While performance driving finds its home mainly on the track, there are elements of performance driving which can be safely used on the road. Performance driving and getting the most from a performance car means you need to adapt and prepare your mindset.

With performance driving, a poor mindset is a key element of failure.

The best mindset is one that has a strong motivation to learn and improve, learning new techniques and approaches, whilst at the same time being aware of one’s own (and cars) limitations and (your) responsibilities. Improve your own mindset for performance driving by:

Taking responsibility – It’s your responsibility to be in control, to know how you can negotiate a corner or some other hazard. This is relevant to all forms of driving. However, driving a performance car means increased responsibility. You have more power; you’re driving faster. With this comes increased potential risk. Consider Police drivers. When they are in a pursuit or are responding to an emergency, they inevitably drive at high speed. Despite their extensive training, sometimes collisions do occur.

While a collision on a pursuit or responding to an emergency situation may not always be the Police officer’s fault, the fact they are driving fast means they need to take responsibility. Other road users may not fully appreciate how fast they are closing in on them, or how all of a sudden they perform an overtake, or how incredibly quick they approach a hazard of some kind, or the fact they go through a red light…

The Police officer needs to take responsibility and be aware of these issues. They need to think of their driving and also the driving of others.

The above point is an extreme example – a civilian driver would not be chasing a car in a pursuit or responding to an emergency, and remember, Police drivers have blue lights and sirens! You don’t. However, if you decide to focus on performance driving, you must be aware of the risks other drivers may pose. It’s your responsibility to manage your safety and also the safety of others, as they may not be aware of your speed. 

This brings us to another element……

Judgement – We are not just talking about how fast you can take a corner or how late you can leave braking – that kind of behaviour is most certainly best left for the track. But should you be focusing on performance driving on the road, you need to use judgement. When enjoying a country road with a range of challenging and enjoyable corners, what speed do you think is safe?  

Take responsibility and use your judgement – can you stop in the space you see to be clear? Have you considered pedestrians, cyclists, people on horseback? Rural roads can have varying road surface quality – what is the road like you’re on? Are you close to farms? If so, have tractors dropped a load of mud on the road?

Part of our advanced driving courses helps drivers understand these hazards, so you’re reading the road, taking responsibility and using your judgement.

Watch your speed – You need to be aware of your legal responsibilities when driving on the public highway. If you want to really open the car up – book a track day. On the road, you’re obliged to obey the speed limits. Keep an eye on your speed. In a fast car it’s so very easy to forget how fast you’re driving – it’s exciting, you’re enjoying the ride, and before you know it you’re in licence shredding territory!

If you have been driving at high speed, and then come into a much lower speed limit, be aware of how easy it is to vastly exceed the speed limit without even realising.

Key elements of a good driver:

To become a good driver on the road, you need to consider three key elements:

Mental skills
Road traffic skills
Vehicle control skills

A brief overview of mental skills has been covered above. Road traffic skills improve with advanced driver training and general experience. Vehicle control skills whilst can be worked on when driving on the road, it’s safer to use a track if you really wish to push on and get closer to the limit (yours and the cars).

Many people think a “good” driver is someone who can “drive fast” – vehicle control skills. But there is much more to it than that.

Bite-sized notes – performance driving.

We have covered a brief overview of the mindset of a good performance driver. Below are a number of bite-sized notes designed to help you.

360-degree view – fighter pilots call this “situational awareness” – being aware of everything which is around you. You need to do this as a driver too!

A racing driver spends a huge amount of time getting his/her seat perfect for them. Make sure you also do this to help you have optimum control of your vehicle. Use your memory button (if you have one) on your car to save this position. You should feel comfortable, be able to reach all controls and have a slight bend on your arm when at the 10 to 2 position on the steering wheel. How much of a bend varies from driver to driver. It goes without saying to make sure you can comfortably reach foot pedals!

There are times when you want your front tyres to have more grip than the rears, such as when turning into a corner. Imagine trying to turn a sharp corner when on full throttle. You will, in all probability, either understeer (FWD) or oversteer (RWD). With understeer, there is more grip on the rears than the front tyres. The less grippy fronts are trying to overwhelm the more grippy rears. With oversteer, there is more grip on the front tyres than rears. 

If the front and rear tyres have the same amount of traction, you may get around the corner, you may not. By simply making sure the fronts have more grip than the rears increases the chances of making the corner. 

Have a firm yet relaxed grip on the steering wheel. Driving with tight clenched wrists reduces the feedback you feel as a driver. Relaxing your hands so you can feel vibration and other feedback through the wheel will help contribute to improved car control.

Your dead pedal. Do you know where this is? It’s the invisible pedal you rest your left foot on when driving and not using the clutch or the brake pedal (if you’re a left-foot braker!). Using this pedal is essential – it gives you added support and helps keep your body stable when corners and braking. Don’t underestimate it’s usefulness. Placing your foot on the dead pedal is quick and easy to do.

