You’re Doing it Wrong – Common Driver Errors Often Mistaken for Handling Issues

by: Mike Bonanni and Jordan Yost

photos: Exotics Racing Las Vegas and MotoIQ Archives

Need wider tires on your Civic because it understeers like a pig on roller-skates?  Need a set of slicks on your stock Mustang GT because you can’t keep the ass end from coming around on you?  If this sounds like you then read on, it could possibly save you a ton of money on unnecessary mods.  What if I were to tell you that there’s a good chance your car is just fine the way it is and that the way you’re driving it may be the cause for your "handling issues".

I have been to more grassroots motorsports events than I can count and if there’s one thing that never fails it’s that you will hear someone blaming their car for why they’re not as fast as they should be.  I am not saying that it’s never the car’s fault, but more often than not it's driver error.

Earlier this year during testing of the Olsberg MSE SuperCar Lites.

For those who don’t know me (probably most of you) my name is Mike Bonanni.  I have been circling around race tracks for nearly a decade now but in the past few years most of my track time has actually been spent in the passenger seat.  While I do some private and group driver coaching on the side, four days out of the week I am out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway working as a driving instructor for a company called Exotics Racing.

Exotics Racing is really a sweet place; they let anybody with a driver’s license come out and learn how to drive around a race track.  The best part are the cars the customers get to choose from; McLaren MP412-C, Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari 458 Italia, Audi R8, you name it.  If it’s a “supercar” Exotics Racing has one in their fleet.  This is what brings out over 60 people per day on average, sometimes up to 150 per day.  What this means is that I get to “coach” a lot of people every week, hundreds of them a month, most of which have never turned a wheel around a race track.

Recently a buddy of mine by the name of Jordan Yost and I were destroying the interior of a pristine BMW E92 M3 that we’re turning into an endurance race car (more on that in future articles) and we got to talking about common beginner mistakes that we constantly see.  Jordan used to work out at Exotics Racing with me and has had many years coaching for Ron Fellows and a handful of private clients.  That conversation led to us sitting down and writing this article on the most common driver errors that might be the real reason why you think your car is handling poorly.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013 12:28 AM
So many good points here, and of course, there is the all-encompassing mantra that smoother is faster. Just LOOK at how Mike drives the Fiat in that little youtube clip. The most noticeable aspect of his smoothness, by far, is the gear-changes. Look how gently and calmly he throws the shifter. He doesn't slam it into place, there is absolutely zero aggression in his movements there.

There is no need for super-quick, flailing movements when you are thinking ahead. I feel like a lot of people think that the best racing drivers have amazingly quick reflexes and use them all the time. Of course, real drivers like Mike and Jordan understand that this is not the case. It isn't about moment-by-moment reactions. If you're reacting to something on the track as it happens you're already too late.

At the core, much of this article boils down to the nub of driving fast: you are actively trying to predict the future. You must always be thinking of where you're going to be, not where you are. So many common mistakes are based on drivers reacting to what the car is doing in that moment, not what it will be doing next. Every piece of (excellent) advice here is to help drivers get the car to transition from one state to another as smoothly as possible. Off throttle to on throttle, on brakes to off brakes, in corner to on straight; actively guiding the car through these changes is SO important to being quick.

It's almost a zen-like train of thought. Mind over matter; pushing your perception past what is happening right now and into what will happen next.

Fantastic work on this article guys. I would love to see more of this type of thing on MotoIQ. This website focuses so much on the mechanical aspect of cars and what makes them drive well. We spend tons of time dissecting how the car itself should behave. However, it is the relationship between those mechanical aspects and the driver that makes it all happen. I would definitely welcome additional focus on the driver as an inherent part of the machine and how he/she can contribute to increased performance of the vehicle as a whole.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:26 AM
Excellent article. I hang out with a few of the Exotics members and they are very knowledgable and kick my ass every time at the karting track. So much of this seems like "common sense", but we all make these mistakes. Messiah brings up the point of "predicting the future". This is very true as you should always be looking ahead and preparing for what is coming. I don't claim to be a good driver, but years of driving on ice in Colorado has taught me a lot about car control and thinking ahead.
"leapt off the brake pedal like it was your high school girlfriend when you heard the garage door opening" - Greatest thing I've heard this week :)
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 9:33 AM
I drove 3 cars at Exotics Racing last year and it's probly one of the best things I've ever done. Even though I autocross, I don't race at a track like some of the folks on this site so it was a great experience. The instruction was great as are the tips in this article. From the look of the web site they changed the track and it appears less challenging than when I drove it, but I could be wrong, I'm sure it's still a blast!

