SYMPHONIC Team Leader Tsutomu Maehara
The Beginning of Driving Technique
To start, I would like to say the purpose of this manual is to help you readers become good drivers; this is not for you to become fast drivers. (Well, good drivers will be able to drive fast.) Just like there are track rules for tracks, and race rules for races, there are many street rules for the street. These rules are for your safety and the safety of fellow drivers around you, so be sure to follow these rules. Sometimes there are people who think they are cool, or who knows what they’re thinking, no matter where they are they speed excessively, or do wannabe drifts in parking lots full of people. I don’t know if they’re showing off their skills, but aren’t they making a misjudgment? (But funny, it’s people like this that aren’t really good drivers anyway.) Let’s stop and think why we are trying to learn to be a better driver. Even if a person does the things mentioned, that person not really going to get his “props” from good drivers, and the low-level antics that he’s presenting is only harming his car; he should feel bad for his car. Yes, everyone does these things because they like cars and driving, but they should show off their skills on the track. Because of these stupid morons, even we get degraded. What trouble for us! Well, I’d like to actually get started on the actual driving techniques. People who leave their cars dirty or messy cannot become a good driver.
Lately, there are a lot of people who keep their cars really clean. There are many who are cleaning and scrubbing their cars at the coin car wash. It’s a good thing to be able to take such good care of one’s car. Even I am one who is pretty “anal” about the cleanliness of my car. Once started, I will spend a lot of time cleaning and scrubbing. I wash the wheels completely by hand even behind the spokes so I don’t scratch them. I wash other hard to get to places like inside the wheel housing or the exhaust; if I my hand can reach it, then I’ll clean it. While washing the car in such detail is the time to check the body of the car for any scratches or abnormalities, and even things like the condition of the brake rotors. Although there are people out there claiming to be “racers,” if they’re driving around with a dirty or muddy car, that’s no good. I’ll tell you that people like that aren’t skilled, or even fast. I’m not saying this without a firm ground. Washing the car is a very basic step of car maintenance. One who can’t even wash his car regularly and properly is one who can’t and doesn’t maintain his car properly. In other words, he is one who doesn’t care whether his car is running in good condition or not. Someone like that wouldn’t know what state his car is in at a moment when he wants his car to do something. Take washing your car seriously. By actually seeing your car up close and touching it with your own hands, you will understand and be aware of the condition of, or any changes that are going on with your car. By constantly keeping your car clean, you will bond with your car, and will start to have feelings for it. It’s the same thing with girls, right? Also, keep the interior of your car as empty as possible. Don’t store unnecessary things in your car, especially under the seats and around the driver’s seat. If something rolls and gets stuck, like under the brake pedal… See, isn’t it scary to even imagine? Let’s be careful through everyday use. Let’s follow the basic rules.
Next, I’d like to say, “Try to avoid unnecessary accidents.” I read somewhere that the 9 times out of 10, the cause of an accident is the driver. Well, a car is something that is controlled by a driver, but don’t you think, “Hmm, really?” But, for sure, it’s better to avoid unnecessary accidents. It wastes time and energy, and nothing good comes out of them. For those of you out there who brag that, “I’ve never been in an accident before,” you should realize that you’ve just been lucky. There’s nothing really that you’ve done out of your way to avoid accidents, right? You should always be thinking about possible surprises. For example, you should keep in mind on the freeway that someone may cut you off and slam on his brakes, or when you’re driving around town, a kid may jump out in front of you. Keep a safe margin between others cars and maintain a speed with plenty of room for emergency measures. If a person can’t keep that much leeway for himself, then he can’t become a good driver. Also, I mentioned it earlier, but I’ll say it again: Follow all rules and laws. There are some people who believe being fast is superior, it doesn’t matter what they do, and slow drivers are “dip-shits.” People who think this way are considered reckless drivers. These types of people are also known as IDIOTS! “Faster is better” is a concept valid only in the world of racing. Passing others to come in first will bring a driver fame and money. But even in racing, there are rules. False starts (flying) will result in a penalty, and purposely blocking other cars/drivers will, in some cases, even get one disqualified. (But then again, people using these kinds of tricks are people who don’t have skill anyway.) The public streets are, of course, full of laws and regulations. There are oncoming cars and there are drivers who use the roads purely for transportation. If you’re a street racer, I can understand that you’ll go out driving and drive hard to an extent. (Even though in reality it’s not allowed, “Ha ha.”) That’s why I would like all of you to follow the rules and laws. So what are driving rules anyway? First of all, don’t cause trouble for the people around you. The road is not yours only. Stop tailgating and illegally passing everyone that gets in your way. If you happen to get stuck, patiently picture a line or look around at your surroundings. Things that you normally miss could catch your eye. Windy mountain roads are still public roads, so of course there are rules. Using the opposite lane to turn is something that only a total idiot would do. Gamble cornering or “kamikaze” drifts are things that non-skilled morons do. A good driver is one who can drive within all rules of the road. Using the opposite lane would be the equivalent of cutting straight through an “S-turn” on the track. Driving with an out-in-out line within your side of the road makes your driving skills stand out. Causing trouble or inconvenience to other drivers, or causing an unsafe situation for oneself is something that a “half-assed” driver would do. In others words, that’s an unskilled amateur driver. Feeling the condition of the car.
What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Wash your face, brush your teeth, and use the bathroom? And if you’re not feeling well, you’d probably self-diagnose yourself, right? What do I want to say? A car is the same; it needs to be warmed up. A common misunderstanding is not moving the car until the water temperature gauge moves to the normal operating temperature. That is a big mistake. I can understand that you are trying to take care of your car, but in that case, the transmission and differential will not warm up. Furthermore, idling your car for a long time will increase the carbon buildup inside your engine. Two or three minutes are plenty to circulate the engine oil. At least wipe down your front windshield while you’re waiting. The front windshield is crucial; I’d like for you guys to at least keep the front windshield clean. After you start off, for the first mile or so, drive slowly at about 25 mph. Shift work should be slow and accurate. During this time, your differential and transmission should warm up. And, let yourself gradually change into driving mode.
- Stop the kind of driving that will make a girl car sick while riding now.
I’m sure that some of you are drenched in cold sweat from anticipation thinking, “Whaaaaat, I’m not learning any driving techniques yet.” You might be about to snap, so I’ll start now. First, what is the basis of driving techniques? It’s the same for both grip style driving and drift style driving: it’s to drive smooth. A common mistake is, while making an effort to drive smoothly, people sluggishly hit the brakes too early, and sluggishly turn the wheel. On the totally opposite side, there are people who want to drive faster, so they slam on their brakes at the last possible second, and yank on the steering wheel. (I think there are more drivers that fit the second category.) I understand how you feel. What seem to be outrageous drifts and windy road driving actually require delicate and fine motions. To be exact, they require very high-level technique and a good sense. That’s why training is required. However, I want you to learn gentle and careful driving. It’s not something fancy, but there’s just one thing that I want you to keep in mind. That is to aim for driving with the least possible “g force fluctuations.” This will be covered later on, but while in motion the weight of the car shifts all around: in acceleration; squat; in braking, nose-dive; in sideways motion, body-roll. Just drive with the least of these actions as possible. For beginners, it’s not easy to feel the shift of g forces or the weight transfer of the car. A good way to practice this concept is to place an empty can on the passenger side floor and try to keep the can from tipping under any condition. In the beginning, it may be difficult, but this is really good practice. You shouldn’t have too much trouble in acceleration, but you should have trouble with braking and turning. “So, what can I do to prevent the can from tipping over?” If you think about causes and possible solutions, you will naturally learn gentle, careful, and smooth driving. If you drive around town with a “yank” style type of steering work, once you get to higher speeds where the movements of a car are magnified, you’ll spin and fly off the road before you know it. On the other hand, if you can drive without tipping the can over, even with a girl in the passenger seat at so-so higher speeds, she won’t panic, scream, or get carsick because unnecessary g forces aren’t acting on her. Even though this might be a little off of the topic, I remember once being told that the driving of a car enthusiast is scary. I asked why, and she told me that she got on a guy’s, who claimed to be a “street racer,” car, and she had a scary experience. What trouble! Getting back to the topic, the basics are more important than anything else. Devote yourself to practice. Be patient until it sticks.
The basics of driving techniques: Driving Position Part 1
You now know why smooth driving is important, right? What can you do to feel the movements of the car and respond quickly to make the car move the way you want it to smoothly? You got it, right? Yes, assume the proper driving position. However, the purpose of this is not for cruising down the freeway with your girlfriend. The position for serious driving is tighter; it’s totally different than the position for daily driving. The basic difference is that when you’re in “attack” mode, you make the seat firmly hold as much as your body as possible. It’s best if your back side, from the shoulders to the butt, are right against the seat, and the seat supports the main points of your back, shoulders, sides, pelvic bone, and your thighs. Not all of these may be supported depending upon the seat’s shape. At least, your thighs, butt, hip, and shoulders should be right against the seat. You have to feel every millimeter of the car’s movement to control the car at will. To make that possible, you must unify with the car through the seat. Furthermore, you must be able to shift and control the pedals and the steering wheel in a consistent, accurate manner while being held firmly by the seat. You have to be close to the controls so no matter what state the car is in, you can accurately and quickly control the steering wheel and instantly execute accurate shift work. Otherwise, you will never be able to control the car 100%. Once you get used to it, this driving position will probably make it easier and less tiring for you to drive. On top of that, equally important as driving position, is the proper use of the seat belt. If possible, a 4-point, or even a 5-point harness is preferable. Well, even a stock will do, if that’s the only option for time being. We turn at ridiculous speeds, so of course we experience great g forces. At those times a harness will help greatly; also of course, in the case of an accident. No matter how strong a person is, apparently a human can only hold himself up to about 0.7 g. Even on a mountain road, a driver can experience up to 1 g. In that situation no one that can hold himself against the force, and control the car accurately at the same time. If you don’t believe this, tense up your arm and try putting a thread through a needle. See? Can’t do it, right? As is, your body is experiencing the sideways g force, you’re tensed up because of the speed, and on top of that you’re bracing yourself; it’s hard to drive, right? If you are using a stock seat belt, let me teach you a trick. Most cars should be able to do this. First, move your seat back a little. Tighten the belt against your body while holding it in one hand. Depress the brake pedal firmly, and while braking, give the seat belt a firm tug. The seat belt should have locked. Now while holding the belt locked, move your seat back into its original position. Now your body doesn’t move, right? Now, even if you in an accident, your body won’t lunge forward. Creating the driving position.
Now lets discuss the actual making of the driving position. First, your body (the shoulders) should be firmly pressed against the seat. Next, set the leg position. To do this, rest your left foot against the footrest, move the seat back and forth until you get to a position where your knee is slightly bent. Now make sure you can fully depress the brake and accelerator pedals. With your foot on the brake pedal, your leg again should be slightly bent. At this point, it’s ok even if you can depress the clutch pedal only with your toes. Next is the position of the seat-back. First, put the seat all the way up; if your head touches the roof, gradually recline the seat. Two or three notches should be okay. With your shoulders against the seat-back, place your hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions. Simulate turning the steering wheel by sliding your hands across the wheel. While (simulating) turning the steering wheel until your left hand reaches the 4 o’clock position, and your right hand reaches the 8 o’clock position, your shoulders should stay against the seat-back. If the seat’s reclined position makes you feel too far from the wheel, you can move the seat closer, upright the seat a little, or on cars equipped with tilt steering, move the steering wheel position to better accommodate your preferences. Most importantly, concentrate on the freeness of your arms. If you cannot steer the way you want to, you can’t control the car the way you want to. When it comes to your feet or legs, there is some room for adjustment, but there isn’t much room when it comes to your arms. After driving, you may feel that you need to change your driving position. Until you become satisfied, change it as many times as necessary. Until you find a “sweet” driving position, it’s a process of trial and error.
- I can tell the skill level of a driver by watching the his steering work
“Okay, now that we got the driving position taken care of, lets go full throttle!” is something that some of you may be thinking, but HOLD UP! Let’s take another look at your driving. If I watch the steering work of a driver, I can tell if he is an amateur or intermediate. A person with an incorrect driving position or poor steering wheel techniques are out of the question. I think that it’s impossible to steer properly with an improper driving position. What’s important with steering work is instantly being able to comprehend which in direction, and how much in that direction the wheels are turned. If you can’t do this, then it’s impossible to know how to turn the wheel next. You will not be able to drift correctly, or even drive mountain roads properly if you take steering work lightly. In normal driving, making a right turn will require turning the steering wheel to the right, but during a right turn drift, the steering wheel will be turned to the left; furthermore, delicate steering work is required. In a written explanation it seems simple enough, but it’s very difficult to do this while the engine is roaring and the tires are screeching. The important thing with steering work is to place your hands so they are ready to execute the next required movements in any situation. In high-speed corner entrance, your hands have pretty much crossed over each other: the right hand that was positioned at the 2 o’clock position now is at the 10 o’clock position. But, uh-oh, this turn is a decreasing radius turn (the turn changing in a way that it gets tighter further into the turn), and it requires you to turn the wheel more, but the right hand is in the 8 o’clock position (crossed over the left hand) and to assist, the left hand reaches over the right hand to the 2 o’clock position; this is called the cross-over action; at high speeds, I wouldn’t ever agree to doing this. If the next turn is in the opposite direction (a right turn), now your arms are all tangled up. In basic grip driving, for a right turn, use the palm of the left turn to push the steering wheel in an outward and upward motion, if the wheel is not turned enough, use the right hand to pull the steering wheel in a downward motion. Still if that’s not enough, use the left hand again to push in the same manner. If a left turn follows, do not pull first with the left hand, but use the right hand to push in an outward and upward motion, just like you did for the right turn, but opposite. Oh, and just to tell you, turning the steering wheel with your fingers underhanded from the inside of the steering wheel is a big NO-NO!!
How to work the steering wheel.
