Six Steps to Corner like a King
Anatomy of Proper Cornering Technique for the Track
Improving control through your turns can be one of the biggest breakthrough moments for beginning drivers. This concept causes many hours of obsession among gear heads trying to carve the perfect line on the track. Since that line changes dramatically based on factors like weather, your vehicle’s parts, your current downforce and others, there can never truly be such a thing as one “perfect line” for a track.
Therefore, getting cornering and your racing line 100 percent correct is impossible, technically speaking, but getting it “good” can help, especially as “good” becomes “better.” So go ahead and get started on your journey to becoming a more controlled racer by following this introductory guide to cornering like a pro.
Step 0: Grasp the Core Concepts
Non-racers tend to think of journeying through a turn as their vehicle riding a one-dimensional line the whole way through. Nothing could be further from the truth! Turning most definitely involves a myriad of forces acting on your vehicle through at least two dimensions.
Considering your car as a moving rectangle, think about how forces change as you enter a turn. Inertia and centripetal force will always want your tires to move in a razor-straight line, which is counteracted by the grippy rubber they use among other vehicle features like anti-roll bars, suspension tuning and downforce.
Without these handling measures, your back set of tires would want to drift at a dramatically different speed than your front set of tires, causing a fishtail. This effect is labelled oversteer, and it can quickly cause you to spin out without proper control measures.
The other alternative is for your front tires to not really want to push against centripetal forces at all, causing you to understeer and run straight off the course in a worst case scenario.
Therefore, cornering properly is all about preserving the proper balance ratio between the front and rear of your vehicle as tremendous forces try to make it do otherwise. Braking in the turn, for instance, pushes rearward forces out and can make your tail end want to swing. Not braking enough before a turn can cause the front end to maintain too much force, causing it to understeer and counteract your turning efforts.
With this in mind, let’s start actually turning!
Step 1: Preparing to Enter a Turn, Imagining Your Line
Up to the point of a turn, you will want to be accelerating as consistently as possible, meaning you will be going as fast as you can without losing control of your vehicle before or during the turn. This realm of possibility will change with skill and experience, so go slow at first to familiarize yourself with the course and build up to higher speeds.
In an ideal world, though, you will be making the most of straights to get quickly to the points where you absolutely have to brake.
As you approach a turn, remember that you are going to float to the side of the course away from the inside turn curve, turn in as hard as you can without losing control towards the apex of the turn, and then begin to exit the turn coming back to the outside of the track.
The apex of the turn is an imaginary point where entry transitions to exit; the highest point on the curving arc path. Usually, this apex will be almost touching the inside edge of the track right upon the curve, but this point will change based on the geometry of the track as well as current conditions.
Your ideal racing line will cut the widest possible arc through a turn in order to maintain the most speed while lessening the g forces upon the car.
Step 2: Entry Braking
When nearing the turn entry, you will want to slow down as much as you need to well before you enter the turn. Braking during the turn transfers weight rearward, as discussed before, creating potential oversteer. Some light trail braking is acceptable before the apex is reached, but ideally the vehicle will be coasting at the beginning of the turn and accelerating out of it to transfer weight forward again.
This philosophy is what governs threshold braking, which means braking to the absolute threshold your vehicle can tolerate without losing traction or damaging components. In most threshold braking situations, the tires will actually brake so quickly that they decelerate faster than the vehicle body, leading to some minor skidding.
Also, unlike driving on the street, you will want your maximum braking to happen as early as possible followed by a gradual bleedout as you let off. The idea is to not only be ready for the turn before entry, but also to minimize the time and distance used to halt acceleration.
If your vehicle is a manual, you will also need to downshift — possibly several times — after braking in order to be ready with a low gear when it comes time to enter and exit the turn.
Getting your braking and downshifts correctly is the single-most important concept for improving turning, so it’s something you will want to practice often.
Step 3: Turning In
Here it is! The moment of truth!
Your vehicle will experience the maximum amount of forces as you begin to enter a turn, creating high potential for oversteer or understeer. Maintaining balance while holding to your turn line is a constant struggle, but light trail braking or a slightly opened throttle can help you adjust balance accordingly.
You will want to maintain your current momentum as smoothly as possible through the apex.
Step 4: Hitting Your Apex
Did you feel it?! Your vehicle no longer has to struggle as much to maintain balance now that the centripetal forces are beginning to lessen. Applying a hint of throttle at this point can propel you through the outside of the turn and keep momentum pushing forward instead of to the side.
Step 5: Tracking Out
The centripetal forces will deplete rapidly at this point, especially as you begin to open up the throttle more. If you reach high enough rpms, you can upshift to pull your car out of the turn just as you begin to straighten out.
Step 6: Repeat as Necessary!
A huge chunk of getting better at racing, handling your vehicle and shaving down lap times is learning steps 1-5 by heart and applying changes in response to daily variables. Keep at it, and you could soon feel yourself living inside of racing lines even off the track.
To get the track time you need to feel confident and improve your driving, make sure to sign up for a membership at a professionally designed course like Atlanta Motorsports Park. We offer track racing memberships along with access to our professional-grade facilities to all members, so sign up for your trial today!