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November 13, 2018

3 Simple Tips to Help Novice Drivers Get Accustomed to the Race Track

Since 2003, MINI drivers around the world have been learning more about their cars’ famed go-kart handling at the MINI Driving Experience.  Whatever the location, whatever the track, the underlying principle is the same: by learning how to handle their car at the extreme, drivers will ultimately become better and safer drivers in everyday traffic.

At this year’s MINI Driving Experience, certified BMW M, BMW Motorrad, and MINI Driving Instructor KK Wong flew into the country to share three simple tips to help novice drivers get accustomed to driving at the limit.

#1. Get the driving position right

Modern cars offer a wide variety of seating and steering wheel adjustment, so getting the right driving position is absolutely crucial to extract the most performance. In modern MINIs for instance, the most basic driver’s seat already moves in 6 directions, with even more degrees of movement available for higher-spec seats.

With all that freedom of adjustment, Wong says he’s still surprised how most drivers get the driving position wrong. He then comes up with a step-by-step process on how to set the driving position right:
  • First, adjust the seat height. The driver must high up with a four-finger gap to the ceiling of the car.
  • Next, the seat cushion must be adjusted to make sure that the driver is able to depress the brake and accelerator pedal with full force without their knee fully extended.
  • Then, it’s time to adjust the seatback to make sure that there’s no space between the upper back/shoulders and the seat cushion. This lessens the chance of sliding around during hard cornering.
  • Only after the driver’s seat is already adjusted does the driver start fiddling around with the steering wheel. The elbows must have a 90-degree more or less when the hands are in the 9 and 3 position. With outstretched arms, the driver should be able to rest the bottom of his wrist at the 12 o’clock position.
  • Finally, if the headrest is adjustable, move the headrest so that it will properly support the head.

#2. Look ahead

Another common mistake of a novice driver is that they don’t look ahead enough; they’re typically fixated with where the car is currently going. More often than not, this will cause the driver to turn the steering wheel too early simply because vision actually controls the steering; the human hands will innately follow where the eyes are looking at.

To correct this, it’s better to look at where you want the car to go.

Wong likens driving on the track and any other road in general to a game of golf. You visualize where you want the golf ball to land and then “reverse engineer” the path on how to get the ball there. Thus, when approaching a corner, it’s best to turn your head and look at and through the apex, but have the eyes follow the imaginary pathway you want the car to travel on.

#3. Dynamic Stability Control is your personal coach

The advent of Dynamic Stability Control or DSC in modern MINIs enable drivers to push that extra bit without wiping out on the circuit.

DSC ensures the highest possible levels of stability when driving by maximizing all available traction to all wheels. It detects the first signs of over- or understeer and helps keep the vehicle safely on course. Using sensors, it can selectively apply brakes to each individual corner or even cut off engine power to keep the vehicle moving in the driver’s intended direction.

“Typically, drivers will ask me: how fast can I take this corner? Can I take it at 80 km/h or 100 km/h? Because each vehicle condition is different, it’s hard to quantify this,” says Wong. “Even the condition of the tires can affect how a vehicle handles every lap. Thus, it’s best to use DSC as a personal coach while on the track. Each time the DSC light blinks on the dash you can imagine that the car saved you there from spinning out. The goal, therefore, is to drive without having the DSC light turn on even once.”

Oh, and Wong has some sharp parting words for beginners who want to drive on the track with the DSC turned off: “It’s not going to make you drive any faster.”

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