What is the fastest way between point A and point B? Right! It is a straight line. What the straight line is for an airplane, is the perfect line for a racecar.
The perfect line describes the line, on which you should drive around a track.
Why is that necessary to know? Because it is faster.
Where can I find it? You find it through a try and error procedure.
But what are the rules? What defines the perfect line? The rules are very easy.
1. Drive in a straight line as long as possible. (The airplane example made that clear already)
2. Steer as little as necessary.
3. When a corner comes up, slow in, fast out.
4. Try to carry the speed with you. Keep the momentum.
Well, that doesn’t sound that hard to do. Where is the big deal?
The big deal? Well, the big deal is, that you need to adjust that line constantly due to a lot of different outside factors. But let’s go step by step. These are the things that may demand an alternation of your line.
- Difference between a dry track and a wet track. (There is the so called “wet line“, generally speaking you avoid turning in too much, using a wider corner radius.
- Tire management. (Sometimes the tire wear is faster then expected, demanding to change your line accordingly)
- Fighting against others. (Alternating the line in order to defend your position, or get another one. You need to close the inside of a corner, not allowing the oppenent to get the foot into the door.
- Dealing with traffic. (In race series with different classes, you may need to deal with traffic. If a faster car approaches or a slower car wants to get overtaken, you need to adjust your line accordingly)
Ok, ok. I see. So I find out which is the perfect line, but then need to constantly adjust that line accordingly. But where is the deal with having it anyways, if it changes so much?
Well, depending on the type of event and the length of a single lap, you might actually take a slightly different line in every lap you drive, but the perfect line will represent the line, where you want to be the closest too. The perfect line stands for the path of the least resistance. It saves fuel, brakes, reduces tire degradation and the load on each and every component of your car. Oh, and it is quicker and that’s what you want, right?
Interesting to hear, but come one man, I am not a race car driver. I just drive to work every day and once or twice a year to my holiday destination. Why do I even need to know that?
The thing is, driving is driving. No matter if you are on an actual race track, or on the way back home from the supermarket. The pressure and the goal may differ, but the physics stay the same. Imagine you have a tone of stuff stacked up in your rear trunk. What do you don’t want? You don’t want that stuff to fly around, causing some lethal damages in the milk section of your shopping basket. So what do you do? You drive slowly, right? Especially in corners. But have you ever tried to take the perfect line? Not with speed, of course, but you can take that line slowly as well. Actually, if you really care about the milk, or your trunk, then you will automatically take the perfect line. This will be the line, where your goodies don’t fly around so much. Why? Because it represents the way of the least resistance. Your milk will experience the least amount of lateral forces in case you are driving with the same speed through a roundabout or corner.
Therefore, the goal is not to actually figure out the perfect line and learn that by hearth, but actually to be able to feel the perfect line. You need to be able to feel when you are off line. It needs to hurt, deep inside you, the moment you are off line, wasting valuable cm’s at the apex, or the exit of a corner. I try to take the perfect line every time I am driving. You think that is not really feasible? Sorry, but you are wrong. It doesn’t matter if you have a 10 meter wide racetrack, or a normal road lane. You can position your car, even if we are speaking about 50 cm to the left or to the right. And there comes only advantages with that. You will save fuel, you will save tires, you will save brakes and take it easy on your car in general. Of course this doesn’t mean to drive fast, or even illegally fast, but this means to drive save and efficient.
Well, why are you still laughing? You do, because you are missing out on one particular lesson in life. I got that one from my music teacher back in the days. If you want to be quick, you need to practice it slowly, really slowly. At that time, I did not understand what he was talking about. I thought, what is this old man saying? If I want to be quicker, I just need to do that, right? Practicing it quicker and quicker. But actually, that is not how it is working. What you need to do, is practicing the process. Teaching your muscle memories. Therefore, practice something over-exaggerated slowly until you understand the process perfectly and then speed up the process. You will see, if you can do it really slowly, you can do it quicker than you ever could before.
Make it a habit to drive on the perfect line. Feel what your car is going through. Feel the physical pain in your body, when you are off line, missing the apex or the turn in too late or too early. This is just a matter of practice. The more you practice, the better you become.
Oh and just for you to know, there will not come a single day in your life, where the line will be perfect. The perfect lap? It doesn’t exist. Therefore, the sooner you accept that, the better. This will remain a constant fight. This is the challenge about racing! You will get better over time, that is for sure, but only with the right strategies, you will be able to constantly work on your lap times, taking one step after the other.
See you next time!
Engineer, Motorsport Enthusiast, becoming an Entrepreneur, Author and just different