On the race track silly! While I was putting together yesterday’s Carnival of Wheels, AC’s great post DE Smooth vs Race Smooth stuck a major chord with me. My whole life as a driver has been influenced by the pursuit of smooth.
It all began… Well, you can read about the effect semi pro racing in the Sixties had on me in the about page. Really though, at some point in my formative years I found a book called Sunday Driver by Brock Yates. Essentially, Yates wanted to race so that he could write about it intelligently. Except he didn’t want to be the guy who raced one or two regional events and then called himself an expert like so many other writers. He wanted to run a full season in Trans Am. The pinnacle of sedan racing in America at the time. One chapter hit me like a ton of bricks. While the actual words are a bit blurry, the message has stuck with me for the last 25 years or so. Yates’ team owner and team mate followed him through a practice session and then berated him for his lack of smoothness. While his teaching method might have caught him a smack upside the head from some, his message got through to Yates. Wild and woolly might be fun and look spectacular, but it beats up the car and it’s slow. Who woulda thunk?
A few years on, I visited my first major race as a teenager. The FIA World Championship visited Mosport in the form of the 24 Hour Group C event. My first around the clock event! Before the alcohol set in (after all…we were 17) I made a few observations. There was a red and white Audi Coupe that must have been a bear, because the driver was sawing madly at the wheel half way up the straight between corners 10 and one. Guys like Derek Bell & Jacky Ickx on the other hand were almost casual with their steering inputs in the mighty Porsche 956. Again, there was a message that stuck. Smooth is fast, even in the race.
Years later when I began competing in Solo events and later on, Navi and Performance rallies, I concentrated on being smooth. Smooth is fast, crude is slow. In my first performance rally, I finally saw the results. At the end of the first stage, I was 7th on the road out of 50 or 60 cars, including names like Buffum, Sprongl, Merrill and Choiniere. I was driving a lowly 100 hp, fwd, Suzuki Swift. They of course were driving the heavy equipment. I passed a couple of those names on their roof! But my co-driver, the lovely & talented Mamma G commented that I really wasn’t going that fast. In fact, there was never any drama behind the wheel. Just a slow, smooth drive with no surprises. Once again, smooth was the way to go.
Does that mean that smooth is the only way to go? Well, yes and no. I suppose it depends on the driver, the car and the venue. Even then, at the top level, I think that sometimes it comes down to the driver. Watch these next two videos. The first, multiple World Champion rally driver Carlos Sainz.
Sainz’s hands are always moving. They almost seem to move in cadence with co-driver Moya’s staccato commentary.
Another multiple World Champion, Colin McRae on the other hand, looks like he’s out for a Sunday drive.
So the obvious should be stated here. The long wheelbase Sube and the the short wheelbase Escort are very different cars, requiring two very different driving styles. Ok, point taken, but watch ANY in car video of either driver. Colin is always relaxed behind the wheel (he saves the tantrums for outside the car) and Carlos is always a mad man behind the wheel. Clearly, 2 World Champions in the same discipline with 2 different styles. They both seem to work.
I couldn’t find any in car of Ron Fellows, but watch a few races and you’ll notice that he’s cool, calm and almost lethargic behind the wheel. Slow and smooth works wonders. In fact, watch most pro sedan racers in car & they are almost always calm, relaxed and incredibly smooth.
So, DE Smooth or Race smooth? I suppose it’s like the difference between qualifying and racing. In qualifying you are hunting for the ultimate lap, while during the race you are looking to be the fastest of the combatants. In qualifying you want perfection, while during the race you want to be as smooth as possible given the action going on around you. Then again, as Colin and Carlos show, maybe there is no real answer.