When weather reports hint at the prospect of rain, many drivers cringe. Yet there is another set of drivers who perk in anticipation, and begin their best rain dance rendition. I’ve literally found myself transformed into a kid after a wet track session jumping in puddles with a big smile. However I didn’t always have an adoration for driving in the rain and was a bit fearful of it. I believe that once you have a better understanding of how to approach driving on a wet track and embrace it, you will come to truly enjoy it if you don’t already.
One of the first things you need to realize is that the track conditions are the same for everyone. In those dreaded days where the track isn’t really dry but isn’t really all that wet either, all other drivers are facing the same wet tire or dry tire dilemma. It’s how you approach the session mentally that will impact not only your enjoyment, but your level of success. The great thing is with the right approach, rain driving is a fantastic equalizer as things become much less about the amount of power a car has but more about the driver. When trying any of these techniques, remember the first thing you need to do is keep the car on the track and finish.
During rain conditions things are constantly changing out on track. One lap a line might be ideal, then the next a puddle may have formed necessitating an adjustment in your approach. You need to be aware of this and not be afraid of adjusting your line. To start with, we suggest that your line be approximately a car width off the normal dry line. That does not mean this is the ideal line, but rather a decent place to begin. With some tracks there are unique aspects which make other lines more ideal, and as a result it’s useful to obtain local knowledge of the track if possible. Sometimes this can be gained from drivers within your own class. Other times I’ve found speaking with experienced drivers from another class are more open to sharing these “secrets”.
One example of this was Lime Rock Park prior to the track being repaved a few years ago. The track had become worn in and for some corners, driving a car width off the normal line wasn’t the fastest approach. Instead a rim shot around a few corners proved to be much faster. People who didn’t have the “local knowledge” including pro drivers were missing out on this time savings.
Practice Session, Qualifying, Pace Lap
If you have a rainy practice session, it’s important to use this time to the fullest. On the first lap out, especially if you haven’t driven the track in the rain before, take it easy and truly become attuned to your surroundings and the track. Where are there puddles accumulating? Are there turns or braking areas on the track that have concrete which are typically more slick than asphalt? In those sections, what other potential lines might be used to improve grip? I also suggest you identify which corners you can take greater risks versus ones that have higher repercussions from a less severe mistake.
During the session, try different lines. Even try lines that you “know” won’t be ideal (just take it easy and be extra careful). During this experimentation, you will learn things. Sometimes you’ll be surprised with how well that line works, other times driving it will give you a feel of how the car will react if forced out into this line. When behind other quick drivers, try their lines too if there seems to be potential value. On the flip side, be aware of competitors learning from you. There are times when I’ve driven some quiet unique lines in hopes they’ll also use it.
Focus on being smooth and not trying to fight the car too much. Much like driving in snowy conditions, turning the wheel more when sliding is not the best technique. Unwind the steering input a bit, then slowly give more input again. Easy on with the throttle, easy off. I can not stress how much being smooth is key to being successful in rain racing. This isn’t meant to say that you don’t need fast hands and to make quick adjustments.
For some corners, you’ll benefit from squaring off the corners. What I mean by this is position your car so that you can be on the throttle earlier than if you took the standard dry line, thus allowing you to carry more speed on the straight. In the above illustration, the dotted line represents what might be the typical dry line. The solid line represents the approximate method of squaring off the corner. The blue vertical lines are approximately where you could be full throttle. If using the traditional dry line, you probably will be gently on and off the throttle application prior to track out where the car would be fully pointed in the right direction. Using the “squaring off” technique, you can be full throttle much sooner. It’s not a technique that will work in all corners in all situations, but certainly is useful in some situations. Again, experiment.
When to Use Dry or Rain Tires?
This is often times a challenging decision. I often find myself wishing that it would just rain steadily or dry up so the decision would be obvious. Funny how that rarely seems to happen. Even when we spoke with our friends at Hoosier racing tire, they said there is no simple answer. In the above photo, the track was damp but it didn’t seem like it was going to rain much more. In this case, I opted to go out on dry tires.
Do you have a smartphone or laptop you can bring to the track that has internet access? I downloaded an application called RadarScope on my iPhone and learned the basics of how to use its radar. Having this knowledge can be a huge help in making your tire decision.
From there, another important element in your decision making is what your goals for the session or race are. Are you in a position where the right tire choice could lead to a possible race win? Or are you new to rain racing and it’s more about getting experience and survival. The type of car and how it is set-up will also factor into your decision.
A friend of mine was at a race where he clearly was the faster driver in his racing class. He debated rain tire versus dry tire right down to the last moment. Conditions were in-between and it could have gone either way. He knew what his competitors were going to use, but opted to go out in dry tires. This was a gamble which he lost. In hindsight he should have just used the same tires that his competitors were using and rely on his driver talent. He was faster and would have beaten them if on the same tires, but instead got beat by his tire choice. Lesson learned for that situation.
Check out this video of Dave driving in the rain for some additional rain tips:
In another future article we’ll sit down with Kessler Engineering, a premier race shop in the Northeast, and discuss rain weather car set-up, tire pressure suggestions, and other related topics. We’ll also talk further with Hoosier about additional rain tire topics.