Five driving tips from a former racecar driver - Mercedes Benz SLK Forum
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#1 Old 03-26-2013
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Five driving tips from a former racecar driver

By Alex Lloyd

As a former racecar driver turned writer for Yahoo! Autos, I’ve developed a deep knowledge base for driving fast. In fact, I started racing at just eight years old, making hustling a racecar feel more natural than buying a gallon of milk at Target. It’s also a lot more fun, too. You may think that driving in the Indianapolis 500 bears little relevance to cruising along highways, but the techniques used to drive a car at the limit on track apply to your everyday commute. It’s not about being faster; it’s about being safer.

Here are five tips I learned during my career as a racecar driver that will make you a better driver on the road:

• Brake with your left-foot: If you drive an automatic, and let's face it; most of us do, then you should practice braking with your left foot rather than your right. We do this in racing to minimize the amount of time spent transitioning from the gas pedal to the brake. By utilizing one foot on both pedals, the time saved can be close to half a second; that means we can brake later into a turn. How does this apply to the road? Well, instead of using the time gained to brake later, we can begin braking a half second earlier if avoiding a potential incident. One thing to remember: take your time practicing before implementing this technique in heavy traffic. At first, it can feel difficult to modulate the brake pressure and the inexperienced driver may have a tendency to hit the gas instead of the brake. But keep practicing. Left-foot braking is safer and more efficient once you get the hang of it.

• Look two seconds in front: In busy traffic, many drivers simply stare at the car immediately ahead of us; when their brake lights go on, we brake. You want to get into a habit of looking approximately two seconds in front of the leading car. The vehicle you are trailing will be in your peripheral vision but your focus remains squarely on analyzing the road ahead, looking for any potential dangers that may occur. We do this in racing for the same reason, as well as to plan how best to attack the next set of bends. Like anything in life, the wise always plan ahead.

• Make your hands as smooth as silk: Many drivers on the road probably think they are smooth with the steering wheel; in most cases, that assessment would be wrong. Truly being smooth is something that must be practiced - especially when in an evasive maneuver. The smoother we are, the less we upset the car’s balance. Most vehicles’ suspension maintains a soft set up to absorb the bumps, but when it comes to aggressive cornering, excessive body roll can make you lose control. The trick to avoiding an accident is to have fast reactions, all the while ensuring your hand movements are smooth and precise. This prevents the car from bucking like a wild horse, increasing the odds of maintaining control. The same theory applies to racing, only for us, keeping the car’s platform stable allows for a better handling machine throughout the turn. Therefore we can drive faster.

• Learn to drive a stick: Why drive a stick when an automatic is far less complicated? Surely that’s more dangerous? Driving a stick is certainly more complicated, but that complication demands additional concentration. Simply put, you don’t have as much time for texting, tweeting, and putting on your lip-gloss (ladies, you know who you are). Driving a stick forces attentiveness, and that, of course, makes you a safer driver. Plus, and this is the best part, it makes the whole driving experience more engaging. Ask any enthusiast if they prefer an automatic or a stick. The verdict will be unanimous.

• Sit close to the wheel: If you ever watch on-board videos in NASCAR, you’ll notice the drivers sit exceptionally close to the steering wheel. This is not with an effort to impersonate their grandmother, rather it allows the ability to get “up on the wheel.” Having your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle (or more) enables you to catch a slide more easily. It ensures the muscles in your arms fire rapidly, providing reaction speeds akin to Puss-In-Boots. While you might think it looks cool to recline the seat back, put on some Dr. Dre and just chill, if the going gets hairy, you’ll be digging yourself out of the ditch.

As you can see, the techniques needed to drive a racecar at 230 mph apply to driving safer on the road. We use these techniques on track to allow for better control when our machine battles the edge of adhesion. No matter where you live, or where you drive, these tips are worth implementing in the name of safety. After all, only the most proficient drivers can truly master the road.


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#2 Old 03-26-2013
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Shame Alex isnt here to take questions but someone here will surely be able to explain something to me.

With the left foot breaking thing, does this mean your left foot is actually covering the break all the time? If not I can't see any advantage in terms of speed of reaction as described.
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#3 Old 03-26-2013
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Originally Posted by EddieJH View Post
Shame Alex isnt here to take questions but someone here will surely be able to explain something to me.

With the left foot breaking thing, does this mean your left foot is actually covering the break all the time? If not I can't see any advantage in terms of speed of reaction as described.
I left foot brake all the time now that I drive a '55. In racing, it's good to use your left foot to brake to minimize the transition time between throttle and braking.

If your left foot is always ready to brake, it's quicker than having to take your right foot off the gas and switch it to the brake. The difference is minimal, but it's there. This is especially true in panic situations.

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Thanks Mark ... yeh I get all that in principle but am assuming for it to be affective you must permanently have your left foot 'hovering' over the break or there's no gain in reaction time.

What about our manual box owners .. any 'heel-toe' addicts?
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That's true. Unless you're hovering, there isn't an advantage. That's why people don't bother to recommend it for normal street driving. Not really sure why Alex does. I do it, but that's only because I'm used to hovering with my left foot now. (Not always, but sometimes when I might need to stop quickly in traffic or something)

On the track though, being able to quickly transition between the two is highly beneficial.

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Oh ok, that's what I thought

I've never been on a track day - drove a Smart for the last 10yrs
but now I have my SLK I'm itching to have a go. Look's like I need to start practicing my left foot then
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbanks15 View Post
By Alex Lloyd


• Learn to drive a stick:

Plus, and this is the best part, it makes the whole driving experience more engaging. Ask any enthusiast if they prefer an automatic or a stick. The verdict will be unanimous.

.
Well i dont think Woolly , Geejay and myself will argue against that

Stick Shift Rules


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