevations, and other factors. Hitting the correct apex point allows for both maximum speed through the turn, as well as proper vehicle positioning, angle, and acceleration during corner exit.
The apex point is not always simply the very middle of the corner, as is sometimes assumed. Missing apex results in less than optimum speed and vehicle behavior/balance. If apex is missed early, for example, the car will be prone to understeer, the driver may have to slow to stay on track at corner exit, average cornering speed is decreased, and acceleration out of the corner is delayed.
A solid line that indicates where cars exiting the pits can rejoin the track. Think of the blend line as a single vehicle lane exiting the pits. When the line terminates, cars are free to rejoin the track provided it’s clear to merge.
Observing the blend line at pit lane exit is absolutely critical to maintaining track safety.
The point at which brakes are first applied and speed scrubbed in preparation for a corner.
On track, the braking technique is the opposite of what’s practiced on the street – when approaching a stoplight the brakes are applied gradually, and with increasing force as the stop approaches. In most instances on track, the brakes are applied forcefully at first, and then gradually released through the braking zone as the corner approaches.
The phase of cornering that occurs after braking and pre-apex.
The point at which a driver first gives steering input into a corner.
The act of recovering from oversteer (slide). The driver gives steering wheel input toward the direction of the slide. Also called counter-steering or opposite lock.
In most instances, the need is not to go from 100% throttle to 0%, which can upset the balance of the car, but rather to smoothly reduce power by 25%, 50%, or whatever the circumstances dictate.
Breathing the throttle is customary to permit a faster car to pass, but can also be a corner preparation technique when slight downward speed adjustment is required. Breathing the throttle smoothly slows and balances the car in preparation for the corner.
Downshifting is necessary in preparation for most corners on track. If you’re on track with a good old manual transmission (#savethemanuals), then you’ll need to do the downshifting work yourself.
During downshifting, the engine speed (rpm) must be adjusted to match the road speed. The engine must be revved (“blipped”) so the engine speed and vehicle speed are in sync when the lower gear is selected. (Example: If 80 mph in fourth gear is 4,000 rpm, 80 mph in third gear might be 5,500-6,000 rpm.)
Heel and toe downshifting is required when downshifting occurs during the braking phase as you’re approaching a corner.
It’s highly recommended that downshifting techniques be safely learned and practiced before a track day. Developing the basic coordination and timing in advance will be a massive learning advantage, and allow you to focus on more important aspects of track driving like brake points and corner entry.
Keeping constant and steady pressure on the throttle through a turn. Often used to keep a desired speed and the car settled through a corner, or series of corners.
Occurs when the rear tires exceed the lateral traction limitation during cornering, and the back end of the car begins to slide or step out. Oversteer can occur during corner entry, mid-corner, and on corner exit. Some slip angle/oversteer can be advantageous mid-corner to permit the car to rotate, and also on corner exit. It’s also called “power oversteer.”
Tire insights: Other than a good old-fashioned burnout, too much oversteer is a supremely effective way to annihilate your rear tires. Oversteer looks good on YouTube and in photos, but it’s not the fastest way through a corner. Learning to utilize small amounts of oversteer and slip angle is key to going fast. Excessive oversteer and counter-steering through the corners will slow you down, and have you calling on us for new tires sooner than later.
The absolute most efficient and fastest route around a racetrack. The racing line is the line/route/path around the racetrack that would be followed to optimize speed everywhere, and therefore lap time.
When track conditions are wet, the racing line shifts, particularly if the track is “rubbered in,” i.e. there’s a layer of tire rubber on the racing line.
A general rule is that the wet racing line is one car width off of the racing line. Staying on a rubbered in, standard racing line when conditions are wet is akin to driving on ice. Can be fun – if you’re into periodic loss of control – but never fast.
The part of the tire that’s in contact with the pavement at any given time. Track day enthusiasts often look to increase the tire contact patch with track tires.
Within reason, the widely accepted equation is: Expanded tire contact patch = greater grip = more speed.
Fixed reference points on and around the track that help the driver navigate. Everything from pavement irregularities, to trees and buildings around the perimeter of the track can serve as reference points to help the driver be in the right position on track at the right time. They can also be cues for a specific activity, e.g. a braking or turn in point. Be sure that reference points are of the fixed, stationary variety.
As the car corners, brakes, and accelerates, the weight or load of the vehicle is transferred accordingly. For example, in under-braking the front end and tires bear the most load pressure/force. In under acceleration, the rear end and tires bear the most load pressure/force. Around a left corner the right side (outside) tires will carry the highest load, and so on.
Tire insights: At a clockwise track, tires on the left side of the vehicle will typically experience a greater wear rate, and vice versa at a counter-clockwise track. Provided performance tires are non-directional, the right and left side tires can be rotated intra-track day, or between track days to even out tire wear and extend overall tire life.
The point at which throttle is re-applied during cornering, and as the car heads toward corner exit.
A general rule of thumb is you don’t want to reapply throttle during cornering until you can stay on the throttle, i.e. no alternating between throttle and brake.
Varying the pressure on the throttle in an effort to both maximize speed and/or maintain vehicle control. Modulating the throttle is often necessary during oversteer recovery/correction, for example.
Positioning the car to the far side (outside) of the track on corner exit. If a corner is taken optimally and at maximum speed, then tracking out occurs naturally due to the speed and angle involved. Not using the entire width of the race track, especially during corner exit, is perhaps the most common novice driver error, and one of the first bad habits to overcome.
The racing line does not necessarily involve tracking out after every corner. For example, the driver would not track out if the setup for the next corner occurs immediately, and tracking out puts the car out of position for the pending turn-in point.
The act of maintaining some brake pressure (after the initial strong brake point) as the car is turned in toward apex. Trail-braking while giving steering input increases the vehicle’s turn in grip.
Trail-braking also permits more speed to be carried into the corner as compared to a cornering strategy where the car isn’t turned in until it has been slowed completely to corner apex speed.
Trail-braking is generally considered an advanced technique, and can upset the balance of the car if done improperly.
Occurs when the speed/momentum into a corner is too great, and front tire grip is insufficient to turn in at the intended angle. Instead of the front end gripping and turning in according to steering input, the car “pushes” through the turn. Understeer is almost always undesirable, and puts the car off the racing line.
Tire insights: While premature tire wear and degradation is most associated with burnouts and oversteer behavior, understeer is actually a primary cause of tire wreckage for novice track day participants. Unlike oversteer tire wear, understeer prematurely wears the front tires. Most road going performance cars have an inherent understeer balance. When pushed on track, the front tires – particularly the outer shoulders – become overstressed and tire degradation (sometimes destruction) is the result. If you aim to preserve your tires, be careful not to carry too much speed at corner entry (a common mistake), and/or push through understeer. If you sense the front tires are losing grip and may be overheating, relax your pace or your track day will be over sooner than later. Overheating tires develop a distinctive “greasy” feel and characteristic.
Driving on track is a never-ending learning process, and knowing the language is key. Store as many of these terms as possible in your memory bank to be able to converse with confidence, advance as a driver, and stay safe out on track.