Why Coasting Is Actually Good Sometimes, and Why You Should Adapt to Your Car
Adapting is a more useful skill than complaining.
A few months back, I blogged about a couple of easy-to-practice driving techniques to improve consistency on track. Simply put, consistency equals setting oneself up to drop lap times. Within that article, one of my important points states that you should never coast. Never! I’ve come here to admit, however, that some things aren’t entirely definitive, and that piece of advice is one of them. Sometimes it actually is necessary to coast, and it has to do with adapting to the car.
My friend Sonny Watanasurisuk is a driving instructor here in SoCal and he recently shared this bit of insight on his Facebook page: “Listen to the car and drive it the way it needs to be driven fastest. Adjust yourself to the car, not the other way around.”
In case any haters are inclined to dispel what’s said here, Sonny’s inspiration for sharing this came from Max Verstappen. Long story short, the inspiration for this post came from this, and from a Ross Bentley blog; I put two and two together and, well, here I am signal boosting this concept.
“Enough Name Dropping. Get To Your Point, Man“
Contrary to my initial advice, Bentley’s blog makes it clear that coasting is occasionally acceptable. “With some cars, in some corners, there is a need for coasting,” Bentley said in the post. “Why? Because some cars will begin to understeer – even just slightly – if you immediately go to the throttle after braking. And when that happens, you have to breathe the throttle a little before getting to full throttle.”
I won’t get down to the pointy bit of brass tacks, but the point I’m trying to make now is this: Get the basics down but also learn how to communicate with the car, and see what it needs to go fast. This might entail adjusting your own techniques more than you’d think.
I learned this from my own personal experience, when I participated in a one-day driving school program at the BMW Performance Center for my previous employer. During the first classroom session, prior to driving on track, I asked my instructor something to the degree of, “All of my on-track experience is behind the wheel of momentum cars, so I’m used to trail-braking as much as possible. Should I do that in these cars?”
By these cars, I meant the 2020 BMW M4 Competition and 2020 BMW M5 Competition; two cars that are vastly different from the Mazda 2 that I typically drive. The instructor said that they don’t like being trail-braked in certain corners, or you just don’t need to do it at all. So, I had to adapt my driving to improve my average speed behind the wheel of those beasts.
Going One Further Regarding Adjusting Your Techniques
I once overheard a different instructor rather aggressively tell a classroom, “I always get my braking done in a straight line, then power on and turn. That’s the key to cornering effectively.” To me, that’s poor instruction because he was saying this is the way to universally do it.
The immense amount of factors that determine how to corner makes this impossible. What kind of apex is required? Is the car front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), or all-wheel drive (AWD)? Is it a fast or slow corner? How long or short is the wheelbase? What kind of differential does the car have? How’s the car’s camber, as well as the camber of the corner? These are just a few of the factors that go into driving decisions, and there are many more.
Before I blabber on more and bury the point of this blog, remember: sometimes it’s OK to coast, and sometimes it’s necessary. Always be prepared to adapt your driving to the car, not the other way around. Car setup can only go so far, and chasing negative handling characteristics can last for infinity.
I’m always skeptical of people who make statements like, “This thing understeers like crazy!” about cars with chassis that are known to be at least decent. Does it really?