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We list down five essential techniques to help you become a better and safer driver
Let us start by saying that none of us should be out driving right now. So, no matter how tempted you are to go and try the following techniques on the road, don’t. The time will come. For now, here is a list of techniques to take your driving to the next level, ranging from the popular heel and toe downshift to knowing where to look on the road. You might feel like you’re the next Takumi Fujiwara (if you don’t know, Google) when nearing the speed limit in your tuned Japanese hatchback, but there are plenty of things you need to learn, and unlearn, to become a safer, smoother and ultimately a faster driver.
Rev matching is one of the most basic techniques you will need to learn in order to drive fast. When you drive a car hard, you will change gears more often to stay in the meat of the powerband. If your engine speed and wheel speed aren’t matching when you make the shift, you will have your car lurch forward and get unsettled, not something you want while entering a corner. So, in order to make the transition smoother, you rev match. This entails manually getting the engine speed to match the wheel speed -- during the shift, you blip the throttle while the clutch is disengaged and let the clutch out when the revs are high enough to match the wheel speed. Rev matching doens't only work for downshifts, ot works for upshifts too. When you are upshifting, you need to allow the revs to drop to a speed that matches the wheel and then re-engage the clutch. Rev matching not only makes your driving smoother, it prolongs the life of your clutch (if done right) and is extremely satisfying too.
Now that you are a rev match god, you’re coming into a corner so hot that you need to brake but you also need to downshift. Game over? Not really -- heel-and-toe to the rescue! The heel-and-toe technique is basically rev matching while braking. So the toe of your right foot is on the brake, you operate the clutch as normal with your left foot and pivot the right foot’s heel to blip the throttle. Repeat as many times as necessary. The great thing about this is you can practice heel and toe downshifts, as well as regular rev matches, every single day with every downshift! Sure, the first heel-and-toe attempt will be extremely jerky. Do not attempt it on a public road, there's a good chance you will slam in to the back of another car if you fumble with the brakes. Practice somewhere safe till you get the hang of it, but when you do, heel and toe can become a regular part of your daily driving. It will elevate the experience of driving a manual tenfold and the sweet satisfaction of getting the perfect downshift is something no dual clutch automatic can ever replicate.
Now this is an important one. Your steering is the sole connection between you and your car’s tyres. Don’t be ham fisted and grip it like your life depends on it. No. You need to grip the steering like a surgical knife, you need to hold it lightly, to feel what the tyres are trying to communicate. A majority of drivers on the road shuffle the steering wheel ie. instead of gripping the wheel and turning it smoothly, they pass the steering between their two hands and add a few degrees of steering angle at a time. That might not seem dangerous at first, but if you ever want to exceed 20kmph safely, you need to throw that technique out of the window. Imagine you enter a corner at speed, not realising it is tightening up, if you then try to shuffle and add inputs in small jerks, you will either run out of road or have an unsettled car in which case you will -- yes you guessed that right --run out of road. Inputs need to be precise, grip the steering at the 10 and 2 position (imagine the steering wheel to be a clock), make sure your arms have a slight bend when you adjust your position and always make smooth inputs in a single fluid motion. It sounds complicated, but it is extremely easy. Practice this and you will be able to drive smoother, better and much much safer.
Sure we all take our eyes off the road when a nice car passes by, but in all other cases always keep your eyes on the road. Not just right in front of you, but far ahead. If you spot a car that is four or five cars ahead of you slowing down, you can already start to come off the throttle to prepare for the slowdown.You also need to pay attention to your peripheral vision, looking out for people crossing the road, animals, and other things our country’s roads are populated with. Doing this will allow you to go faster, safer and smoother since you know what’s ahead, you will be able to anticipate and act accordingly. As you gain more experience, you will learn to predict what other drivers on the road might do next, for example — if you see a bus stopped at the side of the road, there's a high chance people will get out and cross the road in front of it. Or if a truck changes lanes on the highway, it is very likely, there is a slower moving vehicle ahead of it. Looking ahead, and anticipating will make you a far smoother and safer driver.
This technique is only useful if you are on the track, left foot braking has no place on the open road. Left foot braking, as the name suggests is braking with your left foot. Now left foot braking is more useful when rallying, because a stab of the brakes while being on the throttle will make the front-end bite, helping cornering. Left foot braking is also an advantage because when you are going fast on the track, you will need to keep managing the weight transfer of the car, or the speed or pitch into a corner a certain way, more often than you would need the clutch to keep shifting. Left foot braking can help in this regard, letting you keep the right foot solely for the throttle, while modulating the brake with the left foot. The first time you try this, chances are you will fly out of the windshield because your left foot is used to depressing the clutch, which has a lot more resistance than a brake pedal. Initially, practice the sensation of squeezing the brake with your left foot in an empty space and with enough practice, you’ll be left foot braking like a pro! This is a fairly popular technique, however a certain racing driver named Ben Collins said in his book, ‘How to Drive’, that left foot braking is not going to make you any faster. You can go equally fast without it, it is just a matter of what you are more comfortable with.
These are some very basic tips and while they may seem very obvious, these small changes will make a big impact on how you drive and how satisfying your next drive is. Always remember smooth is fast -- this relates to the steering, the throttle inputs, braking and cornering. The smoother you drive, the faster you are. While you cannot go out on the roads yet, how about practicing these techniques on a video game?