Now lets get deeper into steering wheel techniques. For me, even in a full-spin situation, both hands will move a max of 180-degrees. Well, I’ll explain a left-turn first. Left and right hands, start in a natural parallel position. After you turn the wheel about 45 degrees to the left, bring the left hand to around the 12 o’clock position, and then bring the right hand to around the 6 o’clock position. Then bring the left hand to the 8 o’clock position, and then the right hand to the 12 o’clock position. Repeat this as appropriate for the radius of the turn. If you turn the wheel in this manner, you should be able to understand why I only turn the wheel a max of 180-degrees. Once you can do this, you finally step out of the beginner level and move up to an intermediate. Then once you have become an intermediate, learn to turn the wheel with a push-pull motion. Assuming you have the basics down, if you try turn the steering wheel faster, you may panic, not be able to turn the steering wheel fast, get your arms all crossed up, and feel really frustrated. However, if you use the concept of the push-pull steering work, even when you’re about to spin out, you will be able to quickly work the steering wheel. In other words, in situations where you would’ve spun out in the past, you can recover. Make this level one of your goals and practice. One of the must-know things of driving technique is steering work. If you cannot do this properly, there is no way you can drive the windy mountain roads properly, racetracks will be impossible, and drifting? That’s a dream within a dream. You can practice this during daily city driving. From a different prospective, if you can’t steer properly at city speeds, there is no way you can steer properly at racing speeds. Braking is another driving basic, and it’s an endless theme.
Let’s move on to braking: no matter how good you become, never can you think you’ve mastered it 100 percent. On the other hand, braking is an obstacle you will always run into the more you get into driving. One driving instructor at a driving school was saying that only 20 percent of the students could properly lock both front and rear brakes. Only 10 percent, if not less, of regular civilians can do this. I thought, this can’t be, but then again it’s said that the reason for these statistics is incorrect driving position. On a human body, the leg is the part that produces the most force. But, if the body is unstable, then it can’t produce that force. I’m going back and forth, but I wanted to point out that this is the result of improper driving position. The hips support the legs when you control not only brakes, but also the other pedals. So if the hips are not firmly supported, one cannot even lock the brakes properly. Well, what’s important is to utilize the maximum braking force without locking the brakes, but it’s not something that can easily be done. If you can’t even lock the brakes, you won’t be able to brake at the limit. So, become able to firmly depress the brake pedal until it locks, and release it slightly to unlock the brakes, bringing out the maximum potential of the brakes. Going fast isn’t important here. Practice where there are no pedestrians or other cars around. You won’t become a fast driver until you get a firm grasp of this technique. Braking to stop.
Now, I’d like to get into the basics of braking. You people who are thinking, “You wrote it already,” braking is very deep. Even I think that if I can brake better, I can drive much faster. The basis of braking is constant pressure. In other words, braking pressure should not be changed once the brake pedal is depressed. This can be practiced during daily driving in the city. Constant pressure braking is important because changes in pressure cause pitching, resulting in unstable weight movement in the car. Even at city driving speeds, pitching occurs. What happens if this occurs at racing speeds? A moving car has forces and energy moving in all directions. The faster you drive, the greater these forces become. (I’ll explain this in detail later on.) For now, practice until you can apply constant braking pressure. Another thing that I would like you to practice is, at a traffic light or a stop sign choose a point where you want to stop, and then decide, based on the constant pressure concept, where and how strong you will brake in order to stop at the point you’ve chosen. At the beginning, you probably would not be able to stop in time and have to press harder on the brake pedal, or stop too early and have to release the pedal a little. At the beginning, many people depress the pedal too lightly; that’s not going to do you any good. Learn to depress the pedal so the brakes are just at the point of locking, without actually locking. That is the point of maximum braking capacity. As the speed of the car decreases, the percentage of forces acting on the tires used for braking decreases, so with steering input, the car starts to turn. (I will also explain this into further detail at a later time.) I say constant pressure, but in reality this doesn’t apply all the time. For example, if you let the brakes lock (especially on a rainy day), that means trouble, right? So of course then you would reduce brake pressure. At this time, if you can’t recover without moving your ankle, then it’s time to restart from square one. You have to be able to depress the brake to just about the point of locking on the first shot. If you can depress the brakes to the locking point every time, then you will be able to recover from locked brakes with minor adjustments. Basically, the ball of your foot (the round area under your big-toe) is where you should center your foot on the brake pedal. Use your big toe perform minor adjustments to the brake pressure. Also, the heel must always be firmly planted to make these adjustments. I wrote this earlier in the driving position section, but I’ll mention it again: you can’t perform precise brake control if you’re tense. When it comes to the technique of heel-and-toe, which I’ll be explaining next, the pedals of today’s cars have been calculated and set up so you can heel-and-toe without lifting the heel off the floor; really old cars aren’t that way. Try different methods and find what’s best for you. Heel-and Toeing.
Shall we move on to heel-and-toeing now? I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for it. I will explain why it must be done for those of you who misunderstand it or don’t know about it. There are two reasons for heel-and-toeing. One is to prevent damage to drivetrain parts such as the clutch, transmission, and differential. The second is so you can enter a turn safely and fast. It’s not because it’s cool if you can do it. This technique involves depressing the clutch with the left foot while depressing the brake and gas with the right foot, and downshifting. Seems confusing, doesn’t it? All the while the car’s moving, and the driver wants to drive as fast as possible, so these operations have to be performed quickly. That’s why this technique was born; I don’t know who thought of it, though. As anyone can see by driving a manual car, if you shift down and engage the clutch, the engine rpm goes up. Each gear has a specific speed range, so if you shift down a gear, the difference in gear ratio causes the difference in engine rpm. Let’s say you’re driving at 60 mph in 5th gear, and shift down into 4th. When shifted into the lower 4th gear, the engine has to raise its rpm to match the rotation of the tires. This obviously damages the clutch and transmission. Shifting between 2nd and 3rd repeatedly adds up to a lot of mechanical damage. If you feather the gas and raise the engine rpm before engaging the clutch, the drivetrain’s rpm match up after the downshift with no strain. Making rpm match also has a big effect on the car’s posture. Heel-and-toeing is used often at turn entrances. Speed decreases as you brake to enter the turn, which means you’ll be exiting the turn accelerating in a lower gear. Cars have a desirable rpm range, otherwise known as the torque band. To drive fast, you need to stay within that range. If you let the rpm drop, it takes some time to get back into range, and the car is off balance. The difference in rpm due to the downshift transmits to the drivetrain, causing the car to jerk. By heel-and-toeing, you prevent that adverse effect. The challenge is performing the most important braking accurately while performing the other operations quickly. It’s hard to do this at first: You get caught up in having to step on the gas and can’t keep constant brake pressure, or you don’t step on the gas enough. When these things happen, the effectiveness decreases, and more importantly, it’s unsafe. I’ll say this over and over: Braking is the most important. Practice this also during your daily driving. Until you can heel-and-toe without thinking about each step, don’t try it on mountain passes or in high-speed areas.
So, everyone, do you know that there is braking for the purpose of stopping, and braking for the purpose of turning? Braking for the purpose of stopping is, yes, the constant pressure braking that I explained earlier. Braking for the purpose of turning is a much higher-level technique, requiring the driver’s senses. You hear, “Keep your foot on the brake while turning” a lot, right? Let’s say you follow this exactly, go into a turn, and slam on your brakes at the last possible second, entering the turn with your foot on the brake. What happens? The car won’t turn. People will be waving bye-bye as you shoot off the course. When braking, weight is on the front so the front tires’ grip is higher. The question is how that force is used. Under full braking, the front tires use most of the increased grip to brake. If the braking force goes over the limit of the tires, the wheels lock. What do you do when the wheels lock? Yes, release the brakes slightly so the tires can rotate, thus recover their grip. Even if the wheels don’t lock, what will steering input do? Since most of the grip force is being used for braking, there is not enough force to begin turning, even though the wheels are turned. Even though you’ve turned the steering wheel, the car won’t turn. This condition is the notorious understeer. So what should you do? What did you do when the brakes locked? Release the brakes so force can be used for things other than braking. There is no other solution. But you don’t want to waste the grip gained by weight transfer to the front wheels. So, release the brakes just enough so you have enough grip force to turn the car in. That’s how you can achieve effective cornering. This is what’s meant by “trail your brakes.” Do you get it? Once you can do this, you should notice something. That’s right, steering is not the only factor that causes a car to turn. The steering wheel is used only to initiate a turn. Try turning a corner normally at constant throttle. Next, at the same corner, trail the brakes, and gradually step on the gas as you turn. See? You can turn by turning the steering wheel only a little.
After brakes, let’s go on to accelerator pedal work! Like the brakes, the gas pedal isn’t an ON/OFF switch. There are many people who floor it or release it really roughly. As I wrote before, the basis of fast driving is the smooth execution of all operations. But alas, why, why? I wonder. Drifting requires sensitive and precise accelerator control. What?! You can do it? Well then, I’ll test you.
First, be parked with your car idling. Step on the gas and raise the engine rpm to 2000 in one shot. You can look at your tach. The important objective is stopping exactly at the target rpm. It’s no good if you overshoot and then let off, or have to depress more to reach the target rpm. See, can’t do it, right? OK, so now try to drop to 1500 rpm. Next, raise it 1000 rpm to 2500 rpm. Can’t do it, can you? You won’t be able to drive on mountain passes fast, or even do drifts if you can’t even do this. A good practice is keeping your rpm or speed steady on the freeway or streets through minor accelerator pedal adjustments. It’s really hard when you’ve got uphills and downhills, but give it a try. This, like in braking, is a matter of delicate right foot control. Practice hard until you’ve got it down.
This is the last page on the basics. This part’s about manual (standard) transmissions, which most of you street racers have. It’s said today’s automatic transmissions are advanced, and can shift faster and better than your average amateur. I, who want to control my car 100%, however, think automatic transmissions are scary (because I can’t shift when I want to), and no fun. Those who think automatics are easier are flakes. Getting back to M/Ts, these need to be controlled smoothly too. Hold the shift knob lightly, as you would hold an egg (for those of you guys whom have never held an egg, like you would hold your girlfriend’s hand). To shift upwards, push lightly with your palm. To shift downwards, pull lightly with your fingers. Do these motions in a 4-count motion. It’s often said that you should watch the tach to match the rpms when shifting, but I think that’s bullshit. The tach’s always moving when you’re driving, so it’s impossible to match it. First of all, it’s dangerous to be looking at the tach all the time; you’d get into an accident. What should you match to? Today’s cars have synchromesh gears. I won’t get into technical explanations, but basically they help make a smooth transition between gears. So, you want to match up with the synchros. I’ll explain the actual method. Let’s use a 1st to 2nd shift as an example. You can drive slowly when you’re practicing. It’ll be fine if you’re up to about 3000 rpm. First, place your right hand on the shift lever. Lightly pull it down. The lever should move just slightly, and then stop. Make sure you’re not pulling so strongly that the gears grind. While you are depressing the gas pedal, the gear and synchro are rotating. Inertial forces are acting in the direction to make the gears engage. If you let off the gas, inertia decreases so the engagement gets weaker. When the rpm drops to a point where the gear’s going to disengage from 1st, the lever twitches and seemingly floats. If you disengage the clutch then, the gear disengages easily. With the clutch still disengaged, pull the lever to the 2nd gear gate. Lightly press the lever against the gate. Watch out for gear grinding. You still have your foot off the gas so the engine rpm is going down. This time, the lever should seemingly be sucked into 2nd gear. See? This is matching rpm when shifting. When downshifting, step on the gas to make the gear easier to disengage. It’s a little difficult until you get the hang of it, but once you’ve got it, it’s a piece of cake. The four counts are as follows: one, move the shift lever up or down; two, let off or depress the gas; three press the lever against the next shift gate; four, engage the clutch once the gear is engaged. Until you get the hang of it, try counting out loud as you go through the steps. Whether you’re shifting up or down, it takes time for the engine rpm to get to the target rpm. That’s correct, so don’t panic and make it a habit to shift slowly but accurately.
Now lets get into section 2.
No matter how many instructional or tutorial driving books you read, you will never become a good driver unless you actually drive. If a person can become a good driver by reading books, anyone will be able to become a professional racecar driver. At this point in time, I would like to say, “Play seriously with your car.” Sure, I really, really, like driving. That’s why I am as good as I am now. So I can’t tell you, “To become a good driver, I’ve repeated days and days of painful and distressing practice. So no matter how hard it may seem to you, deal with it.” That would be a lie. This is not something that I brag about, it’s embarrassing if anything, but I’ve been in many accidents. I’ve totaled two or three cars. My financial situation isn’t good; you know, because car parts aren’t cheap, right? But driving is so fun that these factors don’t bother me, and I still can’t stop driving. No matter what it’s about, you can’t keep going on unless you’re having fun. Many times when I teach people how to drive I say, “Try this, try that,” but I have never said, “Learn how to do it by a certain time.” After all, this isn’t school or work, is it? If driving is fun for you, then you will want to become a better driver, and driving will become more fun. On the other hand, you can just quit if you are not having fun. I’m not threatening you or anything; it’s just the way I feel. If you hate driving, you won’t improve no matter how much you practice. It’s funny how cars bring the inner you out. If you underestimate driving, you end up somewhere you don’t want to be, or the car won’t move the way you want it to. That’s why it’s important “to play with your car seriously.” That doesn’t mean thinking only, “That was so fun,” after driving is going to help you improve. The important thing is to think after you drive. Why does my car move this way? Why doesn’t it go the way I it to? That is something to remember, for it will come in handy as time passes. Okay, now drive, and think! This is important. Just drive, acknowledging that all this becomes experience, and it will be to your advantage. From this point on, I would like to move onto maniacal, detailed topics like “Cars are what?” It may be torture for those not interested in cars. If you’re not interested, please stop reading.
