by David Dilworth
In my decades of involvement in the car racing world, including teaching race car driving at Winfield’s Racing School at Goodwood in England, I’ve had the opportunity to carefully observe many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the world’s best drivers navigate road track corners: Formula 1 drivers, Can-Am drivers, USAC, CART, etc. With a few exceptions, if they raced on a road course since the 1970s – I’ve probably carefully observed their corner driving skills. From the Andrettis to Zanardi; from Jackie Stewart to Jacques Villeneuve.
I still smile in amazement at how one man’s skill in driving corners still stands so clearly above the rest. His driving was aesthetically magnificent. Fast, smooth, graceful, yes, even elegant. The way he drove a corner was a genuine dynamic masterpiece.
And I’ll be shocked if you can guess who I’m talking about.
I’ll never forget the pure aesthetic beauty of his driving a Formula B through Laguna Seca’s (former) Turn 4 quicker and smoother than anyone else – including the Formula As, which had better wings and stickier tyres, then maintaining that speed through the corner and up the back hill. (This was 1972. Any guesses yet?)
What made his driving notably higher quality as well as faster than everyone else was he would enter the corner sliding his tyres at maximum G from the moment he turned in.
Few people know about and understand tyre slip adhesion curves. Though that includes most racing drivers, some drivers understand it empirically from lots of practice and passion.
Here’s a graph showing that maximum racing tyre traction occurs at a few degrees of slip (slide) angle.
What these graphs show is that to get maximum speed while cornering you must have tyres sliding where the top of the graph is (roughly 8-10 degrees, though I seem to remember the maximum was around 7 degrees the last time I had access to that engineering data). It is safer to drive in the lower slip angle region of the graph (say 1-4 degrees) – but it is also slower.
A few other drivers eventually get their cars sliding during the corner. But it would be accurate to say they drive around a corner – typically “sawing” away at the steering wheel.
Racing Hint: If you have enough traction left over that you can correct for major surprise slides – you aren’t going even close to as fast as possible. It usually means the driver doesn’t know the track well enough and probably hasn’t set up his car properly. (I can’t help but remember Mario Andretti, late in his career, sawing his way around the same corner – leaving me a sad, disappointing memory.)
In contrast, this fellow hurled his car at the corner and flew it around. He kept it right at the maximum cornering power (slip angle limit) from the first moment of turn-in, and all the way through until the corner exit (including the perennial dip at the apex that is still there as of 2011). One beautifully smooth arc.
His secret was that he did more preparation than the rest. He had everything about his car setup well before the corner so it flew through mostly on autopilot.
He sort of fired the car at the corner at just the right speed, and exactly the right slide and throttle. Then using minimal throttle and steering — he let it fly through the corner in one exquisitely lovely sliding arc — all the way through.
While a handful of other drivers have managed to do this once in a great while – this driver did it every lap.
Have you guessed yet?
His name is Bob Lazier. Since I first saw Bob drive, he’s had quite a notable career. But never the awards and press that recognize his world class driving.
I never had the pleasure of seeing Fangio, Novolari (who invented the 4-wheel drift according to Enzo Ferrari) or Jimmy Clark drive a corner. I can only hope they drove / flew corners as masterfully and magnificently as Bob Lazier. Good on you Bob.
Cinema Camera onboard with Jimmy Clark in Formula 1 Lotus 25