The tyres rely on being pushed into the ground in order to create grip. Within reason, the more you press the tyre into the road, the more grip it has, but if you reduce that pressure, you also reduce grip. When braking, the front tyres gain more grip as they are pushed into the ground. The rear tyres have less. Taking a left hand corner for example, the right-side tyres have more grip as the weight is transferred to them, and the contact patch increases as the tyres lean towards the outer grip area. The left tyres reduce grip. They lose more grip than the right tyres gain. 

Many drivers apply the brakes gently and then build the pressure as they approach the hazard in question. This isn’t ideal. You should be doing the reverse of this. Start with increased pressure so when you’re coming to your hazard, you can reduce the pressure. It’s safer, smoother and much more controlled. Slow in – fast out!

Try and minimise excessive rotational movement of your steering wheel. It destabilises the car and slows it down. On a track, you drive the racing line to ‘straighten out’ a corner. On the road, being mindful of your steering input, especially so at high speed, will help with a safer, smoother, more balanced drive.

Inertia dictates that a body of weight that is moving really wants to just carry on in a straight line. When you turn the steering wheel, the tyres will try to force the car to deviate from going straight, something that the force of inertia will resist. When seeking the quickest line, i.e. the racing line, it’s not just about the shortest distance to travel (i.e. straightening out a corner), it’s also about smooth steering to reduce scrubbing off speed. Each time you move the steering wheel speed is scrubbed off. 

When you can consistently recognise and feel when driver aids are helping you out, then and only then should you consider switching them off – recommended for track driving only.

A tyre has most traction when it slides very slightly. What is “very slightly’? Lets think about a car under heavy braking – sliding is typically when a tyre is moving between 3 and 10% slower than the cars actual road speed. So if you’re travelling at 100mph, then the tyre travelling around 90 and 97mph is when it has maximum grip. In this situation, road tyres often squeal slightly in protest! When a tyre slips, they are at the maximum traction threshold. When cornering, this is known as a tyres slip angle. The difference between the direction the tyre is pointed and the direction of which the car is travelling is the slip angle of that tyre. If a tyre generates its maximum traction at 4 degrees of slip, and you’re not driving at the limit if you’re at 2 degrees of slip. If you’re at 6 degrees of slip, you’re driving beyond the limits of the tyres. 

Understeer is when the front tyres have less grip than the rears, and the car does not turn in as much as you want. Oversteer is when the rear tyres have less traction than the fronts, and the car tries to swap ends. 

Overcome understeer by easing off the throttle and easing off the steering input. If you’re negotiating a left-hand corner, you’re steering left. If you understeer, you’ll be going straight on to differing degrees. Pointing the wheels slightly more to the straight-ahead position will allow grip to return to the overdriven tyres.

There are two types of oversteer, oversteer and power oversteer. Be aware of the differences. Oversteer is when the rear tyres have less grip than the fronts, usually as a result of weight balance or handling characterises of the car. Power oversteer is when the driver has applied too much throttle and overwhelmed the tyre’s ability to grip. Power oversteer can only happen in a RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) car. Where oversteer can happen in a FWD and RWD car. Resolve power oversteer by lifting the throttle slightly to allow the tyres to gain traction within their tolerances and capabilities. With (non-power) oversteer, you should carefully apply the throttle to put more weight on the rear tyres to allow them to grip while steering into the skid it has caused. Its speed that has caused the oversteer, so be careful with how much throttle you apply!

The slower a corner, the later the apex should be. And vice versa! A late apex extends the straight tarmac ahead of you, where you can begin accelerating a little earlier too.

Trail braking is when you combine braking and steering into a corner. At low speeds, trail braking helps rotate a car as it transfers some weight and thus grip. The longer and faster the corner the less you generally need to trail brake.

More Mini-Tips:

Focus on continual learning and development when you drive

Drive at a speed that matches the risk level for the conditions. Getting caught out here means you’re not assessing as well as you could be

Make the road safer by eliminating the word “accident” when describing a road traffic collision

Be honest and precise when you assess the level of risk when you are driving

Your hands follow your eyes. Where you look is where you will steer towards

Good drivers take full responsibility for their actions, whether at fault or not

Keep your eyes moving when driving – scan ahead and to the side and of course, look behind. Have a 360-degree view around you

Understanding your tyres and what they are doing in any given situation is what separates good drivers from the rest

Good drivers know the importance of a proper seat position. Especially when driving on a track

In tight, slow corners, use trail braking to help rotate your car

The less you turn the wheel, the faster you will go

Be smooth, accurate and purposeful with your foot pedals

High-performance driving is about managing a series of compromises

Use corners to maximise your straight-line speed

Heading toward a corner….brake…wait then downshift

The less you do with the controls the fewer errors you will make. As a result the smoother and faster you will drive

The further ahead you look, the safer and smoother you will be

With performance driving, focus on turning the wheel as little as possible and straighten up as soon as you can

Drive the perfect line to maximise your exit speed out of a corner and subsequent straight-line speed