Do not get me wrong, but a good driver and a fast driver are two totally different things. On the track or on the street, it’s easy to encounter fast drivers, but good drivers are hard to come by. A good driver means that he has total control of his car. A good driver is not driven by the car, but drives the car, so he can recover from oversteer or understeer without panicking. On the other hand, a fast driver is only incidentally driving fast as a result of the performance of the car and tires, and his own misunderstanding. His “fast driving” has no firm ground, so you can’t tell when he’s going to screw up. “Reckless driving” are words that have been created for these drivers. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two types of drivers especially on a racetrack. No matter what condition the car is in, a good driver will get decent lap times, and lap times won’t vary much lap to lap. On top of this, a good driver puts minimal stress on the car and its tires. But this will not be the case for just a fast driver. In a previous lap, a fast driver might get a fast time due to permitting conditions and settings; if the conditions change for the worse, his lap times get worse and worse. Lap times won’t be consistent. Since he’s relying on the car and its equipment, the wear on both will be greater. The point that I want to get across is not only aim for faster lap times, but also aim to become a good driver. The difference is using your head instead of relying on feeling and “steel balls.” Those who use their brains become good drivers. Drive, and think, and drive some more. If you repeat this process, then you will improve your skills. I guarantee you.
What I would like to say at this point is that making more “buddies” is the key to improving. In other words, friends are very important. It’s tough to improve alone. If you have friends, you can drive with them, or ride with them and check out their techniques. If you follow better drivers, it is possible to trace their line or copy tricks; you can also ride in their cars to pick up things that they do. Even with parts, “I just got new suspension, try it out,” is something you can ask your friends to do. Since most of us don’t have much money, this is a great way to try out new parts without having to spend your own money. Among the new friends you make, you are bound to meet people that are more knowledgeable in many ways. For example: mechanical and technical stuff. These friends can help you with minor problems and repairs; you can have fun working on a car with everybody. Mechanically inclined friends can also look at your car and give you possible solutions for when your car has odd noises, odd smells, or vibrations. The secret to becoming a better driver is, “ having friends that know mechanics and friends that drive good.” When I say “friends,” I’m referring to guys you can hang out with on a regular basis, like for going out to eat, or to pick up some girls. However, basic etiquette and basic windy road/race track rules are some things that each person should abide by for the sake of the others.
Okay, now I’d like to cover the topic of tires. Tires can greatly affect the performance and capability of a car. No matter how high performance a car may be, a poor choice of tires won’t be able to transmit the car’s full potential to the road. You won’t be able to drive fast even if you have an excellent suspension system. On the other hand, high grip tires on a grandma car, a car with insufficient power, or with insufficient suspension capabilities is meaningless: the braking performance will improve, but body roll will increase and the cornering ability of car will drop. Furthermore, high grip tires are composed of a soft compound; they don’t last long. Until your skills improve, you would be better off buying cheaper tires. Spend the money you’ve saved on gas: go drive more! But remember, you are a driving enthusiast, so there is a common sense line of buying at least a so-so grade of tires; it can be dangerous otherwise. Basically, choose your tires based on both your car, and your driving level or skill. Some tires will gently and smoothly start sliding around the peak of its capacity; other tires will stick and stick, then give out with no warning. Ask around, and choose the tires that will best suit your preferences. No matter how high performance a tire may be, if it has a grip of 100%, it can’t do any more than that 100%. Which means, if 100% of the grip is being used for braking, even if you turn the steering wheel, the car will not turn. (Hey guys, does this sound familiar? Yup, it’s the famous, OH NO, understeer!) In a straight, the front tires are using 50% of their grip in the straight-line direction, but upon full braking into a turn, the number goes up to 100%. Since 100% is being used in the straight-line direction, no grip is left for the lateral direction. So, you ease up on the brakes to turn. Then what happens is the straight-line grip drops to 80%, which leaves 20% for turning. You change that ratio to 70:30, to 50:50, and eventually to 100:0 in the lateral direction. Yes, this is the method of “trailing” the brakes. It’s important to constantly feel the movement of the tires and picture the motion in your mind as you drive. Do you now understand why it’s meaningless to have high-grip tires when your skills are underdeveloped?
Next, for people who actually read something like this, I’m sure you have heard the term “understeer” at least once. Understeer occurs when the car turns wider than the line you pictured in your mind. (Please note that this concept is different than turning with difficulty.) The majority of production cars are built to understeer. Remember what I wrote about tires. Suspension systems, tires, etc. have limits; past those limits, no matter how much you turn the steering wheel, the car will only veer outwards. Understeer occurs because the front tires are at a point where they can’t grip anymore. If the front tires properly grip the road surface, the car will turn in the direction it’s steered no matter how fast it’s going. However, centrifugal force overcomes the tires’ grip while cornering. What should you do when understeer occurs? In theory, leave the steering wheel where it is and release the accelerator a little. Centrifugal force decreases, the car’s center of gravity will move forward, and the grip of the front tires will recover, so the car will return to a more inside line. BUT, at this stage, don’t try it. The ideal handling characteristic is minor understeer. A driver can recognize when the tires are close to their limit if the car steers neutrally into a turn, and then goes into mild understeer at the limit of the tires. However, in most cases, it is the driver himself that is making the car understeer. The cause of that comes down to the lack of weight on the front tires, turning the steering wheel too much, turning the steering wheel at the wrong time, or turning the steering wheel too slow. Take a closer look at your own driving before you blame the car. If the car still understeers even after improving your driving, then take a look at the setup of the car.
After “understeer” let’s go over “oversteer.” This is the exact opposite of understeer. In other words, the car is travels further inside of the line imagined. At the extreme, it’s a spin out. As written earlier, most production cars are designed to understeer. If cars are made to oversteer, you won’t know when the car might spin out; you’ll get tired driving because you’ll have to be alert at all times. First of all, if cars spun out left and right, it’d be scary as hell. So, people that claim, “My car excessively oversteers,” may just be turning the steering wheel too much. This, like understeer, tends to happen due to a driver’s poor handling: in most cases, people lacking a soft touch in the right foot stomp on the accelerator in the middle of a turn. Turning the steering wheel too much in low-speed turns is out of the question. Stomping on the gas is fine if the person is doing so with good judgment and proper calculations because that will cause a power slide, a type of drifting. If the slide is unintentional, the driver will panic. Unnecessary things like traction control are developed for the sake of, and no thanks to, these unskilled morons, thus increasing car prices more and more.
When car enthusiasts gather together, a topic that always comes up is maximum power, in other words, horsepower. “Car A has 200 horsepower and Car B has 120 horsepower, therefore Car A is superior.” This is a typical conversation that you would hear, but hold on one second. Cars are not that simple. Catalog/brochure numbers represent the engine’s output as tested on a bench. Once that engine is actually in the car, you won’t know if those numbers are true. Those numbers are based on units in optimum condition, and the numbers are recorded at wide open throttle (not the accelerator). So, for example, how much torque is being produced at 3000 rpm with the accelerator depressed a quarter of the way down? You can’t find that out. Don’t concern yourself with those numbers. Rather, when you actually drive the car, figure out at what rpm it feels comfortable to drive at, or where is has the most torque. Figure out how the car accelerates differently with different ways of stepping on the gas, and make your body learn the different ways. I see a lot of people who over-rev their engines. They seem to think they must rev all the way up to the redline no matter what. Sure, the peak power spot of your engine may be near the redline, but this is not the qualifying of an actual race, so I don’t really see a point in revving that much. Rather than that, upshifting smoothly at the peak of the torque band puts less stress on your car, and you can drive faster that way. On top of that, if you have a habit of shifting gears at the limit and miss a shift, you can put yourself in great danger. Especially on the downshift, a shift-miss will for sure result in a blown engine. If you are not fighting for that tenth or hundredth of a second, I recommend that you go ahead and upshift at the point you feel you’ve reached the peak of the power band. Don’t mind the people around you who rev their engines everywhere and anywhere. Drive in a comfortable rpm zone; then, if you can drive faster than the people around you that will be the best possible thing. What that comes down to is that you are using your skills to drive fast instead of relying on your car.
It’s said that for some mysterious reason, cars go in the direction you look. If you think about it, it’s not mysterious at all. It’s just that people unconsciously handle the car so it goes in the direction they’re looking. The driving of beginners is awkward because they don’t know where to look. They only look directly in front of themselves, so each action is an impromptu reaction to each situation. On mountain passes, unskilled drivers look only at what’s directly in front of them, so they tend to mess up on the next turn, or panic when obstacles, such as deer, suddenly appear. They make me break a cold sweat. While watching as far ahead as possible, and look hard at the point you want to go. By the time the car is heading to that point, and you know that the car is going to pass that point, you should already be looking at the next point. Otherwise, it’s too late. If you do spin, don’t give up. Look for a safe spot and fight to get your car there. Don’t pray to God as you look at the guardrails.
Once you’re able to drive at a decent level, start thinking about more than one turn. You should be thinking of at least the next 3 turns. Even if you can go through one turn really fast, if you mess up the next turn, you won’t be fast, and also it will be very dangerous. Don’t think it’s too complicated. You just have to try to drive rhythmically. It’s not too hard if you try it. The ground rule for sequential turns and compound turns that get tighter deeper into the turn is to not go all out on the first turn. Times vary greatly based on how early and fast you can step on the gas going into the next turn. In short, it’s important to have the car positioned correctly coming out of the second turn. Compared to this, the time you can save by waiting on braking is minimal. Even if your rival gets on your inside going into the turn, if you have your car positioned correctly coming out of the second turn, you can pass him up no problem in the straight. More complicated factors are involved in racing. The driver is continually thinking about which corner to attack in order to make the opponent running ahead of him see his tail. “I’m faster in any turn, but which turn is the best to pass him without putting too much stress on the brakes or tires?” “I’ll pass him up on the outside at his favorite corner to show him up.” These are a couple of many thoughts that may be going through a driver’s mind. To get back to the topic, on winding roads, don’t be looking at the turns coming up just for the sake of attacking the turns. It’s important to think ahead because road conditions change constantly, and thinking ahead helps you not only to drive rhythmically, but also to prevent panic in an emergency.
There are lots of fast drivers. Thinking ahead while driving is the first step to adding skill to speed. I can say that’s the difference between beginning and intermediate drivers.
Those of you who have never bothered to read school textbooks may be getting stressed out reading this, and about ready to thrash someone; that’s dangerous so I’ll move on to some practical techniques. Before that, promise you absolutely won’t try the impossible. The basic line to cornering fast is an out-in-out line, using the fullest width of the road. You can turn in a 50-foot radius circle faster than you can a 10-foot radius circle, right? You can drive faster when the radius of the turn is larger. Using an out-in-out line increases the radius of the curve along which the car travels around the corner. But sticking to this theory all the time can actually slow your cornering speed. As I wrote before, an out-in-out line is a technique to increase the radius of the curve. In other words, it’s a technique to minimize turning the steering wheel. However, there are times when the driver waits too long to brake, thus turns into the bend too late, then has to turn the steering wheel more in an effort to get to the apex, resulting in a sharper line. On the opposite side, the driver may brake too early that his clip point moves to before the apex of the corner so he has to turn the steering wheel again exiting the corner. This is pointless, even if the driver thinks it’s effective. The challenge is hitting the clip point while minimizing turning the steering wheel. In other words, the important point is grasping the correct clip point and following a smooth line. On the downhill, a car picks up more speed than on the up hill so one strategy is to follow lines that emphasize exiting speed. Focus on the clip point and follow out-in-out lines. People lacking confidence in the car control skills should brake sufficiently before the corner, turn into the bend early, and accelerate in as straight a line as possible. In this case the clip point will be closer to the exit of the turn. It’s necessary to recognize that clip points change based on the situation. If you emphasize the out-in-out line too much, and try to get your car as close to the guardrails as possible, you may go into the corner too fast and end up running into the guardrails. You may also slow down your cornering speed so much that your acceleration from the clip point is insufficient. At that point, the practicing will no longer be a practice to corner fast. I’ll explain this later, but remember that out-in-out is a basic theory, and is not absolute.
