Someone asked this question in an on-line critique of various run videos from our latest event: Not being the expert you guys are, I enjoy the critiques. What I notice is that I and others will start a turn, hold it for a while and then just as we [get] to the cone we give the wheel an extra twist to get around the cone and on the line we want. Or am I just seeing good technique?
While we all make mistakes, and we all have to make corrections (for instance, the level of grip is not necessarily constant in even a single turning element) Steve Brollier (multi-time national champ) taught in our autocross school last year that we should strive to turn once for each slalom cone, for instance, and once for each offset cone. I think this applies, in general, to all turns.
As someone pointed out in my video (which can be seen here TAC/TVR#3 Run video) at 1:07 in the final turn to the finish I make a preliminary turn and then the “real” turn. As a result, I have to turn sharper, which means slower, and I lost time there.
The “extra twist” being talked about may be a valid technique in certain situations. I’ve always called it taking advantage of the ability to dynamically shock the tires and get a little extra out of them. There aren’t many places where you can use it, however. If you’re doing it at every corner, it’s probably covering up a basic fault. You’re probably cornering too much under the limit over a large portion of the turn and only at (or above) the limit in the final phase. You may be turning too early and too slow, rather than turning later but with greater steering wheel speed.
I remember doing a lot of the “extra twist” technique when I was new. I think it may be caused by the lack of confidence in turning hard at higher speeds. We get comfortable with turning hard a low speeds first, so that’s where we do it. As our level increases we get more comfortable with quickly getting to the cornering limit at higher and higher speeds. Turning the steering wheel as fast as conditions allow reduces the transition time from one turn to the next, or from going straight to turning in, which has a direct effect on the speed you can carry, how late you can brake and ultimately elapsed time on course.
I think the process of “getting fast” is 1) learning how to evaluate the proper line to take, for your particular car and driving style, 2) developing the car control skills necessary to make certain maneuvers and be able drive the line you’ve decided to take, which again is highly dependent upon the type of car, and 3) gradually reducing the number and severity of mistakes, which implies that you have gained the knowledge of what constitutes a mistake. Making multiple inputs in what should be a single, smooth arc is definitely a mistake, but doesn’t by itself mean you won’t be “fast” in relation to someone else just because you’re not perfect. A lot depends upon the magnitude of the “mistake.” It does mean you have room for improvement. (I’m discounting the often-rapid corrections you have to make to keep a car on the limit of adhesion.)
Earlier this year I got to sit in on a video critique session with a group of accomplished autocrossers. One of the top drivers on the national circuit (another multi-time national champion) was watching his own video from the course we’d all run that day. The level and completeness of the critique he gave himself was impressive. “Oh, I got late there,” he says at one point, and I’m looking at it thinking the error was so incredibly slight that I would have never noticed it. Upon first view I would have said it was a flawless run. Only after repeated viewings could I see what he saw.
There are levels and levels.