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Reference Points

In the cornering article, we discussed the three phases of the turn. We also discussed that there is an optimium line through every corner. For consistency, the driver will need a set of fixed reference points to mark the phases of the corner, so the line can be driven identically every lap.

Upon approaching a corner, the driver needs a fixed point to use as a reference for starting the turn-in. Guessing each time or "going by the feel" will guarantee that the driver will turn in too soon sometimes, and too late other times. Inconsistent and slower than perfect lap times will result, and give a more consistent competitor an advantage. To prevent this, in the practice sessions the driver must quickly determine the correct starting point for the turn-in and find a permanent visual landmark to use for reference.

Next, is the apex point. This is the target point that the inside tire of the car should touch as it reaches the maximum inside point of the driving line. Again, without a fixed point to target, inconsistency and slower times will result.

Last, is the exit point. This is the target point after the apex that the car tracks out to on the opposite side of the track and is completely pointed straight again, or is otherwise pointed properly for the next corner.

In each case, the reference point should be a permanent land mark. A tire skid on the track is no good. Other skids later on could obscure the original one. Likewise, a particular rock, weed, or grass tuft on the side may be questionable if they are in danger of being driven over if a car goes off course. You should look for unique features in the road itself if possible.

Some tracks have permanent signs in the braking zones, or have bump markers such as those that separate lanes on the highway. You might start braking exactly at one of the markers, or a car length before or after.

At the corner apex, most permanent road course tracks will have the white or red & white cement corner markers. When you find the right apex point, note whether it is half way, three-quarters, or wherever, and aim for that spot each time.

The corner exit reference point can be the toughest to find. Many tracks have exit markers just like the apex which can be used, but not all. You may have to search for other fixed landmarks off the track that the car exit path lines up with such as telephone poles, trees, or signs.

What about a reference point for the start of braking? There is some debate about this. Some people suggest that there should not be a reference point for the start of braking. The argument is that the turn-in point is the focus, and the driver must learn to sense when to start the braking to achieve the proper speed at the turn-in point. It is assumed that some laps will be faster than others because traffic is involved, and with all these variables, the focus must be placed on the turn-in point, not in looking for the braking point which may be to soon for slower speeds. This is a valid theory.

Nevertheless, one of the key attributes of skilled driving is consistency, and one of the keys to consistency is reference points. In practice, qualifying, or time trialing, a braking reference point is just as effective for marking the capabilities of the car's performance (for braking) as is the turn-in point (for corner entry grip), and acceleration point (for corner exit grip).

An example of where a braking reference point is a must, is a blind corner. A corner at the top of, or just below, the crest of a hill will not be visible to the driver during braking.

The debate of whether there is or should be a reference point for braking is largely semantics. Physiologically, your mind and body needs some reference to know when to start braking, and how to make that action consistent. For braking, the term "reference point" itself describes the purpose. It is a point of reference, and will not be so much a "target" as it is for the turn-in, apex, and exit points. If the driver is at maximum speed before the turn, he's going to need to know when to start braking. If another lap is slower, he'll know he can start braking a little later. Regardless of how it is used and whether you call it a "reference point" or not, having a point or reference for the maximum braking performance of the car for each turn avoids guessing.

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