I don’t think anyone is going to read all of this, thoroughly understand it, and then go out and drive. You’ve probably driven a lot up till now too. You’ve probably had some “Oh, shit!” type situations also. What I want to say is, “Experience is your asset.” Automobiles advance every year. Anyone can drive fast, perhaps thanks to the increasing ease of handling and safety features. Even if you’ve just gotten your license, you can drive a Porsche or GT-R, and just by stepping on the gas, 280 hp is at your disposal. If you do go to mountain passes and racetracks, remember, never be a daredevil and try something you’re not capable of. You drive at high speeds on these stages. Things that you can’t predict happen easily. Let’s say there’s a turn you exit accelerating full throttle in third gear. If your tail slides at that speed, it’s a whole different story than if you slid in first or second gear. Even small slides are much harder to control. If you underestimate this, you’ll get hurt for sure. A driver who can’t control drifts in first or second gear, for sure as hell, won’t be able to control a drift in third gear. Do you understand what I mean when I say that experience is important? In the beginning, practice at low speed corners that are within your controlling capabilities. Once you get those down, then gradually challenge higher speed turns. Practice, going step by step. If you follow a skilled driver, you feel as if you can keep up. But watching and doing is very different. The faster the car goes, the stronger the force of inertia (momentum) acting on the car. Inertia has a large effect on heavy cars. Even light cars can produce an equivalent amount of energy as they pick up speed. It’s really difficult to control a car under a situation where factors such as inertia, course topography, tire grip, etc. complexly interact. High speed driving is difficult because all of these affect the car in split seconds. One other important element to fast driving is feeling the condition of the car. I mentioned this briefly in the driving position section: you must feel changes in the car’s condition instantaneously. As you drive, grasp the condition of the front tires from the steering wheel, and the condition of the rear tires with your hip and butt. As you control acceleration and deceleration with your right foot, support your left foot firmly on the footrest, and feel the car’s overall motion. With your whole body feel the changes in g forces. With your eyes, watch where you’re going; with your ears, listen to the squealing of the tires and the howling of the engine. Unlike jet planes, the speed, position, and posture of cars are not automatically controlled. The car’s movements are all based on the driver’s senses. Fore and aft motions are predictable because the driver controls them at will through the gas pedal and brakes. Motions that occur against the driver’s will, such as tail slides, are unpredictable. If the driver doesn’t feel the slight sliding of the rear and countersteer, the car will spin. The sound of squealing tires is very important. If the tires start squealing while cornering, that’s proof that the tires are starting to lose their grip. Unless the driver judges whether the front or rear tires are squealing, and makes the necessary adjustments, the car becomes uncontrollable and dangerous. As I wrote in the previous section, experience can play a major part here. If the driver knows that the car is going to understeer or that the tails is going to slide, the driver can react quickly without panicking. If you can feel the car’s movements with your whole body, you can predict what’s going to happen, so the car won’t get out of hand and you can drive safely and fast. This is another important element to becoming a fast driver. Understand the characteristics of your car in order to drive fast. Which car, what tires or suspension? The same car can have very different characteristics depending on its tires and suspension. I can’t explain too much in detail, but I’ll explain the characteristics of FR, FF, MR, and 4WD cars. FR means front engine rear drive. In cornering, the front wheels steer and the rear wheels drive; under power, the lateral grip of the rear tires decrease so the car tends to oversteer. Conversely, in front engine front drive FF cars, under power, the lateral grip of the front tires decrease, so the car tends to understeer. While cornering in FF cars, if the car understeers, backing off on the gas just slightly will eliminate the understeer. If you try that in FR cars, you can suddenly spin. It’s the FR car’s privilege to utilize it’s characteristic to do drifts. On take offs in FF cars, wheelspin can occur easily because the weight on the front wheels, the drive wheels, decreases. FR cars have the advantage on take offs because the weight on the drive wheels increases. In MR, mid-engine (mid-ship) rear drive cars, the heavy engine is located near the car’s center of gravity, and the front to rear weight distribution is well balanced. Compared to the similarly rear drive FR cars, weight transfer and front-end inertia is smaller, so MR cars have superior turning capabilities. However, Toyota made the MR-2 to have an understeering characteristic so anyone can drive it safely; it’s thus not entirely MR-like. However, there’s more weight on the rear wheels so it’s less likely to slide; it therefore requires more speed to start a slide. Furthermore, since the heavy engine is toward the rear, the momentum is increased, making a slide harder to control. In 4WD cars, both front and rear wheels drive. Compared to FR cars, they have better straight-line stability, but understeer more into turns. Furthermore, while cornering under power the car understeers more. This occurs because, like in FF cars, the front tires lose their lateral grip, and on top of that, the driving force of the rear wheels is added. This describes your basic 4WD car. Many newer cars have torque distribution systems which aid the turning ability. The Skyline GT-R, for example, has a unique system in which it drives normally as an FR, but if rear wheel slippage is detected, drive force is transmitted to the front wheels. The car acts more like a FR car. A car’s characteristics differ based on drive system. Even with the same drive system, a different concept can change the car’s character. Instead of just driving, grasping these differences in characteristics through extensive driving is another factor in improving driving techniques.
The normal driver’s consciousness goes as far as, “The car turns if I turn the steering wheel.” However, there are many factors involved in the turning process. I don’t want to get too difficult, but for example, tires deflect as they change the direction in which they advance, that’s why the car turns. Many factors that people never imagine are at work. That said, in the end, cars couldn’t do any more than allowed by the ability of the tires. Grip driving and drifting can be done because the tires try to go straight as they slide laterally. Stepping on and off the gas while drifting is the control to maintain the tires at their very limit. Just keeping this sort of knowledge in the back of your mind can change your driving. Whether you aim for fast driving or good driving, it all comes down to how efficiently you use the tires. The tires on your car right now may not be fit for your driving. The key to improving your skills is thinking about how your tires want to be driven, instead of how you want to drive. There are a lot of people who lower the limits of their tires through their driving. There are too many who yank on the steering wheel and say the car understeers, without thinking about weight transfer or road conditions. The driver’s mind and skills are at their limit, not the car. Try different maneuvers while thinking, “How do these tires want to be driven?” Think about how the car reacted to your maneuvers and why it did. Can you smoothly increase and decrease cornering force by utilizing the weight transfer caused by braking? Like other things, keeping this constantly in mind is the trick to improving.
The car goes forward if you step on the gas, it slows down if you step on the brakes, and it turns in the direction you turn the steering wheel. This is common knowledge. However, this applies only when the tires are gripping the road surface. During high-speed runs when the tires are under much more stress, this common knowledge doesn’t always apply. Braking from ultra high speed may lack a sense of deceleration. Panicking, the driver may the floor the brake pedal, and cause the brakes to lock; thus the driver creates an uncontrollable situation for himself. As speed increases, the tires have to use their grip force to drive straight, so unless sufficient weight is transferred, the car won’t turn no matter how much the steering wheel is turned. This is one cause of understeer. Remember this: at a certain point, the steering wheel’s angle no longer affects the car’s turning force. The understeer example I just gave is a good illustration of this. Conversely, if you are too preoccupied with the steering wheel’s angle, it will be forever impossible to control the car at will. As dirt track and rally drivers often say, “The steering wheel is used only to initiate a turn.” Once in a turn, the accelerator is used much more to control the posture of the car. Accelerator control is most important in drifts. To understand the importance of accelerator work during cornering, vary how much you depress the accelerator pedal while driving in constant radius circles. Up to a certain point, the car will try to turn more, but after that, it will start to veer outwards. At this point, you can’t turn the steering wheel to correct, so you you’ll have to release the gas just slightly, decreasing the centrifugal force and increasing the weight on the front tires to recover grip. Otherwise, you’d screw up. In such a way, grasp how your car changes its posture according to accelerator input.
In a driving technique instructional book I read in the past, three techniques that were introduced besides heel-and-toeing were “double clutching,” “reverse steering wheel,” and “sewing.” Double clutching is done as follows: when changing gears, shift into neutral, engage the clutch, step on the gas to match rpm, disengage the clutch, shift into the next gear, and engage the clutch. This was effective with the older transmissions that didn’t have synchronizer rings. This technique’s unnecessary with today’s synchromesh transmissions. A similar technique is used in cars with transmissions and racecars, but you can consider it obsolete. “Reverse steering wheel” is what we call drifting. “Sewing” is, while cornering, turning the steering wheel just slightly in the opposite direction of how it was turned for an instant, and then turning it back to where it was. There were probably certain purposes to this technique. Older cars had more direct steering systems because they lacked power steering and unnecessary rubber bushings. This, in turn, caused stronger kickback from the road. Purpose #1 is to deflect this kickback. Older cars had recirculating-ball-and-nut steering systems whereas most today’s car have rack-and-pinion steering systems. Recirculating-ball-and-nut steering systems had more play than rack-and-pinion steering systems. Purpose #2 is getting rid of that play. Purpose #3 is to prevent the front tires from going over the limit of their grip by momentarily decreasing the g forces on the front tires. Purpose #3 is still valid today. I do this sewing a lot. However, if you turn the steering wheel too much that the car moves from side to side, all you’re doing is making the car unstable. Master the sense of just very slightly turning and returning the steering wheel.
Section 3: This section is about tuning
How are you going to modify your car? It depends on each person; those who have the money and want to dress up their car can do so, and that’s ok. The people reading this are probably those who want to drive or improve their skills, so I would like to give some advice. First of all, if you want to drive, the stock equipment should be sufficient. As you drive, you’ll start to see what’s lacking: for example, brakes, suspension, etc. If you don’t grasp the good points and bad points of the stock equipment, you’ll just waste your money. I drive different people’s cars, and feel that money doesn’t decide what’s good and stupid tuning. This is the same for both professionals and amateurs. There’s smart tuning and dummy tuning. Smart tuning is that which exhibit results corresponding to the money invested. The car corners well, stops well, and oil and water temperature are stable even after extended driving. The car is well balanced overall. Dummy tuning is actually surprisingly rampant. The car may rocket down a straight-line, but has no power at the lower end of the rpm range so it’s hard to drive on the streets. Or, it may drive okay on city streets, but can’t on the track because the oil and water temperatures rise after 2 or 3 laps. It’s these dummies that spend thousands of bucks on tuning. They’ve got the wrong idea, right? Besides, driving itself costs money. The tires wear out fast, and you’d want to change your brake pads and fluid frequently. Plus there’s gas money. So try to make do by making use of junkyards and pick-and-pull to keep your costs low.
I think you’ll understand what’s important when you read the previous section. Above all, be reasonable and bear in mind that you should match the tuning to your skill level. Tuning is an important process for fast driving, and if you can’t do this properly, you can’t make your car faster. However, for example, tuning to upgrade the suspension system has multiple variations; depending on the variation, the costs will differ big time. If you’re in the middle of developing your skills, but modify your car to professional level specs, only the car evolves and your skills won’t be able to keep up. The potential of the tuning wouldn’t be fully explored, and if you look at the results per dollar, it’ll be like, “What a waste.” In general, if a car is new, it’s handling will improve just by revising the suspension, including the tires. Light tuning of the engine by changing the ECU and exhaust system will increase performance somewhat. Cars that have been driven hard over several years probably have lost some of its body rigidity. If the suspension is upgraded without the weak points being fixed, the stress on the body will increase. In the end you won’t be able to draw out the full potential of the upgraded suspension. Make the purpose of the tuning clear. The direction of tuning between street racing, which includes mountain passes, and the racetrack are obviously different. Even among racetrack drivers, parts and installation details for drift-drivers and grip-drivers are different. Furthermore, the characteristic of the car will change depending on which turn of the racetrack is made the basis of the tuning. Of course, if you can set up your car according to a certain turn of the racetrack, you can improve your lap time, but it’s not rare that I find tuning where I would like to ask, “Don’t you have something confused?” On the other hand, there are those who greedily gather up massive information. It’s not impossible to trouble yourself, pool the advantages of various parts, and make a car with decent speed and controllability. What’s important is confirming whether you understand the fundamental ability of your car. Based on that, as I mentioned before, clarify the purpose of your tuning. Then, think about how far you want go and decide your budget. Or, you can put your budget first, and then decide how much you will do. There are probably more people in this category. You can get tuning information and knowledge from books so you can learn, to some extent, how modifying something will affect something else. Be warned that you should not take the information in magazines at face value. Due to the publisher or editor’s circumstances, they don’t point out the negative sides of parts and shops. Especially concerning durability, investigation is done for only a short period of time, so there is suspicious information. Which means the information you can trust comes from those you drive with and shops you can trust. The prerequisite is that “they can be trusted.” Beware of friends who think they know everything. Watch out for shops that say, “If you change this you’ll have to modify your cooling system,” and keep jacking up the price; these are quite common so be careful. Ideally, tune your car a little at a time at a level where you can feel the effect each time. It’s best to go step by step. You can’t do it all by yourself, and depending on what you’re modifying, if you wing it, you can expect disaster. But what you can do yourself, it’s best to do yourself. That way you’ll naturally be able to see and learn the car’s structure, and the condition of the various parts of the car with your own eyes. I’d like you to understand that there’s a lot you can gain from this aspect of tuning.
Brakes give up in no time if you try to drive fast. Stock pads and rotors are made to last long miles, at minimal cost, and to function during both city driving and when the rotors are cold. Stock equipment is sufficient for most people who aren’t interested in sporty driving. But if you race on mountain passes and racetracks, the brakes fade after two or three laps, and the pedal sinks to the floor. You won’t be able to even drive steadily when that happens. Your life depends on the brakes, so start out with good equipment. Brakes work like this: brake pads clamp the rotating brake rotor and kill its speed. During this time the brake hoses and fluid transmit the pedal pressure from the brake pedal. You’re forcing friction material to clamp an iron disc, so an enormous amount of heat is generated. The rotor, pads, caliper, and fluid inside the caliper all heat up. This heat is the troublemaker. Depending on the conditions under which you’re driving, the heat generated increases: more on mountain passes than on city streets, and more on the racetrack than on mountain passes. Pads are effective only to a certain temperature limit. One that limit is passed, the brakes fade and don’t work. If you install racing spec pads to counter that problem, it’ll be OK once the pads have warmed up after driving for some time, but they won’t work at all when cold. That means you might rear-end someone. When you choose pads, check the effective temperature ranges and the intended application. Brake fluid boils at a certain temperature and vaporizes within the brakes lines. This situation is called vapor lock. If you continue driving without noticing it, you’re in for some major trouble. The once firm pedal feel becomes mushy. In the worst-case scenario, the pedal just sinks to the floor. The brakes aren’t working at all then. So if you’re going to do sporty driving, change your pads to ones that can withstand the driving, and change your brake fluid to at least DOT 4 spec fluid. DOT 4 and 5 fluids have higher boiling points, but break down faster and absorb moisture rather easily. Frequent maintenance is necessary. Make sure to balance the front and rear brakes. I see many cases in which the fronts are upgraded but the rears are stock; the fronts do all the work and the rears don’t. Furthermore, the fade resistance will differ from front to rear, so the more you drive the more you’ll have problems. When drifting, you’d probably use your E-brake. It’s easier to slide the tail out if the rears work well, and it’s more fun. Don’t do something just because a “skilled driver does it.” Some, like me, prefer controllability further into braking, while others prefer initial response. Basically, you should choose what suits you. Bleed your brakes after driving hard. If your car is heavy and/or you’re hard on your brakes, be even more relentless about bleeding.
So, what kind of brake pads are good pads? Let’s think about it a little. Are good pads those that lock up the wheels, in other words, are effective, when you step hard on the brakes? You can’t really generalize and say that’s how it is. You can say pads that maintain a high friction force without locking up are good. Pads that balance various characteristics such as controllability and fade resistance may be good pads. But it’s pointless if you can’t draw out the potential of the pads. In short, pads that match your braking technique are good pads. Those are what you have to find. The first step to brake system tuning is changing the pads. There are various types of pads, differing in material and manufacturing method. As mentioned in the previous section, there are those with excellent initial response (pad surface temperature rises quickly and stopping force builds up fast), and those that have poor initial response but start working the further you step on the brakes. Pads with good initial response are in general softer and wear out relatively fast. On the other hand, pads with poor initial stopping force heat up slower and don’t wear as much. Pad material can be roughly separated into three categories: semi-metal, asbestos, and non-asbestos. Semi-metal pads are really effective, but put more stress on the rotor. Asbestos pads have excellent initial stopping force and controllability, but have been phased out because they are a health hazard. Non-asbestos pads can be made to have various characteristics through materials and manufacturing methods. Lately, carbon pads have come out. The strong points of these are controllability, durability, and fade resistance. The braking techniques of the driver affect the pads chosen. You should consider your driving technique when selecting pads, but putting city driving into consideration, some degree of initial stopping force is absolutely necessary. Installing racing spec pads, which concentrate on fade resistance, is outrageous.
