Learning how to go off-track safely is essential for your safety and that of others because it is bound to happen eventually. When handled properly, going off can be a non-event.
At our recent excursion to Roebling Road Raceway, I got a close-up view of a classic scenario preached in HPDE classrooms far and wide: the car in front of me dropped two tires off the outside of the corner, and almost immediately, the car shot back towards the inside of the track.
This exact scenario is often discussed at Roebling, because it has another corner with a concrete wall on the inside that has claimed more than its share of cars that did the same thing as the video.
This scenario is avoidable. Whether it's recognizing that you are heading off the track earlier and lifting enough to make the corner or handling the actual going-off-the-track part better, you can go off at the exit of many corners with little drama, provided there is sufficient run-0ff.
The incident occurred at turn 5, a decreasing radius left-handed sweeper that is the slowest sequence of Roebling Road Raceway. This is the second green flag lap of the Time Trial group's second session of the day. Cars were amply warmed up and starting to push.
As is often the case, I'm in no-man's land here: trailing TT1-TT3 cars with more than twice my horsepower but which are slower than me in the infield. I'm also directly ahead of the TT6 group leader (shout-out Tim), doing my best not to slow him down until I get some clear-ish track ahead.
As we re-apply throttle at the apex of turn 5, it becomes apparent that the Evo in front is not tracking-out at the trajectory that his front wheels are pointed. The Evo is understeering on-throttle, and the driver stays committed to making the narrow exit curbing.
Unfortunately, he does not make the corner. The two outside tires of the Evo drop off into the soft dirt, and almost immediately, the car hooks towards the inside and crosses the track quickly. Thankfully, he did not hit anything or sustain any damage. After gathering up the car on the grass inside the corner, he rejoined the session safely.
What Went Wrong
When the outside tires lost most of the traction offered by the racing surface, the car experienced a significant grip imbalance. The inside two tires were still applying power, and the front tires were still steering left into the corner. With the outside tires ineffective, the inside tires quickly pulled the car hard to the left and shot the car across the track in the other direction.
The driver could then apply the brakes and counter-steer effectively enough to prevent ending up in the woods.
How To Avoid
There was a point of no return here, where it was inevitable that the car was going off. When that point is realized, the best course of action is to gently straighten the steering input and safely [slowly] reduce the car's speed. Remember, the inside and outside wheels might still be imbalanced. You must be gentle and deliberate with your steering and throttle inputs when you are partially or fully off the track surface.
After gaining control and confidence in the car, you need to check your mirrors before merging back onto the track, lest another car now occupies the space where your car should have been.
Again, it is important to stress that your steering and throttle (or brake) inputs be gentle and minimal. Large or sudden inputs can cause the car to spin, dig into the dirt, or shoot back towards the track surface or outside towards the barriers.
Going off track may be old news to some of my readers (I'm looking at you, Matt), but many others may have never experienced it, may have gone off poorly, or maybe have not seen it happen so up close and personal. In any case, I found the video interesting, and I have watched it on a loop many times, learning about the dynamics of going off and accident avoidance as the following driver.
This was one of many incidents I caught during the weekend. Unfortunately, a corrupt GoPro video file prevented me from sharing the others. If this was informative (or entertaining) for you, please let me know so I can do more of them in the future.