NNJR Driver’s Manual
NNJR Driver’s Education teaches high performance driving in a safe environment. Novice track drivers get personal, one-on-one instruction from an Instructor who rides with them for the entire event. Drivers do not need any special preparation, nor does their Porsche. However, many drivers want to get a head start. And many drivers find that written material augments their on-track instruction. So, for all of you who like to see it in writing, here goes.
This driver’s manual includes the following sections:
- References (if you want to go deep)
The NNJR Chief Instructors welcome your feedback and suggestions for additional materials that will be useful in your HPDE experience.
High Performance Driving Basics
Some of the most important “techniques” for beginning drivers need to be practiced before you ever turn the key. This starts with how you are dressed.
How you dress is important for both safety and comfort. Long sleeves and long pants made of cotton (or other natural fibers) are required. Jeans work fine. So do long sleeved T-shirts or polo shirts. Make sure you can move your arms and legs easily. If it is cold, take off your heavy coat before you drive (you can always turn on the heater). Shoes are very important. Regular sneakers (especially ones that are well worn) work well for many drivers, as do “boat” type shoes. They need to be able to slide off the brake pedal without “catching”, but not be so slippery that you have to hold them onto the brake. Leather-soled shoes are generally not recommended. No shoe with aggressive soles will work well (e.g. hiking boots, many running shoes and walking shoes). After you drive a few events, you may want to consider driving shoes.
A helmet is the one required element that most drivers haven’t experienced. Unless you are an experienced motorcyclist, you probably have never felt the claustrophobia of a modern helmet. Most drivers find that it takes some time to get used to the helmet. And the first run of your first event won’t do it! You are likely to feel that you can’t see and that your peripheral vision is particularly constrained. Add the pressure on your head from the padding, and most drivers feel uncomfortable. You can prepare (somewhat) by wearing the helmet at home (though we don’t recommend driving in it unless you like to be stared at). Some people have been known to watch their favorite TV program with the helmet on! One last point: if you wear glasses, or sunglasses, take them with you when you try on helmets. The eyeports on some helmets may not fit your particular glasses. In fact, try on different models and brands of helmets to find the one that fits your head and glasses the best. Do NOT try to buy a helmet online: go to a store like Stable Energies and try on several. It often takes many tries to find one that fits properly.
This driver’s manual does not try to mention all of the things that you could do to prepare your Porsche for the track (though the basics are easy: pass the tech inspection, check tire pressures (if you are not sure, start at 4 pounds over factory recommendations), gas (fill up the tank just before you arrive at the track), car numbers, and removal of any/all loose items from the car).
But be sure that all of those items are finished and out of your mind before you head onto the track! If any of these items are nagging at the back of your mind, it will affect your driving. Similarly, if the car is making an unusual noise, or something doesn’t seem quite right, ask someone to help you investigate before it is time to go on the track!
Your mind should be free of distractions and ready to concentrate on driving. Make sure your Porsche is ready at least 15 minutes before your run. Use those 15 minutes to relax, go to the bathroom, get a drink and make sure your helmet is in the car!
Now that you and your car are dressed properly, lets talk about driving (well, we’re not quite ready yet).
Your position in the seat makes a big difference in your ability to control the car properly. Many drivers do not naturally sit in the proper position. The objective is to get you situated so that you have maximum support for cornering, easy control of gas, clutch and brake pedals, and complete ability to turn the steering wheel. To get started, try the following (after hooking up your seatbelt, of course; and don’t forget to put on your helmet!). First, adjust the seat cushion so that you are “in” it as much as possible (put your left foot on the dead pedal and push your butt and shoulders all the way into the seat). Make sure you are getting maximum use of the seat bolsters. Next, slide the seat so that you can push the clutch and the gas all the way to the floor with some bend still left in your knee (if your knee is completely straight, you are too far away). Then, adjust the seat back so that your wrists are on the top of the steering wheel with some bend still left in the elbows. Remember that your shoulders should be all the way back in the seat. You can test the arm distance by putting your hands at 3 and 9 o’clock (some people prefer 2 and 10 o’clock; most of us hook our thumbs over the spokes) and turning the wheel more than 90 degrees to the left and right-without pulling your shoulders away from the seatback. Your elbows should still have a little bend in them. This technique allows the driver to use their arm muscles on the steering wheel, not the wrists. The wheel should be pulled in the proper direction. This provides the maximum amount of control, and is the least tiring. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself closer to the wheel than you expect: many drivers sit too far back. Finally, after you are properly seated, adjust the mirrors so that you have maximum field of view. But don’t be surprised if your instructor takes the right hand mirror so that he or she can help you look for traffic behind.
When your Instructor drives the first 2 laps he or she will show you the proper line around the track. The line is also marked with orange cones: one for the turn-in point, one for the apex and one for the track-out point at each corner (this is a safe, late apex line). Make sure you know what each term means (ask your instructor if you aren’t sure).
While it may appear easy, actually driving the line consistently for each corner and for each lap is very challenging. In order to improve, one approach is to use the “Brake, Gas, Turn” sequence. “Brake, Gas, Turn” means that braking (and downshifting) is finished in a straight line. Your foot should be off the brake and back on “neutral” gas before you even think about turning! This provides a consistent entry to each corner, and the car has a safe, consistent balance as you drive through the corner. Just as important, the driver can concentrate on the corner without worrying about braking, shifting or the gas pedal.