If you’re going to tune your brake system, installing larger rotors and calipers is one approach, but this is a major modification and costs money so I won’t get into it here. If you insist, please go ahead. One more thing we can’t forget when upgrading the brake system is changing rotors. Several years ago, I started seeing cars installed with cross-drilled and slotted rotors. The advantages of these rotors are improved removal of brake dust and heat dissipation. Quick removal of brake dust prevents loss of friction during hard braking caused by brake dust adhering to the rotor. Heat dissipation obviously improves thanks to the increased surface area from the holes and slots. It’s the same idea as the fins on ventilated rotors. Don’t forget about the rotor’s material. You’d have to consider its compatibility with the pads, but in general cast iron rotors have the best stopping force. A bad point is they rust easily. But don’t worry about the rust because it comes off as you drive. There are “for looks” rotors that don’t rust, but lack in stopping force. That defeats the purpose. Some people misunderstand; rotors are consumable items too. They have to be replaced some time. I think rotors are the last components to modify, after everything else has been modified, unless of course, they’re worn beyond specs. There are also brake lines and master cylinder stoppers, but give these a try when they break and have to be replaced, or if you have the budget. They’re pretty effective for their cost. However, if you’re not careful with brake lines, the brakes might not work, so please have a professional mechanic, or someone who really knows what he’s doing, work on the brake lines.
The purpose of the suspension system is to support the body’s weight, absorb the shocks from the road, ensure ride quality and comfort, and maintain the best possible handling stability. Coil spring characteristics in particular greatly affect ride quality and handling stability. In general, softer springs improve ride quality, but handling worsens; stiffer springs improve handling, but ride quality suffers. So if you want a tight suspension system, you have to think about how to balance these two characteristics. What’s important here is the spring’s compatibility with the shock absorber. Beginning with the basics, balance the shock absorber’s free length (fully extended condition) and the spring’s free length. If you attempt to lower ride height by installing excessively short free length springs, such that they would be loose when the car is jacked up, the travel of the shock absorber and the motion of the springs won’t match up at all so the car will lurch, keep bouncing, and basically suck. The compatibility of the shock absorber and spring is a major element to consider when setting up the suspension system. There’s no way you’re going to have a good suspension system with a combination in which each component moves independently of each other. First of all, look at shock absorber free length and spring free length. You should choose these so they’re about the same. If you buy a kit, you won’t have to worry about it much. If you’re setting the suspension up yourself, use adjustable shocks or change the shock’s travel and/or spring free length. If that doesn’t work, you’re left with modifying the attachment point. Relentless effort and exploration is necessary to make a good suspension system. Repetitive trial and error is the only way to find a set up you’re satisfied with. And so, everyone walks into a bottomless pit.
If you’re going to modify your suspension system, it’s good to know the construction of shock absorbers so I’ll discuss it here. There are two types of shock absorbers: gas and hydraulic. Hydraulic shock absorbers have good ride quality, but if moved rapidly, generate heat easily, causing air in the oil to expand. This is the so-called “aerated” condition. On the plus side, some can be overhauled if worn. Gas shocks are filled with nitrogen gas (a relatively non-reactive gas) and sealed off, so they’re stable and durable. However, a possible weak point is that rebound is more severe. I think low-pressure gas shocks are the best. There are two types of internal structures: single tube and double tube. In short, it’s the number of cylinders the shock has. There’s only one type of single tube gas shocks. It’s the De Carbon type used widely in races and rallying. The recent trend is adjustable shocks. Changing the orifice’s resistance to flow by changing its size alters the damping effect. The orifice is a hole through which the fluid or gas flows. To be more precise, changing the orifice only changes the damping rate, not the characteristic. But it is a fact that you can change the shock’s flavor by turning a screw. If you are confident about your setting ability, I will recommend these.
As I mentioned before, considering the compatibility with the shocks is the prerequisite when selecting coil springs. If you simply choose high rate springs because you want to stiffen the suspension, you won’t make a good system. If the shocks are stock, the car will probably be bouncy, contrary to expectation. In relation to the stronger rebound of the spring, the shock’s damping force will decrease so it won’t be able to suppress the spring’s movement. By changing the springs, you’re changing the vehicle ride height. Static vehicle ride height, and the timing and amount of ride height change while driving will change. These changes will greatly affect the car’s actions. Many cars have variable rate springs as stock equipment. These are usually replaced with linear rate or progressive rate coil springs. Progressive rate springs are initially soft, and become firmer as they get further into jounce. They contribute to the achievement of both ride quality and handling. There are coil springs with larger wire diameters. You must clarify the characteristics you want in your suspension system to select the appropriate springs. To do so, it’s best to ask an experienced person about setting know how, and experience different types yourself. Compatibility with not only the springs, but also the stabilizer bar will also come into play. It’s important to experience different kinds of parts and gather your own data.
Lowering a car is the basics of street racers. It looks cool too. I too, was like everyone else in the past: I would just cut the springs to lower ride height, and use the E-brake to get the tail to slide because I can’t transfer weight or anything. Well, enough with my past. Ride height adjustable suspension, usually just called adjustable suspension, is a popular item for today’s drivers. However, there are still many people who mistakenly think they’re the same as lowering kits. Adjustable suspension systems allow for the adjustment of ride height. Even when people know that adjustable suspension is different from lowering kits, if they start saying things like, “So for example, you can raise the rear, and make it easier to make the tail slide. That’s what they’re for, right?” all I can do is roll my eyes. Of course, adjustable suspension can provide such a set up. But the great feature of adjustable suspension is it expands the range of springs you can choose from. I didn’t mention this in the previous springs section, but there are two types of springs: variable rate and linear rate. Variable rate springs are the majority in stock equipment because manufacturers consider both ride quality and cost. Linear rate springs can have more coils even if the dimensions are the same as a variable rate spring. There are many differences in characteristics between variable and linear rate springs. The advantage of linear rate springs is that the number of coils can control the speed of compression and rebound. Variable rate springs rebound quickly, while linear rate springs rebound at a slightly slower rate. When you apply this characteristic to a moving car, you can understand that suspension rebound following weight transfer is smoother with linear rate springs. This means you can transfer weight smoothly in various directions, and you can control the degree and speed (momentum) of the car’s reactions that result from the weight transfer. The biggest advantage of adjustable suspension is that if you select the best spring rate from the available rates, you can set the shocks’ travel to match the length of the spring. To be precise, if you match up the lower seat to the spring’s lower end, you can get the same length as the shock’s travel. This means you can fully utilize the potential of the spring and shock. Also, you can select matching springs after deciding on front to rear height distribution. Basically, adjustable suspension systems give you a lot of room for set up. However, that means if you aren’t careful with the settings, you won’t be able to fully utilize the adjustable suspension’s performance potential. It’s not just OK to install adjustable suspension. The point is to find the best setting once installed. One other important point is that you’ll need to align the car after setting modifications. I’ll explain alignment later, but if ride height changes by 10mm, the car’s alignment is going to change, so it’s necessary to have the alignment measured at a professional shop.
There are people who push down on the hoods or fenders of cars to check suspension stiffness, but the person’s not going to find out by doing that. All a person is going to find out is the initial spring action and bushing rigidity. Besides, suspension that moves a lot just by pushing down on the hood surely isn’t going to be effective while driving. That the suspension isn’t effective is the one thing a person will be able to find out. Another common misconception is that stiff suspension = sporty, fast. This misconception is probably the reasoning behind pushing down on a stopped car. So, I’ll ask you, what exactly is “stiff” suspension? The correct answer is that the absolute control force is greater. This means that when receiving shocks from the road or high g forces during high speed cornering, the suspension steadily dampens and smoothens the resulting oscillations. But most people think that “stiff = doesn’t travel.” This is a major misunderstanding. What’s important is to “positively dampen within the shorter travel.” It’s no good at all to set the absolute damping force so high such that the car bounces around even over small road imperfections during low speed driving. That’s not stiff suspension. That’s called “stubborn” suspension. Good suspension systems include the characteristic of “moving well.” If you think about it a little, you’ll understand that if it’s better not to move, there’s no point in putting in suspension in the first place. Sadly, there are such problematic people within automobile manufacturers too. Lately, cars have brand name suspension components for original equipment, but the manufacturers request that the shock absorber makers provide systems that are “harsher at low speeds.” They do this because customers think that if it’s not that way, the car’s not sporty. What a headache. One more thing: remember that bushings such as engine mounts also greatly affect how the suspension system feels.
For most people, there are only three parts that can be used to modify basic suspension settings: springs, shock absorbers, and anti-roll bars. The springs and shocks are as I explained earlier. On a car with an upgraded anti-roll bar (stabilizer bar, sway bar), you can feel the effect immediately. Body roll is minimized and the car is stable in corners. There are anti-roll bars built so the amount of body roll itself may not change, but the rate (roll angle speed) at which the body rolls is reduced and maintained at a fixed rate. Thanks to that, the driver becomes less scared of body roll, and camber change can be reduced so steering characteristic is maintained in the basic direction of minor understeer. The steering becomes closer to neutral steering. This effectively improves the efficient use of the tires’ grip, thus leading to increased possible cornering speed. Stock anti-roll bars are usually steel bars; aftermarket anti-roll bars usually have bigger diameters, but use tubes to reduce weight. This leads to unsprung weight reduction and helps to sharpen handling. Strut upper mount strut (tower) bars provide a similar effect, though not as noticeable as with anti-roll bars. Strut bars connect the left and right sides of the car and reduce twisting. This isn’t something you can really feel, but it’s an inexpensive part and looks cool when you pop the hood, so give it a try. Anti-roll bars and strut bars won’t hurt ride quality, so I’ll recommend them to people who want to reduce body roll and increase cornering speed.
What happens when you install high grip tires on a normal family sedan? The answer is, “Besides better braking performance, nothing good happens.” If grip improves, the brakes will work better, but other qualities such as ride quality, body roll, noise, and fuel economy will all get worse, and that’s the end. The reason is that the suspension isn’t set up for high grip tires. It’s like cramming a GT-R engine into a Honda Civic: it won’t even drive straight, let alone drive fast. Changing just one part of a system just messes up the total balance, and nothing good results. In the suspension system is where an imbalance will be very noticeable. When you hear about suspension tuning the first thing that comes to mind is probably upgrading the springs or shocks, but without balance, you can’t create a good set up. When tuning suspension, you have to think about the total balance of the components, including tires and the various bushings. Focus on the bushings when tuning your suspension. These are the rubber parts that are placed between the engine and suspension parts and the frame to counter noise and vibration, and to improve durability. Stock bushings are softer because their main purpose is to counter noise and vibration. The car’s actions will change drastically just by changing these to more rigid parts. Handling, steering feedback, and also ride quality (if the shocks are at a certain performance level) will improve if you change strut upper mount bushings to more rigid ones. If you’re looking for cost effective results, focus on bushings before anything else.
Putting aside people who will only do grip driving anytime and anywhere, there’s something I would like to warn those who want to control their car perfectly, including drifting, about. Use stock, or better yet, tires even less expensive than stock tires. Normal driving technique books recommend modifying various things, but I can’t agree with them. The reason being, as I mentioned in the driving technique chapter, our objective is to “control the car perfectly,” and speed is irrelevant. So to be honest, besides the brake system, I would prefer that you don’t drastically modify your suspension or engine in the beginning. Tuning will only be a bluff unless you push your car so far that the car starts screaming, “I can’t take it anymore, give me a break,” and your driving technique has exceeded the potential of the car. So, as a driving technique trainee, don’t talk so easily about suspension or power. This is the same for tires. Installing high grip tires won’t help with practicing driving techniques, and can be more dangerous depending on the situation. The gripping force of today’s high-grip tires is really impressive. Depending on the vehicle model, the body loses to the strong grip, and the suspension and body get totally beat up. If such high-grip tires are installed, you’ll have to drive at higher speeds to reach the car’s limits. First of all, you must drive extensively with stock tires, and learn your skill level and your car’s characteristics. Also, no matter how worn your tires are, always check tire pressure. Check tire pressure when the tires are warm. Don’t forget to check for cracks and tread wear regularly.
There are a lot of people who get larger diameter rims with low profile tires. They probably do that because they basically want to increase tire performance (although many probably do it for looks). But, well. Do you know the objective of increasing wheel diameter in the first place? This began in the racing world, of course. As I wrote in the brakes section, stopping performance is the most desired feature of a car. Enlarging rotors is an effective approach to achieving better stopping performance. You understand now, right? In order to enlarge the rotors, the wheels have to be bigger, and thus the wheels are replaced with larger diameter wheels. However, if the wheel size is increased, the height of the tire, or the aspect ratio, has to be changed, or else the tire hits the fender and can’t be installed. That’s why the aspect ratio is lowered. There is good reason behind larger diameter wheels: improve stopping performance. The larger the diameter, the more air flow through the tire, which results in better cooling. Even without getting bigger rotors, increasing wheel diameter is advantageous. If you’re going to install low profile tires, the limit is around 45 ~ 50 if you’re going to be driving on the streets. This depends on the car also. Today’s cars have large wheels as stock equipment. If you consider ride quality, there’s no need to get larger wheels. If you still want to get larger wheels, focus more on the wheel shape rather than the tires. Choose rims that will improve brake-cooling effect. Also look at rim width. For 195~205 series tires, 6J is good; for 215 tires, 6.5J. Overly wide rims look cool, but there’s a possibility the tires’ performance won’t be 100% utilized. Choose rims that are strong and light. Weak rims will dent easily after going over a small bump. Light rims help reduce unsprung weight so handling becomes sharper.
