Gaurav Gill in action on Rally Turkey in the JK Tyre-backed Fiesta R5 in the WRC2 category
Gaurav Gill in action on Rally Turkey in the JK Tyre-backed Fiesta R5 in the WRC2 category

Tips from Gaurav Gill on how to drive better on dirt

Gaurav Gill joined us on Instagram to teach us vital techniques to becoming a better driver and we’ve listed down the best ones for you!

Everyday on our Instagram handle, we link up with the big wigs of the automotive world to help you fight the coronavirus blues, with some fun content. Today it was the turn of India’s best rally driver and one of the top drivers in our country, period. Gaurav Gill. There are very few people who can drive a car faster than Gill when there’s any sort of a loose surface around. With experience of winning the INRC multiple times and was also the first Indian to win the APRC. Since then, his career has only shot up further, participating in WRC and becoming the first person in motorsport to win an Arjuna Award. So, while we told you driving techniques you should master for the road, if there’s any one to teach how to drive fast when it gets all loosey-goosey, it’s Gill. Gaurav Gill runs a rally school for aspiring rally drivers called the Advanced Driving Academy. We took the school online, so Gaurav could share the vast repository of knowledge he has. Here are some of the top tips he gave during our session:

What do you do when you enter a corner to fast?

When you enter a corner too fast, you need to somehow lower your speed. You need to scrub the speed because you have entered a corner too fast and your car's components are overloaded. The tyres, suspension and LSD are unable to provide grip, therefore you need to break the speed so they can start working again. When you do that, your car will be able to turn and you will be on your way again. To do that, Gill said, rally drivers slide. Sliding is not the fastest way around a corner, but when your brakes only have so much grip to play with, sliding is a great way to brush off some speed and also rotate the car for the corner. You can also scrub off some speed using engine braking by downshifting although, that should be done before the corner.

How important is left foot braking?

Gaurav insisted on how important left foot braking is and it also serves as the basis for the next two points he spoke about. Essentially, left foot braking allows you to stay on the throttle while modulating to do one of three things — firstly and most importantly, drivers use left foot braking to transfer the weight of the car, more on that later. The second reason is to allow the tyres to bite in, this is again linked to weight transfer but would be done in a situation where you have already entered a corner. Thirdly, you can use left foot braking to scrub off a slight amount of speed, without losing momentum from the engine. Gill also went on to say that left foot braking is not an absolute necessity, you can actually be slower if you do not do it correctly. So if you aren't used to it, you can be as fast if you use your right foot to brake. It is more important to be comfortable with what you’re doing.

What is trail braking?

Trail braking is a vital way to get a really really fast time, on track or off-road. Trail braking is essentially braking while you’re turning into the corner, this allows you to brake later which shaves crucial milliseconds off your time. Possibly the biggest advantage of trail braking is the fact that you are putting the weight of the car in the front, improving grip levels considerably. However if you don’t trail brake absolutely perfectly, you will either understeer because you will be carrying too much speed or oversteer and spin out. Trail braking is one of the hardest techniques to master according to Gill, but he says if you want to be a pro, you need to trail brake!

What is weight transfer?

Weight transfer is what ties in the two above steps together. Using the car’s weight to either provide grip, or take it away. Weight transfer is a very complex technique and can only be understood when you actually have the car under you but a few examples should help you get the basics right. Imagine you enter a right-hander, now the weight of your car is on the left side and if you brake, the majority of your car’s weight is now on the left front wheel which might cause it to understeer. All is not lost at that point though, you can bring the car’s weight further back by a gentle dab of throttle. Again, it is a very hard technique to master but it is crucial to do so if you ever want to reach close to the limits of what your car can do.

Three tools

Gill said that the tyres, suspension and differential are what generate the grip for your car. Your driving needs to be optimised to get these three tools to work for you, and not against you. For example, if you are sliding, you need to slide to a certain degree where the tyres are getting grip, the differential is helping you out and the suspension is keeping the car stable and predictable. You cannot overload the tyres or suspension and expect the car to come out of the corner the right side up. Sadly, the only way to master this is to get accustomed to your machine, drive it as often as possible and practice practice practice, to know where the boundary lies.

What is rotation?

Rotation can be best described as the ballet dancing of racing. It is basically pivoting your car to angle toward the exit of the corner, usually without major steering input. So how do you rotate the car? Well you can use the handbrake when you’re on loose surfaces or the throttle (in a rear or four-wheel-drive car) to change the angle of the car. Gill said that any time your wheels are not pointed straight, you are losing time. So, if you rotate your car perfectly, at the apex of the corner your wheels will be straight and pointed toward the exit so you can throttle out.

Mid-corner understeer

If you are new to a track or are driving a new car it is very likely that you will encounter understeer and controlling this mid-corner is especially difficult. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to use the brakes to get the weight in front and catch grip. If the understeer is too much and this doesn't cut it you will either need to use the throttle to rotate the car or if you are about to crash, yank the handbrake for a brief moment to get the car to face the exit of the corner and throttle out. In most cases, you will have to scrub off the speed as explained in the first point

Adapting to worn out tyres

This question to Gill actually said, “How would you change your suspension setup if your tyres were worn?” to which Gill stated that he just changes his tyres when they are worn out. But what do you do if you aren’t backed by a tyre manufacturer? Well, Gill says that he would not change the suspension set up at all. Instead, he would adapt his driving style to the car’s condition. Using less weight transfer, not using the tyre as much and doing everything to preserve the tyres to the end. Swapping the front and rear tyres in between stages also helps keep the tyres alive for longer and priority should be given to the front tyres since they handle the steering.

Working with simulation games

One of the most asked questions in the session were about racing games and whether they help in real life. We covered whether racing games make you any faster earlier this week and Gill’s answer was similar to ours. It will get you to understand the basics and is probably the cheapest way to practice, but if you want to actually beat some stage times, you need to get into an actual car. Gill also pointed out that games like Dirt 4, a personal favourite of his, are great for budding rally drivers to get to grips with listening to pace notes.

So, those are the highlights from our live session with Gaurav Gill. One last thing, if you’re serious about racing or rallying, your best friend is practice. The more you practice the better you will get and driving schools like Gaurav Gill’s very own rally school will help you get experience under expert guidance. You can check out the full video on our Instagram, and be sure to tune in for exciting live sessions like these, every single day!

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