The first time my physics lecturer requested the pleasure of my company after class I was excited. Since he had mentioned “belt-up” and “lines” in the same sentence, I had anticipated a lesson in advanced driving.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I learnt how to corner a car properly, despite having satisfied the Department of Transport’s (now the DVSA) L-test examiner five years previously that I was competent. I’ve since learnt that almost all drivers don’t know how to safely get the best from their cars whilst cornering on Her Majesty’s highways. I hope this first of a series of articles on roadcraft will go some way to helping you enjoy your car more through the twisties.
The relevance of linking speed to vision and grip is perhaps most obvious on the approach to corners. If we’re to retain the ability to stop on our own side of the road within the distance we can see to be clear (a prerequisite for safe motoring), then on the approach to every corner we must fine tune our speed such that we can safely stop before the stray sheep that might be hidden just out of sight around the curve.
You’ll appreciate that the maximum safe speed through a corner is limited largely by our view through the curve (and the grip that our tyres have on the road surface). So on the approach to corners position early where you’ll safely achieve the best view, and where other road users will see you soonest. For right-hand bends that means positioning towards the nearside edge of the road, whilst for left-handers you’ll enhance your view by placing your car towards the crown of the road. Think opposites.
Before turning into a corner your position in the road should be established, and you should have selected a responsive gear that matches your speed. Pick up the gas such that you enter the corner on a balanced throttle, the engine pulling sufficiently to maintain a steady speed. Your passengers will appreciate this approach, as this will press them comfortably into their seats.
Having passed the apex of a corner your view along a road will open out as the road begins to straighten. At this point your wide approach position is no longer necessary to increase your view, so now’s the time to ‘shave’ the rest of the corner. On a left-hander this means steering onto a line towards the nearside edge, always retaining a safe margin relative to the kerb. Provided you have sufficient grip, accelerate progressively out of the corner in harmony with the rate at which you are unwinding steering lock, remembering that with left-handers you may need to keep the car into the nearside with, for instance, a wide vehicle in opposition on a narrow road. This should always influence your choice of speed.
Be sure to make the initial steering input smooth and sympathetic, progressively increasing the rate at which you apply lock to have the car roll smoothly into the corner. Notice whether, on balance, you steer once around constant radius bends, or make numerous (unnecessary) corrections at the wheel. Because cars don’t instantly respond to steering inputs, some drivers will ‘hunt’ for the ideal cornering line, impatiently over-correcting the car. Ideally, you should progressively apply the required amount of steering, leaving the car to settle onto the desired radius without frequent corrections at the helm.
I bet your physics teacher didn’t tell you that.
Enjoy your driving,