There are many suspension systems: The orthodox MacPherson strut, the double wishbone system used widely in racecars and which has an image of being a superior system, and the multi-link system, which combines the advantages of the double-wishbone system, space efficiency, and cost (although not all of the multi-link systems really achieve this). The problem with suspension systems is that just knowing the formal name doesn’t mean much. No matter what kind of impressive name it may have, unless the spring rate and damping force have the targeted characteristics and are balanced properly, that suspension system will not be a system that will allow for fast driving. Tires have drastically improved in performance to a point where they should be regarded as part of the suspension system. You would want to check whether your beloved car is aligned according to specs, regardless of the type of system it has. Alignment angles consist of camber, caster, and toe. Camber is a wheel’s inward or outward tilt from vertical. Many cars have more negative camber (wheels tilted to the inside) in the rear wheels compared to the front to ensure that the tires grip the road firmly while cornering. This trend is found in FF cars also. Excessive negative camber in the front wheels was once popular among drifters, who aim to change car position with the front end as the pivot point. Caster is an important angle in achieving directional stability. It affects steering response. Toe can be parallel, in, or out (toe-out is not very common). Toe helps a car recover from unstable postures during braking or cornering. The question is whether the proper alignment is being maintained. No matter how high performance a suspension system may be, if it’s out of alignment, it’s impossible to draw on its potential. If you’re not too familiar with alignment, ask someone who knows, or a shop, and try different settings.
If you want to master driving, you’ll need a LSD. I don’t mean the drug LSD. I mean limited slip differential. Regardless of drive system be it FF, FR, or 4WD, drive axles have a differential. The purpose of a differential is to allow a difference in rotation between the right and left wheels, and make is easier to turn. This is common knowledge. LSDs have the ability to distribute equal torque to both sides. Driving feel is the total opposite of normal cars without LSDs. LSDs are built to limit the advantageous function of a normal differential, so the car doesn’t turn as well. But this is true at low speeds only. As speed increases, you can appreciate LSDs more. However, if you install one when you have no skills yet, all you may feel is that the car understeers more. For FR cars, the LSD provides equal traction to both left and right tires even if the tail slides so you can control the car with the accelerator more easily. It effectively transmits the power to the road; its effectiveness increases with higher power cars that have a tendency to power slide. There are various LSD designs. The most popular is the clutch-type that consists of pinions gears, side gears, a spring pack, and clutch plates. Some other types are the viscous coupling, the electronically controlled hydraulic clutch, and the Torsen (from Torque Sensing), which can eliminate any wheel spin. If you want to control your car perfectly and it’s FR, an LSD is vital. I recommend the Torsen or mechanical type. There are several types of mechanical differentials: the 1 way locks only when on the gas, the 2 way locks on and off the gas, and the 1.5 way locks stronger when on the gas. You can choose whatever type suits you. In general, the 1 way doesn’t work when off the gas, and you’re likely to understeer so it’s more difficult to control. This one’s for advanced level drivers. LSDs that are too strong in FF cars is something you should think twice about. That’s because the steering is connected to the drive axle; steering gets heavier and backlash increases. A 1 way with 2 pinion gears should be good for FF cars. Unlike normal mechanical LSDs they don’t work all the time, only when on the gas, so it’s safer. Or a viscous type, which works more smoothly, might be good. Some LSDs wear out, so frequent maintenance and overhauling is necessary.
Do lighting system tuning for safety. I strongly recommend driving in the hills at night. But that requires some preparation. It’s dark at night. If it’s dark, you turn the headlights on. In reality you can only see where the lights shine. Then, stock lights aren’t reliable enough. If you to go an auto store, they sell bulbs that shine twice as bright as stock ones. You can replace these in no time, and they’re not that expensive. If you can improve safety just like that, that’s cost effectiveness for you. I really can’t recommend the blue light bulbs that have become popular lately due to the introduction of HID systems. I tried them, but the color just looks pretty and they’re not bright at all. This is a waste of money. Real HID lights are blue but bright. Changing to blue bulbs doesn’t make an HID system. A trick is changing the headlight angle. But this is like driving with high beams on at all times, and oncoming drivers won’t appreciate it, so don’t do it. For the same reason, if you get stronger and brighter lights, you’ll have to adjust them more carefully. Remember that, OK?
I don’t recommend modifying the exterior unless you’ve been in an accident, but I’m all for modifying the interior. The reason is that driving position is what you need to get before anything else, as I mentioned in the driving technique section. In reality, with the available stock position adjustments, you just can’t get the perfect position. Besides that, there are some minor defects that just bother me like, “I should be able to steer more smoothly if the steering wheel was a little smaller.” If you’re not happy with something, change it. I questioned earlier about modifying your car before developing any skills, but interior parts that directly contact your body are a different story. The less experienced you are, the less information you can pick up from the car. To gather as much information as possible, it’s necessary to create a high performance interface between your car and yourself. First, consider the seat. With stock seats, your body moves right and left under the lateral g forces while driving hard. Stock suspension moves too much, so it’s changed to stiffer suspension. If your body then goes all over the place, what’s the point? You can feel the car’s actions only when your body is held firmly. If you overlook this, you won’t improve as fast. I currently use a full bucket seat. I don’t drive only on the track so there are some drawbacks, but it fits my body the best, so I’m using it. I would recommend a reclining type of seat for you. You can change the seat angle to match the stage in which you’re driving, and it’s handy at those times when you just want the lay back. People are shaped differently so I can’t say which is best. Try out different ones and choose the one that’s best for you. Bucket seats lower seat height, so the center of gravity of the car is lowered too. When your point of view is lowered, deviation in your field of view during body roll decreases. These are a couple of advantages of bucket seats. For seatbelts, get a 4-point harness. Be particular about the steering wheel and shift knob too. The steering wheel should be so you can grip it comfortably and turn it smoothly without it feeling out of place. You should avoid abnormally shaped steering wheels as much as possible because your steering tends to gets rough. The shift knob should fit in the palm of your hand and allow you to shift smoothly. A moderately weighty one will help with your shifting. Don’t forget about the pedals. Most of today’s cars come with a footrest so there probably aren’t many people who buy them. If your car doesn’t have one, definitely get one. You’d want to have your left foot on it during cornering. Adjust the gas, brake, and clutch pedals so they’re easy to operate. If you have the budget, you’d want to install a roll cage. A body that has been put through a lot of hard driving gets worn out. A lot of burden is put on a body in continuous “S” bends. Racing cars utilize spot welding to improve body rigidity (also called torsional rigidity), but you can’t go that far with normal cars. If you install a roll cage, the body feels solid and the car respond sharply to each input. The real purpose of roll cages is safety. It protects the passengers in case of a rollover where the roof gets crushed. Tubular steel structured like a birdcage protects the cabin. If the cage is left exposed, you might get hurt in some cases when your head gets banged against it. Don’t forget to wrap padding around it for cushioning. If you’re going to drive, please do wear racing gloves. Find gloves that fit perfectly to prevent panic when your hands get sweaty and slip on the steering wheel.
When it comes to engine tuning, most drivers at least want to change the muffler to make the engine sound good. Changing mufflers in turbo cars especially can improve exhaust efficiency and increase power. What you have to be careful of are competition only (won’t pass smog checks) versus CARB (California Air Resources Board) approved turbos (will pass smog checks). Make sure you don’t get the wrong one. Having more power is good, but there’s no point in having it if it’s not easy to use and practical. You’re not aiming to make a high speed machine fit for Bonneville. Big turbos that have no power at low rpm and then suddenly ram you with power don’t work well in the hills and on the racetrack. (Controlling drifts will be even harder.) Large displacement NA (normally aspirated) engines like in the NSX feel good because they rev from low rpms to the limit without feeling heavy. Power transmission to the rear tires is gentler so you can control the car as you please. Turbos inherently surprise you at some point, and you have to plan for that. So then what’s the appeal of turbos? It’s the potential to draw out more power by increasing boost. Of course there is a limit, but if you consider the labor and cost it’ll take to tune an NA engine, it’s advantageous that you can get power just by boosting up even though the engine’s stock. In tuning that involves increasing power, balance must be considered, or else one part is going to overpower another, and it becomes a survival of the fittest. You end up having to counter those problems, and that costs money. So weigh your driving style and budget, and decide how far you want to go. AE86es can drift with their stock engines; with as much power as a 240SX, you can have a lot a fun even with the normal engine. I would like you to have fun even if you don’t have much money. In the beginning, change at least the air cleaner and muffler. If you have the budget and can change the PCM (or ECU), you’ll be able to change fuel trim, modify or disable rev limiter settings, and modify boost settings. Select the PCM at a reliable tuning shop, and make sure you don’t blow your engine. Depending on the boost setting, your engine can have problems right away. Even with this kind of light tuning, if you drive on the racetrack, your coolant temperature can shoot up. If you have a turbo car, you’d probably want to upgrade your intercooler first, but you should prioritize the cooling system (radiator, etc.). You really push the engine when you drive in the hills and on the track. It’s a pain in the ass if the engine’s going to blow easily, so make durability your first consideration, before power. If you increase power, you’ll naturally have to think about upgrading your clutch and flywheel. You’ll have to revise your ignition system, and to get more anal, you should change hoses to ones that can handle the tuning modifications, just to prevent problems like the hoses blowing off.
“People who don’t do oil changes and maintain their cars are not qualified to be street racers.” This is obvious. Without an engine a car isn’t going to move an inch. Inside this critical part, outrageous events called explosions are occurring constantly at furious speeds. Street racers are mercilessly abusing such engines that are stoically enduring such harsh conditions. Therefore you are obligated to care for your engine as much as possible. But I’m not going to tell normal people to take apart the engine and overhaul it. Even if you could do it, you’ll just make it run worse, so don’t. “So what should I do then,” you ask? The answer is simple. Change oil frequently. The manufacturer specified service grade is fine; change the oil every 4 months or 3,000 miles. Replacing the oil filter every other time is fine. If you don’t replace it, just take it off and drain the oil inside. Other oils are used on a car: transmission oil and differential oil. Other fluids include power steering fluid, brake fluid, clutch fluid, washer fluid, and coolant. All are vital to the car, and they’re consumable items so periodic maintenance is essential. If you neglect these, you’re in for trouble. Just once in a while, like when you ‘re getting gas, check if all are ok. Be able to maintain these yourself. Careful maintenance is important because your car is important to you, and you’d want to drive it for a long time without busting it.
Here, I would like to explain how to do the drifts that everyone has been waiting for. As always, don’t do this anywhere you want. Practice hard where it’s safe and you won’t cause anybody any trouble. This is not for putting on performances; it’s just a step in learning to control your car at will. Well, it’s sounds like I’m lecturing, but let’s get started. There are six major types of drifts. First there’s the most popular E-brake drift, then the power slide, faint drift, shift lock (clutch kick) drift, the most awesome braking drift, and the inertial drift. I’ll explain each one later, but please just don’t do these based on “spirit” and “guts.” Try them gradually after having understood and becoming able to do the previous steps. Nobody can do them right away, and if you try them without the appropriate skill, you’ll just get laughed at by others, or worse, get hurt. Drifts aren’t achieved in one day. Have fun as you practice step by step. Basically, there are many things that can be done only in rear-drive cars, so for those driving cars with other drive systems, it might not be very helpful, but try reading it anyway.
Drifting is the same as grip driving. If you don’t master the basics, eventually you’ll be pushing it, and get hurt. The basic operations are the same as grip driving. The difference is you have to countersteer because the car is sliding. You don’t need good tires to start out. The rear tires especially can be worn out tires. Well, you can install good tires on the front, but the rears will wear out really quickly, and cheaper tires slide more so they’re good for practicing. Don’t forget that rainy days are great for practicing. The tires don’t squeal, and above all, really slide. Furthermore, the tires don’t wear. In the past I too, happily went out to practice when it rained.
In the beginning, I would like all of you to promise to find a safe place where you won’t cause anybody any trouble. I know this is really hard, but please keep this promise. From here, most of the practices will involve driving in 1st gear only. First, experience the phenomenon of a tail slide. It’s easy to do. First, turn the steering wheel all the way to the left or right, then depress the accelerator to rev the engine. Around 4000 to 5000 rpm is OK. Then drop the clutch. See, the car spins like a top, right? This is the first step. There’s no need to countersteer here. When you can do this, try countersteering next. When you countersteer, the circle you’re turning in should get bigger. Experience this, and remember the feeling of a tail slide.
Next, let’s try the 180-degree turn. This can be done in any car, regardless of drive system. To do this, start out driving normally in 1st gear. When your speed gets to about 30 to 40 mph, disengage the clutch, brake lightly, and at the same time turn the steering wheel to either the left or the right, and immediately pull the E-brake. At this time, you shouldn’t be stepping on the brakes much at all. When you do this, the car will spin. Then once the car spins 180 degrees, step on the brakes to stop. Don’t worry if you can’t turn 180 degrees in the beginning. Change your speed, braking, and how strongly you pull the E-brake a little at a time, and try many times. If you just can’t get it, try saying each step out loud like, “Clutch, brake, steering wheel, E-brake,” as you’re trying it. This is all timing. If you get the timing right, you can do it really easily. Challenge it multiple times, and get a sense of the timing. To explain the method theoretically (?), first get the car driving. Weight goes to the rear of the car. The car is in a state of leaning toward the rear. Disengaging the clutch and depressing the brakes puts the weight on the front. At this time the rear becomes unstable. When you turn the steering wheel, lateral g-force is added to the weight on the front. The posture is like a dog taking a piss. At this time, there is not much weight on the rear tires, and the weight of the car is put on the front tires. The rear will now slide out with a slight shock. You create that shock with the E-brake.
Practice hard until you can turn 180 degrees and stop perfectly.
Next, let’s go to the 90-degree turn. You initiate it in the same way as in the 180-degree turn. The difference is that once the tail slides out, you have to countersteer right away. Anyone naturally countersteers if the tail slides, but that’s a haphazard operation and just not worthy of receiving a passing score. Cars are made to drive straight so if you let your hands go of the steering wheel, the car will countersteer on its own, but you can’t make doing that a habit. Make it a habit to actively countersteer yourself. The basic method of doing this turn is to make the tail slide as in a 180-degree turn, and quickly countersteer at about 45 to 50 degrees into the spin. Then step on the brakes just before 90 degrees and stop. This will be a practice for countersteering, so make sure to master it.
