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Driving Zen. A beginner's guide.
I'm going to try to make a few articles geared towards 100% beginners so I thought I would start with this topic.
Driving Zen or feeling your car is the basics of any car control. I'm explaining this as more of a mysterious, almost religious, way but that's the only way I know how to explain it. Good drivers don't simply use the car as a tool. The driver can get into a car and "become one" with the car. You aren't telling the car what to do. You work together with the car to achieve the goal. Every car responds differently, every driver drives differently. A good driver can read a car and adjust their style appropriately to get as much out of the car as possible.
To give a real world example of someone "not listening to their car" is when I see a driver trying to turn into a corner. They turn the wheel left, HARD. Then the car understeers for a bit, then they clutch kick and the rear kinda comes out. But then they spin out. The full explanation is that the front tires understeering caused a delay in response to counter steer. That lag causes the car to over rotate and the driver to spin out.
Now, you need to turn hard. It isn't simple enough to go slower or to turn less, it's simply HOW you turn. To elaborate, here is what's happening:
Above is a general array of contact patches in various situations. As a driver, you never fully know the load on your tires and the available grip it provides. Turning the wheel changes the camber and thus contact patch. If you turn too quickly, the contact patch won't respond and the front tires will have diminished grip capacity. Only driver perception and experience can tell you how much is left in the tires.
This is simply one situation where a driver's ability to sense the car can make all the difference.
For instance, here is a quick list of what a good driver will take in at any given moment:
brake pedal feel
clutch pedal feel
vibrations caused by the tires (skidding/hummings/starting to lose grip)
sounds from all over the car
vibrations caused by the car
The best way to learn your car is to drive the car and pay attention to the feedback of the car. This is simply a state of mind. The driver doesn't tell the car what to do without understanding what the car can do. The big thing that I personally see drivers not paying attention to is steering feedback and general G forces. Steering work requires a light touch and confidence that when the wheel turns, the car will respond. This coincides with G forces. When you have put a car into a corner hard enough to know the feeling of the G forces when the tires give up, you know how far you can go with your turning in before the car will simply give up.
Sadly, I can't fully explain how to feel a car. The best advice I have is to drive the car and listen. Listen to how your car responds and what it's telling you. Without it, you will never know what the car needs in order to get the most out of it.