Last updated: September 6th, 2023
Featured image: The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca
“The Racing Line” is a fundamental theory of track driving that is crucial for speed. It’s not enough to simply learn the line; we must also understand the reasoning behind why we take that particular line.
The fastest way to navigate a corner while driving involves four key stages: braking, turn-in, apex, and exit.
Understanding the racing line
For obvious reasons, we always want to find the fastest possible route your car can take through every corner. By using all of the available track space and maintaining a balanced car, our goal is to maintain the maximum possible speed until the limits of the tyre grip are reached. The optimal line depends on various factors such as the vehicle, driving style, terrain, and with some simulators, weather. It may not always be the shortest path, and sometimes multiple routes are equally fast.
If you want to get through a corner as fast as possible, without compromising your exit speed, you have to understand what factors you have control over.
- You can play with the radius (the line!) the car is traveling on
- You can work to maximize the available grip by balancing the car
- You can control the entry, mid-corner, and exit speed of the car
A well thought out (and practiced) approach to each corner will yield the fastest line. In sim racing, balancing the car by braking smoothly, coming off the brakes smoothly without unsettling the chassis, and using your vision to plot a line of sight to the apex and exit of the corner is the key to finding more and more time through a corner.
Minimising the Corner Radius
The straighter the line, the faster the corner. This is why drivers are always trying to use as much track width as possible through any corner. By “opening up” the corner, you will be faster.
The other, critical point you need to think about is this: more steering input means less speed! This is especially true in the exit phase of a corner. if you think about it, the sooner you unwind the steering wheel, the sooner you can get on the throttle. This is why “getting the turn done” slightly before or by the latest, at the apex, means you can get the quickest exit possible.
So, getting the perfect racing line depends on your understanding of the following phases:
- Braking point
- Turn in point
And finally, taking into account the proximity and direction of the next corner for combination corners.
There is no universal perfect line through a corner, as it varies based on factors such as your car’s characteristics, cornering approach, and grip levels. Naturally, racing requires adapting to the positions of other vehicles on the track, too.
Choosing the ideal braking point
Getting your braking right before a corner is critical to a fast lap time. Your goal is to reduce corner entry speed adequately to hit the apex and to assist the car’s rotation (turn) using trail braking. Enter the corner too quickly and you’ll experience push (understeer), especially in iRacing where entry speed and brake bias settings affect corner entry so fundamentally. Brake too early, enter the corner too slowly and you’ll lose time on the entry. You might not be able to get on the throttle at the ideal point, either.
It’s a good idea to brake earlier while you’re learning the track and car, then slowly brake later and later in small chunks. The goal of the beginning of the braking phase is to reduce your speed (obviously!) with your sight on the apex, trailing off the brakes as the car rotates to the apex, with your vision moving to spot the exit of the corner.
Getting the turn in point correct is almost always dictated by where your eyes are looking! You’ve chosen a braking point and made a mental mark of where to apply the brakes as you approach the corner. As you’re braking and increasing your brake pressure, your eyes should be fully focused on the apex, which is, ultimately, the destination you’re braking for.
As you’re approaching the apex, two important things should be happening. Firstly, your vision should be shifting to the exit point in the corner. Secondly, you’ll be trailing off the brakes as the car needs to turn into the apex of the corner. Put these two things together and your vision will dictate the rotation of the car. You’ll instinctively know if you’re under-rotating or over-rotating. This takes practice and skill, and you’ll find yourself spending time understanding how quickly the car wants to rotate under braking.
Take note: Taking corners at the highest entry speed may not be the fastest way around a track. When a corner leads onto a straight, a later apex can be more effective by allowing for a straighter car and earlier acceleration, resulting in a higher-speed exit. This approach is commonly considered the best racing strategy, featuring a marginally lower entry speed but a quicker exit speed. The maximum amount of grip is the deciding factor for determining the latest braking point and apex. A lot of drivers (myself included) can make the mistake of carrying too much speed during the entry phase. This is problematic, as you’re delaying the point that you can get back on the throttle, costing you time.
Getting a better exit
The trick with the ideal racing line is to (in my opinion!) get the turn completed as early as possible allowing the longest amount of time on the throttle. This means you’ll get a better exit, which means you’ll find a lot of time on the straight.
Types of corner and their best racing lines
While every corner at every circuit will have its quirks, the shapes of corners do follow a pattern, so there’s always a racing line best practice, to begin with.
A hairpin is a sharp bend that turns around 180 degrees, with the apex for the racing line typically located about three-quarters of the way around the turn. To navigate it properly, aim to be in the middle of the track when you reach the halfway point of the turn.
The 90-degree corner
Most 90 degree corners are much faster than they sound! Copse, at Silverstone, is a 90-degree, high-speed corner.
The high-speed corner technique emphasizes the importance of keeping a balanced car through the corner, usually by braking a little lighter (brake earlier to try this technique for the first time), really using your vision to look through the apex to the exit point, and of course, practice!
Some of my favorite corners are esses complexes – the famous Maggots / Becketts complex (again, at Silverstone) being one of the most impressive high-speed sections to watch an F1 car hurtle through:
The trick with esses is to really open up your vision so you’re focused on the section as a whole. Keep the car very stable by turning in smoothly towards the first apex, using as much track as possible without destabilizing the car. Try not to run out too wide on the exit so you can prepare your car for the second apex.
A double apex can require some thought and creativity. Some drivers consider these to be one corner, and to a large extent they’re correct. In my opinion, the key is not to allow this slightly more complicated situation get the better of you and ruin your exit.
To get a great entry/exit from a double apex corner, try to move the “entry” phase later in the corner. This action may mean that your entry speed is faster and you’re braking for an apex that is somewhere in the middle of the section! See (in the image above) the car will miss the first apex altogether so as not to tighten the entry line too much.
You are braking and turning at a higher speed during the entry phase so this type of complex requires a lot of practice. Get the radius correct, though and your exit will pay off all the way down the following straight.
A Combination Corner
In a combination corner, your position and direction at the exit of the first corner will dictate your entry into the second.
The aim is always to exit the second corner at the maximum possible speed. So, in a combination corner, think in reverse: where do I need to put the car to make sure I can get on the throttle as early as possible for the second phase?
Driving the racing line
As a racing driver, negotiating a turn in the quickest way possible is crucial to achieving a fast lap time. To do this, it’s important to understand the optimum route through the corner, which can be determined by studying the track and testing different lines during practice sessions.
When approaching a corner, I always aim to carry as much speed as possible without losing control of the car. This requires a deep understanding of my car’s limits, as well as a keen sense of balance and car control. I rely on a combination of techniques, including braking, throttle control, and steering inputs, to navigate the turn as efficiently as possible.
One key technique I use is trail braking, which involves lightly applying the brakes while turning into the corner. This helps to transfer the car’s weight to the front wheels, improving grip and allowing me to carry more speed through the turn. I also pay close attention to my throttle inputs, gradually applying power as I exit the turn to maintain traction and prevent the car from sliding.
Ultimately, the key to achieving a fast lap time is to find the right balance between speed and control. This takes practice and experience, but with time and dedication, it’s possible to master the art of negotiating corners and achieving faster lap times. Good luck!