Once you master the 90-degree turn, try the 360-degree turn. This is a lot harder than the 180-degree turn and 90-degree turn. The reason is that on top of countersteering, you have the addition of the operation of releasing the E-brake, and accelerator control.
Humans can’t suddenly do more than one thing at a time. Furthermore, you’re doing the additional operations as an event that you have little experience with, a tail slide, is going on. There’s no way it’s going to be easy. These kinds of operations just have to be engrained in your body, so practice patiently. Initiate the turn in the same manner as in the 180-degree turn and 90-degree turn. Once the tail slides, countersteer quickly as you release the E-brake, engage the clutch, and floor the accelerator. Then ease off the accelerator a little, and control the turn at about half throttle.
A little before 360 degrees, disengage the clutch as you step on the brakes and stop. You’ll understand when you actually try it, but at first you may forget to release the E-brake, forget to engage the clutch, or keep the accelerator floored. Then, your attention turns to those operations and you get the initiation of the turn all screwed up next, don’t you? Everybody’s like that in the beginning so don’t worry about it. Even if it doesn’t go all right, these practices should be a lot of fun. Have fun while you practice. Once you can do these turns, try to exit out from a 180-degree turn. The method is almost the same as the 360-degree turn. Countersteer 180 degrees and use accelerator control to exit. If you get the timing down, it goes beautifully. Make sure you can do both right and left turns.
Next, let’s try constant circle turning, where you go round and round in small circles. I’ll explain two ways to do this; try whichever one you want to first. The first is the nose turn, where you turn with the front bumper as the axis. It’s basically the same as the 360-degree turn I explained earlier. You just keep going instead of stopping at the end. Accelerator work and countersteering is key here. In the beginning all you have to do is go round and round in an area where there’s nothing around. Be careful that the rear doesn’t grip intermediately, or you over-rev as you keep the accelerator depressed. The second way is the door turn. This is a technique where you turn round with the car’s door (about where the door mirror is) as the axis. The circle you make is smaller than in the nose turn. Initiate this in the same way as before. Once you start turning, you hardly turn the steering wheel, or you have the steering wheel turned slightly in the direction you’re turning, but don’t countersteer at all, and turn through accelerator control only. Once you can do these two, place some cones or something as a target and try it. It should suddenly get really hard to do. The reason is that you’ll have to adjust your entrance to the cone, and you have to turn with the cone as your axis. If you get caught up in these things, you’ll probably not even be able to do the entrance properly. But if you’re already getting discouraged, you’re not going to become able to do drifts. I’ll say this over and over: the basics are important. Hang in there and keep trying.
Congratulations to those of you who can now do all of these. Let’s try some variations on the techniques we’ve gone over up till now.
① U-turn using the accelerator only.
This is relatively easy. This is a variation on the first technique where you go round and round. In the U-turn technique, you adjust how much you depress the accelerator to make the car face exactly the opposite direction. The basic operations don’t change. Practice how much you should turn the steering wheel and at what rpm you should engage the clutch.
② Downshift from 2nd to 1st gear and spin turn
This is a variation of the 180-degree turn. There’s a big chance you’ll suddenly panic when doing this one. Especially if you’re not used to heel-and-toeing yet and try to downshift from 2nd to 1st gear by heel-and-toeing, the 180-degree turn that you were able to do well, you no longer can. This is the difficult part about driving. If there’s one more operation to do, you forget one operation. To master it, there’s only practice after all.
③ Spin turn with a sharp entrance angle
A spin turn with a U-turn type angle is relatively easy to do. When practicing, first decide the direction in which you want to exit. On the entrance, turn in from a sharp angle, and maintain the spin longer. The trick is entering the turn on a line that allows plenty of room on the outside.
The rhythm of stepping on and off accelerator and steering wheel operation is important. In most cases, it gets harder as you progress through the 2nd, 3rd, and further cones. Imagine the cones as clip points, and control your speed and steering wheel angle so as to properly clip those points.
⑤ Figure Eight
Now the biggest challenge: the figure eight turn. This is a swing-back technique that makes use of the over-sliding action of the car. The figure eight turn is the compilation of all the techniques you’ve practiced so far. The angle at which you turn is larger than in the U-turn, in which you use the spin turn. Furthermore, because you’re continuously making right and left turns, you’re busy turning the steering wheel. Theoretically, it’s easier if the angle in which you turn to get around the cone is smaller. You have to unwind the steering wheel less, and you don’t over-slide as much. First, get into a spin turn with a sharp entrance angle. Enter on an outer line so it’s easier to exit. Let the rears lock and slide longer than in a U-turn. The timing at which to pull the E-brake to get the car to the cone is difficult. When exiting, restrain your accelerator operation so you don’t have to countersteer much. Once you’ve exited, turn in from an outer line so the entrance into the next cone is easy. The closer the two cones are, the larger the swing-back reaction. When you’re not used to it, your operations fall behind, and your line should get tougher. Your steering wheel operations probably will get messed up too. If you start panicking, you’re likely to make mistakes like understeering, not locking the rear wheels, or forgetting to release the E-brake. You’ll understand if you try it, but it doesn’t go right if you don’t properly master all operations required for handling the steering wheel, spin turns, and accelerator work. Basically, it might be easier to do left turns. Make a conscious effort to become able to do both left and right turns equally when you practice.
Have you ever seen when a car slowly starts sliding and then suddenly goes into a drift, perhaps in a drift video?
A technique called clutch kicking is being used then. This is really handy because you can instantly go into a power drift from a very low speed. By the way, it’s used often on the track. For example, when gear ratios aren’t quite right. When the rpm will redline if in first gear, but the rpm will be too low in second gear, by using clutch kicking, the tail can be slid out, and the rpm can be brought into the power band. The method is super easy. Think of it as an extension of the accelerator turn. Do a running approach in 1st gear, and turn the steering wheel. Disengage the clutch as you’re turning (but keep your foot on the accelerator), and when the engine rpm goes up, engage the clutch. Once the tail swings out, reduce the throttle opening and control the power slide. If you leave the throttle wide open, you’ll spin. At that time countersteer to get the car to go in the direction you want. The trick is learning with how much force the tail slides out when you engage the clutch at what rpm. Make your body learn the rate and amount of the force. Once you get used to it, you’ll be able to use it in all kinds of situations, guaranteed.
Try to image the timing of a successful turn over and over in your mind. Whenever I have time, I’m always thinking about driving. I’m always imagining cornering and simulating that “I’ll do this here,” and so on. Basically, I always imagine being successful. Spin turns are a good example. I imagine the sequential operations in slow motion over and over, and make an effort to do those operations during practice. Normally, you may not be able to do it too well because your mind knows what it has to do, but your body can’t keep up. But as you practice repeatedly, by chance, there are times you do it well. It’s weird how at those times you can do it surprisingly easily. It’s important to remember the feeling at that time. Timing is the most important in the basic techniques that I’ve introduced so far starting with spin turns. Since it utilizes the principle of leverage, if you get the best timing, even with the minimum required force, you’ll turn beautifully, such that it feels really good. It’s good to ride next to a skilled driver if you have a chance because you’ll be able to experience the timing of a successful turn. The more skilled the driver, the more easily and nonchalantly he’ll do it.
In this section, let’s try constant circle turning, in which you make a big circle. This is different from the constant circle turning introduced before; it’s a technique in which you make a big circle. Make a circle about 15 feet in diameter with 3~5 cones. Start out slowly going around the cones. Gradually increase speed. Keep the steering wheel angle constant. Then, after a certain speed, the car starts veering outward. This is the famous understeer. At this time, disengage the clutch and pull the E-brake. The tail then slides out. Theoretically, it seems you should be able to make nice circles by countersteering and through accelerator work. However, in reality, you have to follow a line, in other words, you’re demanded to use accelerator work and countersteering to get the car around the target cones. To be specific, ① drift at a large angle and create a power sliding condition, and ② then maintain that condition as you advance to the target. ③As the drift angle decreases slide the tail out wide again with a power slide. This sequence of operations is demanded repeatedly.
In the sections up to now, we’ve challenged doing drifts in 1st gear only. From here, let’s try drifts in 2nd gear on an actual course. In 2nd gear, there are times you can go up to speeds exceeding 50 mph. On a course, unlike an open space, you can’t create a line as you wish. You’re demanded to take lines and control the car to go where you want it inside a set course width and layout. Depending on the place, there are dangerous spots where there are no escape zones. If you go off course at these spots, obviously the damage will be greater. Courses are high speed, and depending on the corner, are much more dangerous than an open area. Even if it’s a turn that a skilled driver can go through easily by drifting, if you feel scared, don’t push yourself. Have the courage to acknowledge fear. Doing something that’s scary is not courage. That’s is recklessness. Anyways, let’s get on the course. At any course, if you’re driving it for the first time, go lightly with grip driving. Don’t go full blast in the beginning. Gradually increase your pace as you grip drive, and drive the course layout into your brain. There are ups and down compared to an open area. As you increase speed, the turns get tougher. It becomes difficult to decrease speed through braking. The car’s motions become more likely to become unstable, and its reactions are larger. It should feel much more difficult than before. Once you become used to the course, look for a corner to drift through. In the beginning, find a corner that you feel would be easy to do and challenge it. Don’t try to do all the corners. Once you can do that corner well, go on to the next corner, and then the next. Try the corners one by one, and in the end, try to connect each corner. Drifts aren’t accomplished in one day. Improve your skills a little at a time.
Drifts are an extension of grip driving. So a person who can’t grip drive properly won’t be able to drift. I recommend grip driving and enjoying it at first. Just driving might be boring so timing yourself might be good. “From this spot on this straight to this spot on the exit,” may be a good distance between which to time yourself. The fastest grip driving is deep, and there are many aspects that relate to drifting. As you grip drive extensively, you come to see the balance required in driving, such as “This is the limit of waiting on braking,” or “If I floor the gas from back here, I’ll not make the turn and go off course.” You should realize that taking a nice out-in-out line from the outer side of a turn and exiting allows better acceleration (rpm increase). At an S-bend, if you try too hard on the first bend, the second gets tougher and you become slower. To get a better overall time, restrain your exit from the first bend and take a line that will take the greatest advantage of the second bend. The good point of grip driving is that it allows you to study speed control and what lines to take. If you don’t understand this, your speed and rhythm will be scattered when you try to drift. Entrance speeds that are too fast for grip driving are the same for drifts. So, it’s important to first attack in grip mode and learn the rhythm of the speed and lines.
Unlike the fun of swinging around and controlling the car in spin turns and accelerator turns in 1st gear, grip driving to reduce lap times has thrilling tension and should be fun too. It’s easy to drive comfortably and slowly, but if you try to up your pace, it gets hard all of the sudden. If you increase your speed, the braking that comes up next is tough. In order to step on the gas early, it’s necessary to decrease speed sufficiently on the entrance, prevent over- or understeer, and exit neatly and aggressively. Aggressive driving is often misunderstood as rough, but rough operations make the car jerky and go through many wasteful motions. You can’t generate grip force that fully utilizes the potential of the four tires unless you drive smoothly and neatly. This kind of balance is important not only for grip driving, but also for drifting. However, you don’t get to experience many situations in which there is continuous variation in practices using only 1st gear. Thus, you don’t get a very good idea of the importance of rhythm. Exaggerated action is effective in getting a car into a drifting posture in 1st gear. This is because you have to force a posture change because the car has little momentum, a product of speed. But, if you try the same thing in 2nd gear, your operations get too rough and you make a mistake. For example, when getting the tail to slide by pulling the E-brake, if you pull with the same strength as if you were in 1st gear, the car will spin instantly.
This is because the law of inertia is acting. I’m not too good with complicated topics, but a speeding car with a weight of about 1 ton possesses kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the car’s speed. That means if the speed is doubled, the kinetic energy is quadrupled. Roughly speaking, when comparing driving at 40 mph to 80 mph, the distance required to stop is four times as much at 80 mph. So, just the operation of pulling the E-brake to make the tail slide will cause a big difference in the distance the car will slide. As speed is increased, the car gathers momentum. It’s necessary to adjust your operations taking this force into consideration. You’ll just have to get used to it little by little.
Those of you who just can’t drift right, think about the cause from the beginning. The most probable cause is, you’re still scared and the action you’re making when trying to drift is too small. Do you have enough speed? Or do you have too much speed? In this case, you get freaked out and can’t perform the operations properly. You may be able to do it in 1st gear, but when you increase speed in 2nd gear, you may not go hard enough to make the rear brakes lock. Is the car okay? Depending on the road surface, the pavement and bank may prevent drifts. Are those kinds of conditions okay? If there is a skilled driver nearby, it will be good to have that person drift or check your driving. If the road surface is bad, try at a different corner. If a skilled driver can do it but you can’t, then sorrowfully, your skill level isn’t up to it. Try at an easier corner.
From here, I’ll explain the how to initiate the different drifts one by one. First of all, the most popular E-brake drift. This is a technique used often in rallying and autocrossing. This technique can be used in FF and 4WD cars, and if mastered, is really useful. You can use it to recover when you make mistakes, such as when you go into a turn too fast during grip driving. It’s a basic technique I would like you to master because it can be applied in many situations. I explained how to do it a little when I was explaining practices in 1st gear so I think you get the idea. When you’re going faster, pull on the brake less strongly, or for a shorter time, or sometimes pull on it without disengaging the clutch. Try different things depending on the turn and speed. The prerequisite is that weight is surely put on the front end. This E-brake drift is not an advanced level technique. But if you want to control it at will, a degree of timing and smoothness is required. What kind of corner, and how fast are you going? How strongly should you pull the E-brake? Practice thoroughly until you know exactly. Basically, it’s a useful technique you can use at any corner.
The next technique is the power drift. It’s not exactly a drift, but it can be used to in combination with a drift initiated with, for example, the E-brake, to increase the distance covered by the drift. Even if you’re a beginner, if your car has some power, it’s easy to slide the tail out, and make you think, “Hey, aren’t I cool.” To do this, enter a corner as you would when grip driving. Decelerate sufficiently on the straight-line, heel-and-toe downshift, and enter the turn neatly from the turn-in to the clip point. If you hastily step on the accelerator before the clip point, you’ll understeer and the car will scramble, so be careful. Up to here, it’s exactly the same as grip driving. Like the E-brake drift, make sure to put weight on the front. When the car reaches the clip point, floor the accelerator. You’re intentionally flooring the accelerator at a point where you’d usually gradually step on the accelerator to exit a corner neatly. Then tail slides out. When it starts sliding, countersteer as you ease off the accelerator to about half-throttle. Get the car to go where you want by desperately adjusting your countersteering and accelerator work. But there’s an extent to things. If you don’t understand the road conditions beforehand, you may suddenly spin. In the beginning, don’t just kick the accelerator down. Beginners get scared at the moment the tail slides, release the accelerator, and lose power all at once. The car will scramble due to the recovered grip of the rear wheels, so be careful.
In the previous grip section, I explained heel-and-toeing. The technique is used to downshift without further disruption to the car’s balance that’s already unstable due to deceleration and lateral g-forces by matching rpm when downshifting. I also explained that by matching the engine and tires’ rpm, less stress is put on the drivetrain. The shift lock technique that I will explain here is a technique in which you intentionally don’t heel-and-toe. On the entrance into the turn, make the car sink forward, and slam on the brakes. Here, for example, if you were in 3rd gear you would shift down into 2nd, and engage the clutch. Even at city speeds, a downshift in which you don’t match rpm will make engine braking work. Well, in general you shift down to induce engine braking, so if you make the rpm match, the engine braking doesn’t take place. I’ve gotten off the topic a little. In a situation where you downshift in the middle of going all out, engine braking works on the driving rear wheels, and instantaneously making the wheels go into a locked condition. The idea is using this to initiate a drift. However, there’s no way this shift lock is not going to put enormous stress on the drivetrain. In the past when I couldn’t do E-brake drifts or braking drifts, I used this knowing I am damaging the car because it doesn’t involve the busy operations required to do E-brake drifts. However, it damages your car so I can’t recommend it much. That said, I still use it once in a while when attacking. However, it’s not for doing drifts but for split second corrections such as when I want the car to face more inward. But even then, I don’t do rough operations like not matching the rpm. I heel-and-toe, do raise engine rpm, and then engage the clutch. The point there is instead of raising rpm to the appropriate 5000 rpm, I go to just below that and engage the clutch. I am raising the rpm to some degree, so there’s less damage, and it’s not like I want a big drift angle, so this degree of shift lock is enough. The clutch kick I explained before is like a variation on this. That’s a technique of disengaging the clutch but keeping the gas depressed, and then dumping the clutch. Anyways, it’s a technique just for your information so you know that, “A technique like this exists too.”
People who know driving techniques only through books and videos probably won’t understand, but as you practice to improve your techniques, everyone inevitably experiences this “fishtailing.” Not only in drifts, but also during grip driving practice, there are many times when the rear wheels slide. If you’re making the wheels slide because you want to drift, it’s an expected motion. If you didn’t mean for it to happen, you don’t have to be a beginner to panic. At these times, you countersteer late so the drift angle becomes larger. You’re really close to a half-spin condition, so you release the accelerator as you think “Oh shit.” Then, the grip of the rear wheels suddenly perks up so the car is swung in the direction of countersteer. If you’re going fast, there’s no way this weight transfer is going to settle down after one pass. Your countermeasures are late; furthermore the weight is being moved left and right, so you fall into a panic. This is fishtailing. But if you know beforehand that this is going to happen, you can apply this as a technique. This technique is the faint drift that I’m going to explain here. Make the rear wheels slide once, step on the accelerator, release it, and then step on it again right away. If you modulate the accelerator on and off and countersteer at the optimal time, you can control the direction in which the g-force acts to go to the left and right. A good practice method to learn the knack of doing this is the slalom. If vehicle speed increases enough, accelerator input right after turn-in will make the tail slide out, so at that time, by unwinding the steering wheel, a countersteering effect will take place. As the car straightens out, step on the accelerator, and turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction for the next turn-in. When you become able to do this well, you will not only be able to do faint drifts, but also be able to drive on tracks efficiently. It will be especially helpful in S-bends and sequential turns. The key point is to swing the car wide on the first turn-in and make a lot of g-force act on the car. Then with your steering wheel operation, modulation of the accelerator on and off, and with accelerator input, you make the g-force react, and turn into the second turn. In words, it may seem easy, but the car’s going at an appropriate speed, so extremely cool-headed control is required. If there’s too much g-force or countersteer, you’ll end up really close to fishtailing, so be sure to aim for smooth driving.
The drift I‘ll introduce here is the drift of drifts, the king of drifts: the braking drift. No matter what anyone says, it’s the coolest technique. Therefore it’s all the more difficult; it’s a technique for advanced level drivers. In the previous parts, I think I’ve explained “braking for the purpose of stopping,” and “braking for the purpose of turning” several times. The braking drift utilizes these braking techniques. Like the other drifts, I can explain the logic simply. During the turn-in when lateral g-force is acting, “brake for the purpose of turning,” in other words depress the brake a little, and invoke the sliding of the rear wheels, which should already be unstable. It’s important that weight is on the front. If the rear wheels are contacting the road surface, they won’t slide easily so there are times you might have to brake once more. To do a braking drift, you have to decelerate surely within a short distance. In short, you have to be able to do at-the-limit braking. Even if you can do that, you have to make the front point inward while weight is still on the front. If you take too much time on this operation, weight returns to the rear and you’re going back to scrambling in grip driving. In really bad situations, it can become as dangerous as your turn-in speed is fast. Furthermore, even if you get the tail to slide nicely, your absolute speed is faster and the car has greater momentum, so unless you countersteer the appropriate amount at the appropriate time, you’ll spin. However, if you have the skill to create proper cornering strategies, by gradually increasing speed from grip-only driving, you’ll naturally become able to do braking drifts. Natural, cool, and fast. You’ll just have to make that an objective. But can only advanced drivers do it? Not necessarily. For example, on the downhill, weight is toward the front, so there are times you just happen to do it. I’ll get off the topic a little but in driving FF cars fast, there is a technique that utilizes a similar cornering technique in which the grip of the rear tires is reduced. In the case of FF cars, by turning the steering wheel and releasing the accelerator for an instant, a phenomenon called tuck-in occurs; brake lightly here. But, FF cars can only accelerate in a straight-line from here, or perhaps understeer, when the accelerator is depressed. Therefore, like FR cars, a drift angle with the front as an axis will be created, but the car can’t go forward maintaining that posture. If you want to do a lot of braking drifts, you can make the rear brake pads work more than the front pads, or lower and harden the front suspension a little and raise and soften the rear suspension so the limit of the rear end is lowered. However, in order to do these kinds of set ups, you have to drive the car extensively with stock equipment and firmly grasp the characteristics of the car.
When a car is going really fast, the force of inertia acts greatly on it. A car is a heavy object that weighs over a ton, so if it’s balance is disrupted, it’s gets swung around for a long time due to the force of inertia. The inertial drift is a technique that makes use of this force to drift. A driver must have really good skills to do full on cornering at high-speed turns, but it’s very difficult for even such an advanced level driver to execute drifts easily. In high speed cornering, g force is acting on the outer side of the car, and the car is cornering by making the grip force of the tires go against that g force. If you release the accelerator just slightly, contact between the road surface and the rear tires drops, and the tail slides. Here, you have to quickly get the car into a drift stance, depress the accelerator again, and countersteer to maintain the drift angle. The challenge is stopping the tail slide at the point when the tail gets to the target angle. This is extremely difficult. I mentioned before that cars are heavy objects weighing over a ton; the force of inertia acting on the car is much stronger than you think. Exit speed out of the slide is also high. And the slide, in other words the speed at which the tires are sliding, is also very fast. Here, you have to depress the accelerator, that you momentarily eased off a little, again to increase the drive force, and fight the non-stopping slide. But depending on the momentum with which the car is sliding, there are times that just stepping on the accelerator won’t stop the sliding. People who have never controlled a car in this kind of speed range probably can’t imagine how frightening it is at this time. Of course, braking to decelerate is more likely to further disrupt the unbalanced car. Also, even though you’re countersteering, that doesn’t mean the sliding is going to stop. In a written explanation of the steps, the sequence of operations may seem to take some time, but this all develops within a short period of time. To be more extreme, the car instantly becomes unbalanced as the tail slides out, and on the track, the car may fly off course or slam into the wall with no time to control it; it’s such a sudden time lapse. In short, at the time the posture of the car is disrupted at the start, it’s already as if the car’s balance has fallen apart. That’s why it’s difficult to progress in this practice. It’s like you can’t tell how many cars you will total by the time you master the braking drift. I have never thought about doing it and succeeded. A couple times I went into a turn too fast, and when I eased off the gas a little because I got scared, I just happened to do it as I was freaking out. But if you can really control the car at will, it’s not at all impossible.
Here, once more, for those people who just can’t seem to drift, let’s think about the reason logically. First, are you still scared? Drifting is a technique that requires skill, so even if you succeeded once without thinking about surrounding conditions, and with guts, there’s no guarantee you can do it the next time. That’s more like at a level like, “You were just lucky.” But, you may be too cautious, and your operations, or in this case the change in the car’s motion, may be too small. In this case, even if you can decrease the contact between the road and the rear tires, you won’t be able to make the tail slide.
Or, you may think too much about “What if?” and slow down too much. Similarly, you may not be able to weight transfer properly. For power drifts and E-brake drifts, the iron rule is that the amount of contact between the road and the rear tires has to be lowered. Unless you are creating this condition sufficiently, the car won’t slide as you’d think. Go back to the starting point, and depending on the situation, check how the tail starts sliding out under exaggerated action on a low surface, such as on a wet road. Also, step hard on the brakes and check if you can do full braking. Some people may think that they’re doing it, but in other people’s eyes it will be not enough. Concerning braking, you should finish 80 percent of the braking during the initial braking period, and be able to minutely adjust the braking force during the rest of the braking period. If you master this, it will help in braking drifts. Installing cheap tires or tires that have worn down about a third of their tread is another option. You can expect a lot from these, and the rear tires become easier to slide. However, since they have less grip, stopping the sliding becomes harder too. Remember that. On the other hand, the car may slide but then continue to go into a spin. In that case, an operation or maybe all operations, may be excessive, causing you to spin. Or, you may not be able to do the appropriate accelerator control or countersteer that’s required for the sliding of the rear tires.
As I have written many times, drifts are risky for even those who can completely control his car. I too, still spin a lot, and have crashed my car many times. If you spin, calmly check in which direction the car is pointing and the surrounding situation. Whether on a public road or on the track, if you’ve stopped at a bad spot, you will block the paths of following cars. To ensure safety, you must move the car somewhere quickly. If there was a lack of weight on the front, the car understeered, the front grip was lost, and the car slid off course, ease off the accelerator without panicking. The cause of the understeer, such as vehicle speed, or turn radius, or how much you have turned the steering wheel, depends on the situation so I can’t generalize, but if you panic and suddenly cut off all driving force, the grip of the front tires suddenly recover, making the car turn inward instantly, so be very careful. At the same time the rear wheels slide outwards, so you have to countersteer immediately. It may seem like, “Hey, I’m drifting,” but it’s not intentionally controlled so your countermeasures are late. Which means you can’t just go, “Well then, let’s step on the gas!” If you lock the brakes and are about to run into the wall, turn the steering wheel in the direction that is safer and release the brake at the moment just before impact. Unless you’re going at an extremely fast speed, the front tires regain their grip, so the car should turn. I wish this would never happen, but if you just can’t avoid running into something, hold onto the steering wheel firmly, step fully on the brake with your right foot, and have your left foot on the foot rest; brace your whole body with your arms and legs. Keep your eyes on what you’re going to run into, and continue to look at it until the moment of impact. If you shut your eyes too early, you can’t tell when the impact will occur and how strong an impact it’s going to be. On the other hand, there are cases in which by watching until impact, you can brace yourself, and there will be less damage to your body. Make sure to maintain the condition of the car at all times under your responsibility.
This section will be the last. I wrote this manual because I want everyone to have fun and improve their driving so there will be fewer accidents. I think I have incorporated many things I couldn’t explain verbally on a normal day. If something is hard to understand, just come ask me anytime. I’ll show you, so come take a ride in my passenger seat. I love driving very much, and thus have driven to this day. I want to continue on too. So everyone, let’s keep driving. I’ve polished my skills alone up till now. I’ve watched and read videos and books by Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya and Manabu Orido thousands of times. Lately, I’ve finally gained some buddies to drive with, and am having even more fun driving. Everyone tells me I drive skillfully, but I think I have much more to improve on. So, I’ll listen to driving advice from everyone, and ask anyone to teach me. Therefore, in the past several years I think I’ve improved a lot. This is all thanks to our team members. I will improve my skills further, and try not to get passed up by anyone. I hate losing, and am greedy when it comes to driving, so I have no foolish pride, and if someone has a technique that I don’t, I’ll actively learn it and steal it. I don’t think there are any such people who would among those that have read this manual to the end, and I have written it many times so I think you understand, but please don’t do stupid things like rev your engine anywhere or drift just to show off in front of people. Instead having a boring objective like improving your driving techniques to brag to people, polish your skills in order to enjoy driving more. Even if you don’t brag to people or show off drifts, if your skills improve, people will naturally acknowledge you, and respect you, as long as you truly enjoy driving. Well, I’m going to end this about now. In the end, all those who helped make this driving technique manual, those who have always supported me in the background, and all team members, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will improve more and more, so please continue to support me. Let’s all keep on driving together.
SYMPHONIC Team Leader Tsutomu Maehara