Launch it right
Welcome to season 2 of the Thrill of Driving tutorial series with the Mahindra XUV300 TurboSport where we give you tips and tricks to make you a better driver and harness the potential of your car effectively – both on tarmac and later in this series, on gravel. In this, the first part, we teach you how to launch a manual car
Getting smoked at the ’lights is perhaps the most embarrassing things to befall an enthusiastic driver, particularly if you know that the car is capable of so much more. And that’s why, among all the advanced driving skills one should master, launching the car is not only among the most important but also the very first weapon in your arsenal. Get the launch right and you immediately jump your opponent at the drag strip or race track, you’ve gained a few valuable tenths right at the go, and that’s why you will see even the most proficient racers practising the full-bore-launch at practice sessions of every race. This not only sharpens their skills but also helps them understand how the mechanicals of a car respond, because every car responds differently.
For the second season of the Thrill of Driving advanced driving tutorials we are using the direct injection turbo-petrol Mahindra XUV300 TurboSport — for the simple reason that this is the most enthusiastic of all the compact SUVs you can buy (and it has rally pedigree, but more on that in the latter tutorials). Sales of SUVs are far outstripping traditional cars and it’s inevitable that enthusiasts will find an SUV parked in their garages, leading to one of the most frequently asked questions — can you experience the Thrill of Driving in an SUV? Yes, you can! The TurboSport is proof of that, plus it is at the forefront of the #SaveTheManual movement — the only SUV in its class to mate a TGDi engine to a manual gearbox.
And that’s a big deal because with the proliferation of automatic gearboxes launching a car only needs the driver to have the left foot hard on the brake, right hard on the accelerator, and jump off the brakes as soon as the light turns green. It’s frankly the easiest thing in the world, but we like to be involved in the driving experience, don’t we?
And so we find ourselves on the start-finish straight at the Mohite Racing Academy in Kolhapur. First things first, switch off traction control, ESP, whatever stability aids you have, you don’t want the engine cutting out when the wheel is spinning. Next check the tyre pressures and keep it at whatever is recommended. Also make sure your tyres are in good shape, worn out tyres just won’t deliver grip. And now to the technique.
Clutch biting point
The first thing to learn is the precise point at which the clutch engages. Say you are on an uphill patch, the point in the clutch travel at which you prevent the car from rolling back without using the handbrake is the biting point.
Next are the revs
There’s no point revving it to the redline and dumping the clutch. It might look cool but is not only horrible on the mechanicals of the car but spinning the tyres does not lead to great 0-100kmph times.
Most turbocharged cars don’t even rev more than 3000rpm when you are stationary with the clutch depressed, but Mahindra are confident enough about the mechanical package of the XUV300 TurboSport that they let you take control. In the past with naturally aspirated engines, we used to launch it almost at the redline because all the power — and more to the point the torque — was at the top end of the rev band. But now with turbo-petrol cars, the torque peaks nice and low, in the TurboSport’s case at just 1500rpm and stays flat until 3750rpm. The 129bhp of power also peaks at 5000rpm, which means the ideal launch revs is 4500-5000rpm. Any more and you get far too much wheelspin which kills your tyres and eats into the surface you are practising on, leading to the track owners throwing you out.
That said, you do need some amount of wheelspin — how much is a factor of dust on the surface (the spinning wheels kick away the dust and bites into the grippier surface underneath) and also keeping the engine on the boil. When you launch and get going, the revs will drop which means the revs might drop out of the meat of the torque curve. Keeping the revs up ensures you’re in the thick of the torque curve, extracting the maximum potential out of the powertrain before you slam it into second.
I say slam, but there’s a limit to how aggressive you can or should be with the gearbox. Some road testers used to flat shift (where you don’t lift off while shifting) but I’ve found no difference to the acceleration time, only accelerated wear to the mechanicals. Always use the clutch, lift off the gas when you start using the clutch, but be very quick with it all. As your foot is depressing the clutch pedal you start moving the gear lever so that by the time the clutch is fully depressed the gear stick has moved from first to second, and then you pop the clutch while full on the gas. Basically in the half a second (or even less) time that it takes to fully press the clutch, you have also moved the gear lever — that’s the speed you are aiming for. And the high revs at which all this happens means it is not necessary to slip the clutch.
This is the most important thing to be careful of. Full-bore standing starts are heavy on the car’s mechanicals and I recommend doing three, max four runs, before letting everything cool down. This is heavy work for the clutch and as it heats up the clutch starts to slip. You don’t want that. Also you don’t want to slip the clutch too much — that’s a sure-shot way for premature clutch wear. Find the clutch biting-point, rev it to 4500-5000rpm (on the XUV300) and then slip it by only the necessary (and absolute minimum) amount required to prevent the revs from dropping below 3500rpm by the time the clutch is fully engaged and the tyres are fully hooked up.
To sum it up
Rev to 4500-5000rpm, clutch at the biting point, handbrake pulled to prevent the car rolling back (and thumb on the button to drop it quickly). Watch the lights. 3-2-1 launch. As you simultaneously drop the handbrake you slip the clutch and your right foot floors the throttle. Be aware of what’s happening. If the surface has low traction, the wheel will spin up too much, which means you will have to be more progressive in feeding the throttle to prevent that massive wheelspin. Remember we want some but not a lot of wheelspin. Let it rev to the redline and just before hitting the limiter, ideally 500rpm shy of it, you shift — very quickly! — to second. Listen to the car. The more you practice, your ears will get tuned to the engine note and you will know exactly what 500rpm short of the rev limiter sounds like, at which point you shift. This means you are always looking at the road ahead and not fixated on the tachometer — that’s why race cars have shift lights so the driver is always looking at the track and the lights register in the peripheral vision. Another quick shift from second to third, and this is now the tricky one. First to second is easy. Second to third is where you need some skill, need to know exactly where the gate is so you don’t accidentally bang it back into first, or into fifth, or just get snagged into neutral. And that’s how you launch a manual car and hit 100kmph in the shortest possible time.