If it turns out that you are finishing the transition to the gas as you turn in, don’t worry. That is called “trail braking” which is a fancy term for turning while braking (something we do on the street every day). Some corners reward a lot of trail braking and some shouldn’t have any. These are more advanced techniques. The important thing for new drivers is to be consistent with the end of braking for each corner: either before turn in or immediately after.
Beginning drivers seldom appreciate how important their eyes are: more specifically where to look. Like most drivers on the street, beginners usually don’t look far enough ahead. Ignore your natural tendencies and try this: always have your eyes one step ahead. Here is how it works. On the straight, pick up the braking point as soon as you can. Once you are approaching it, start looking for the turn-in point, while you pick up the braking point with your peripheral vision. As soon as you are braking, start looking for the apex cone while you pick up the turn-in point with your peripheral vision. As soon as you turn in, look through the apex at the track out cone. Before you get to the apex, look down the track. At first, this may feel like “connect-the-dots”. That is OK because as you get comfortable looking well ahead, the flow will become natural. This technique works because you are looking where you want to be, not where you are. Remember that, even at 60 mph you are covering 88 feet per second. If you are only looking 1 or 2 seconds ahead of the car, you will always be “behind”; i.e. reacting. By looking several seconds ahead, you have the time to plan and act (much of which happens subconsciously). This “ocular driving” approach has the additional advantage of making you a smoother driver.
While it may not be apparent, performance driving is primarily a mental sport. Sure, it helps to be in good physical condition and eye-hand coordination is great. But the biggest factor, by far, is your head. Start by leaving your ego in the paddock, so that you can hear what your instructor is telling you. The rest is easier than you may think. The key is to focus on the current corner. This means forgetting the previous corner (and lap) whether it was great or terrible. Doing so is harder than it may seem: we all like to remember a good corner and kick ourselves about a mistake. You have to overcome this natural tendency (your instructor will remind you).
The other mental factor that can affect new (and experienced) drivers is fatigue. Why should 25 minutes make you tired? The answer lies in the combination of 20+ minutes of concentration (we hope) coupled with physical fatigue from unfamiliar cornering and braking forces, heat (if the weather is warm at all), a tight helmet on your head, and bracing yourself in the seat. This doesn’t factor in the effects of 3 previous runs (we do 4 runs a day), a long day outside in the sun, or the after effects of a long drive to the track yesterday (of course, we’re sure none of you would stay up late at the bar the night before). Make sure you are aware of your physical and mental state. Nothing less than 100% focus will do.
Learning to drive well on the track is like learning any new sport. This means that you have to learn the technique first. After all, if you were learning to play tennis, you wouldn’t start by playing a match against the club pro. Driving technique looks easy but that can be deceiving (just like the tennis pro makes it look easy). The hard part is driving each corner the same way on each lap. Novice drivers usually drive the same corner on the apex one lap, then a foot (or two) off it the next lap. Or the turn-in varies by 3 feet. Your driving technique won’t improve until you can drive that corner within 6 inches of each mark, each lap (as you get more experience, within 2 inches). Now expand that technique to all of the corners.
Your objective each time you go on the track should be to drive just a little smoother than the previous run. This applies to your use of the steering wheel, gear shifting, braking and-especially-the gas pedal. Smooth use of the controls translates into smooth, gentle movements of the car. Very few beginners use the controls smoothly. In fact, many use the controls like an “on/off” switch. The adrenaline associated with your first runs on the track doesn’t help. Try to slow down your movements in the cockpit, even though the car is moving quickly. Use your arms to gently pull the steering wheel in the proper direction: one constant motion (your fingers should have a relaxed grip on the wheel-not a deathgrip). Treat the gas pedal and gearshift as if you had to control them with a raw egg. Don’t jump on the brakes: put your foot on the pedal and push till you feel resistance, only then should you push hard. Come off the brakes slowly, not all at once. You will hear your Instructor say “wind” or “unwind” the steering wheel and “squeeze” the gas.
One important aspect of smoothness can only be learned on the street and not on the track: heel and toe. But this is something you should learn after you have done several events; it is not necessary for your early events. (See the Advanced section for a description).
Shifting (up or down) should be approached as a 3-step process: out of gear, across the gate, into gear-with a brief pause at each point. This is accomplished with two fingers and thumb on the gearshift lever: never the whole hand! Try this on the street: it may seem awkward at first. With practice, this becomes quick and smooth. As a side benefit, you won’t miss any shifts and your transmission will thank you.
Most of the mistakes made by beginners on the track are a result of trying too hard. One common mistake is over-revving the engine. (Fortunately, most Porsches have good rev limiters). Beginners should minimize shifting and use a higher gear. This makes everything easier and smoother. For instance, Lime Rock can be driven entirely in either third or fourth gear in most modern Porsches.
Another beginner mistake is too much focus on the mirrors, or too little. Some drivers are “worried” about the cars behind and become so distracted that it impacts their driving. Others may be so busy concentrating on the other aspects of driving that they forget to look at the mirrors at all. In either case, your Instructor will help.
Many drivers make the mistake of following the car in front through a corner, rather than driving their line. This is an easy trap, even for more experienced drivers. Your focus needs to be on your line, whether the other car is on line, or not.
Some drivers move their right hand onto the shift lever, then never move it back! Both hands should be on the steering wheel except for the brief moment required to shift.
Many drivers try to rush through upshifts and downshifts, with the inevitable result of missing a shift and/or horrible grinding noises from the transmission. Don’t rush the shifts: there is plenty of time. Your hand can move faster than even a Porsche gearbox! Also, make sure you are pushing the clutch all the way in.