Threshold Braking and Lead-Follow Laps: One of the Most Fun Ways To Practice Track Driving
Lead-follow, Lexus LC 500s, Laguna Seca; this was so much fun.
Lead-follow laps with an instructor are some of the best ways to get the basic line of a track down. Especially when it’s a new track, like my experience at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca a few weeks back. With some added threshold braking exercises thrown in, they made for a great way to get acquainted with driving on track for just about anybody.
Disclaimers, disclosures: Lexus USA invited me to take part in the Lexus Performance Driving School at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. The company covered the program cost, expenses, transportation up to Monterey and back, and lodging for the weekend. For more information on its high performance driving programming, check out the website.
I’ve got a decent amount of track experience under my belt, but I’d never been on Laguna Seca’s smooth, technical, and ultra-fun tarmac until this day. As far as how good of a track it was for putting everything I’d learned earlier in the day into practice: the track’s hard braking zones, wild camber changes, and variety of corners made it one of the best ways to do so.
After donning helmets and getting behind the wheel of a gaggle of Lexus LC 500s, our first task was to become familiar with threshold braking on track. Get up to speed, and once the front wheels reached a gate outlined by two blue cones, slam hard on the brakes. The concept was to get participants comfortable with doing this, letting them know what ABS doing its thing felt like. This might seem like an easy, OK, big deal? exercise, but it was good to get everyone on the same page of what this felt like.
Then we pulled out onto the main straightaway and began some lead-follow laps, with participants changing position at the beginning of each lap. With our instructor in a lead car giving us instructions via walkie talkie, we made our way around the track, seeing what sort of apexes were required for each corner.
Does this corner require a late, patience-filled apex to make the most of corner exit? Or can we turn in early and carry more speed all the way through? Our instructor cut the ideal line, with commentary about when to begin braking, how much to brake, and provide instruction on the flip-side regarding the gas pedal.
Andretti Hairpin, otherwise known as Turn 2, requires a weird, late apex with a decreasing radius, which ended with the LC’s front wheels on the inner curbing to set up for turn 3. Turn 3 was easy enough, but Turn 4 required a touch of brakes, and getting back hard on the power through the corner, which sling-shotted us out onto a nice straight, where we’d routinely hit 100+ MPH. Then, the weirdly-cambered, uphill left-handers (that oughta be a band name) were a lot of fun, which led to the infamous corkscrew. The blind crest into the braking zone pre-Corkscrew wasn’t that intimidating. Though I’m sure barreling in at 10/10ths is another story.
Dropping down into the Corkscrew was so much fun. Slightly scary at first. But as long as we got enough braking in prior, put the car in the right place, and looked up/ahead, it was a nice long wheee! experience.
This corner was peak looking-up, ahead, and down the track for sure.
Then, the following succession of corners required a little finesse, but can’t compare to the giggle fest that was the Corkscrew. I actually dug Turn 10 though for sure. It was a corner that’s best experienced with some light trail braking, followed by hammering on the gas at exit. Finally, using all the braking and steering for Turn 11.
Laguna Seca is a testament to no two corners having the same strategy, or requiring the same amount of steering, braking, and acceleration. The reward for completing a lap was the LC’s 5.0-liter 2UR-GSE V8’s mighty roar up the front straight.
Doing lead-follow and the braking exercise was a good, all-encompassing activity. Participants got a solid understanding of what balancing throttle, braking, and steering felt like, and how to alter them through a good variety of corners. It wasn’t as precise as autocross, but demanded the same techniques. It wasn’t slippy and slidey at all like the skidpad, but knowing what its extremes felt like certainly helped drive the day’s lessons home. It also helped out Lexus’ marketing efforts; no less than three straightaways helped demonstrate the LCs’ power and glorious, NA V8 roar.
This portion of the Lexus Performance Driving School is featured below, starting at 6:37: