Watching the Malaysian GP, it was interesting to see the different lines taken by drivers in the wet in search of grip. Normally, there’s only one ideal line through a corner, although in some places (typically where there’s an S-bend) opinions can differ.
I was reminded of this the other day, driving along a country road, when I committed a cardinal sin: ALAA, better known in non-acronym land as Adding Lock After Apex. Essentially what this means is that while taking what I thought was a nice smooth line round a corner, I found the exit was a little tighter than I had thought and I had to add more lock at a time when I wanted to be getting back on the power at the exit.
I’m not talking about when you apply power too quickly and the car develops oversteer as the rear wheels lose grip, and you need to correct a slide – that’s a different issue. No, this all boils down to working out whether the line you’ve chosen is any good.
I discovered the concept at Thruxton when I was taking my ARDS test to get my racing licence. You might, as I did then, think you’re a pretty good driver having a) driven on a track a few times and b) completed a single-seater course but, when you sit next to people who really know what they’re doing, it can be quite humbling. Particularly at the point when you’re motoring round a long curve at over 100mph in a touring car and the instructor grabs the wheel, turns it what feels like a considerable amount and says “You need to be much closer to the kerb…”
But you can try it on the road. Honest. It’s particularly useful on long corners (short corners are easier to judge), but the theory holds in slow corners too. You probably don’t have any corners on your way to work like the 180 degree bend at Magny-Cours that follows the fast Nürburgring chicane – but quite often a long curving entrance from a motorway slip road can be used to good effect. If it’s a normal public road it’s a question of choosing your turn in point (with the car positioned as close as possible to the kerb, if it’s a right-hander in the UK) clipping the apex (touching the white line) and then only reducing lock as you move back to the kerb. If you need to add more lock on the exit, then you simply turned in too early. It might be worth experimenting by exaggerating the steering movements (keeping within the traffic laws of course!) to see what effect it has.
The theory is quite simple: if you add lock after you’ve touched the apex of the corner then the tyres aren’t working on getting the power down – they’re still working on turning the car, something which will scrub off speed that you’ll never recover on the straight that follows.
You can also experiment with the “slow in, fast out” approach, allowing a much sharper turn in to the corner but a very smooth exit, in effect reducing lock just before you get to the apex, again allowing an earlier application of power. If you’re doing this on the road I’d recommend staying in the highest gear possible as this exaggerates the effect – if you change down to second you’ll regain the speed in an instant.
So, next time you’re driving round a long corner and pretending to be Jenson Button (or Steve McQueen if you’ve just watched Le Mans), just see whether you have a slight tendency to add just a little more lock on the exit of the corner. If not, all is good, and you can set about outbraking Sebastien Vettel into the next roundabout. Or is that just me?
Editor’s note: Please remember to drive carefully on normal roads folks, Badger isn’t responsible for any accidents or injury caused from trying to be a racing driver on public roads…