Recently, I participated in an autocross event for the first time in several years. Since I was a little rusty and hadn’t run before with the club that was hosting, I was paired up with an instructor to help get me up to speed. The instructor was actually a buddy of mine and helped clarify some concepts really well. One they brought up that I’d hadn’t heard of was “back-siding the cone.” We’ll get into what that’s all about here.
The concept is super simple, and one I kind of already knew, but I dug this new-to-me name for it. The idea is to get your turning in early so your car is in a better position to exit with speed, and well set-up for the next corner. Aim the car down the track so that you see the back-side of the inside cone at the gate (created by two cones opposite each other, meant to be driven between), or in a slalom, and so that your inside-rear tire is closest to it at exit.
This bit of video, starting at the 1:39 mark, is an excellent visual:
I realize “well in advance” could be a bit open-ended; how early are we talking exactly? As a rule of thumb, when you’re setting up for it. How early is that though? As soon as you see it. But, how early am I supposed to see it?
Let’s take a step back.
As I detailed previously in a blog about track driving basics, keep your eyes up and always look as ahead as possible. Depending on how high you sit in the car, imagine a line is drawn across the windshield, slightly below the middle. Keep your eyes above that line.
Then, as you exit, you’ll naturally place to car so that the rear tire is closest to the back side of the cone.
So, Why Do It?
Beyond Seat Time explains why this technique is helpful, and articulates it better than I can, in case I’ve buried the lede of my point.
“Backsiding the slalom cones sets us up for a better exit and makes it easier for us to stay “ahead” of the slalom, but it comes at the cost of slightly increased distance. The physics of the arcs is such that the shortest and narrowest possible line through the slalom is one where the rear tire passes by almost parallel to each slalom cone. When we frontside the cones, our arcs get wider (adding distance), we have to turn more (reducing speed), and we get a lousy exit out of the slalom. Those are all bad. When we backside the slalom cones, our arcs get wider (adding distance), we have to turn more (reducing speed), but we gain a lot at the slalom exit. The time we lose by driving a slightly longer distance and at a slightly lower speed is, broadly speaking, more than made up for by a much improved slalom exit. As a general rule: We want to backside the cones only as much as necessary to ensure a good exit from the slalom. Any more and we drive a greater distance at a lower speed without improving our exit. Any less and our exit suffers.”
It’s certainly a balance, and certain cars do it better than others. How big of an arc we should make for each slalom cone depends on the car, which is something drivers will have to adapt to. That’s the beauty of autocross; because it’s so car control-heavy, it forces drivers to adapt to how their cars move through the course, not trying to make the car adapt to their driving. But that’s another post I wrote.
Could This Be Applicable In Track Driving?
I think it could, but it’s more like late-apexing. There are almost never cones on a track to signify a slalom or gate, but they are sometimes present as a reference to a corner’s apex. Though, that doesn’t mean it should be automatically back-sided.
Instead, keep it in mind if a corner is before a long straight, and/or requires staying wide for the following corner, especially if it’s a tight hairpin. Go wide and late-apex enough so that you see the backside of the imaginary cone, sooner. My best example is Turn 1 on the South Palm Circuit, going counter-clockwise at Thermal:
Also, the first bit of Cotton Corners at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, going clockwise:
So, back-siding is essentially late-apexing. Though, not always applicable in a late-apex; sometimes you want to roll both wheels right along it on track, rather than just the rear inside wheel. But regardless, the key concept is to look ahead and get turning done early, which allows for more of a runway at exit to ramp up speed for a straightaway or get set up for another tight corner.
What do you think about this concept? Do you have experiences on other tracks utilizing this concept? That’s what the comments are for down below, friends!