And in my opinion, if you've never driven a Lamborghini you really need to. Even if it's slower than the Ferrari or the Porsche Turbo it's more fun and makes better noises.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 2:02 AM
LOL@ the Mike sandbag in page 2 !

I'd say the most common mistake is picking the wrong car, first and foremost. Some people can go fast in every car they use, but most dont. I am fast with a FWD, until it reaches 170-180HP. My mind just does it, i cant really explain. It is easy. More HP and it starts to get hard. And there, i know where my threshold is. I dont find it fun though... So i have fun in a RWD, but i am kind of slow with them when north of 1500lbs and more than 200HP, although i have been driving them for 10 years now. It boils down to what people want to achieve...

And as my house mortgage insurance forbids me doing competitive racing, i am sticking to fun driving with a stupidly overpowered RWD :D

Thing is, to go fast, picking the right car is mandatory. Cant precisely drive a car with more than 150HP ? Dont get a 300HP car.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 7:40 AM
Glad you guys enjoyed the article!

Crousti - You can either match your car to your skills or match your skills to your car. In my opinion, understanding the principles of weight transfer and the concepts I touched on in the article will allow you to drive any car. If you do the same exact thing you do in a 150hp Fiat that you do in a 400hp Mustang of course it's not gonna work, but if you are able to realize what it is that you need to change about your driving style then you can adapt to any car. FWD, AWD, RWD, 150hp or 1000hp.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 11:49 AM
2 things I've realized this year, both revolve around confidence.

1: The interface between driver and machine is critical. I added a torso strap and shelf liner to my stock leather seat in my Z06 and spent a lot less effort staying in the seat. I swapped out the boat oar stock shifter for a C6 shifter, and I installed grippy pedal covers so I could heel/toe and smoothly downshift the car. Then I made it muscle memory. I am now in control of the car.

2: I lost a lot of fear once I was in control. Like someone said above, mind over matter. Forget about the fact that you're charging the braking zone at 125+. Forget about the fact that, right before the braking zone, you're pitching the car into the first part of a double apex at WOT. It becomes a video game at that point. If you only blow it a little, you go off line and stay on track, so keep your adjustments small. That was how I eventually convinced myself to conquer (in my mind) the high speed brake zones. There were a number of times I was absolutely convinced I was dead. One time, I was about to bail and hit the runoff, then realized I'd still braked too early.
Sunday, September 22, 2013 12:36 PM
These are all excellent points. Where your eyes are looking is one of the biggest/hardest things to master as a beginner. It requires quite a bit of feeling to be developed so that driver can confidently communicate with what the car IS doing, while visually setting up what the car WILL be doing in the future. The biggest thing for a lot of people to learn, is to listen to what the car is telling them and to drive accordingly. So many people go out and overdrive (or underdrive) the piss out of their tires because they don't speak the 'language' of the car - that is to say they don't understand what the car is doing in a given situation (i.e. what the car is telling them), and why it is bad/good. I think the development of some basic mechanical knowledge and basic feel is crucial to being able to master any of the techniques you mentioned in the article.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 8:58 PM
My favorite part of this article? The pic of the B15 with Mike in the passenger seat... Slick edit almost missed that!!
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 6:16 PM
All good points for the most part. The only one I take issue with is the mandate to avoid shuffle steering and to keep hands locked at 3 and 9. It's a tool, not a rule. When you can, you should, but if it is not practical: shuffle.

Times when it is not practical are when steering angle is so acute that your arms are twisted upon themselves. Full extension like that is never full control. Also, when steering angle places the hands directly in line of sight. If you can't see the apex, you're not going to hit it. In both cases, a shuffle is the better strategy.
some dude
some dudelink
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 1:52 AM
going to have to look back at my dvd and/or photos from my round at Exotic Racing a couple years ago..awesome experience.

and while i'll agree avoiding shuffle-steering is a good policy, it's just not possible sometimes, depending on the curve and the vehicle.
Sunday, April 20, 2014 6:34 PM
I've seen people who run out of countersteering lock because their hands are glued to the wheel at 9 & 3 and spun or crashed in a small slide that was easily recoverable if they shuffle steered.

I tend to shift my steering wheel grips pre turn for tight hairpins. They are all tools that have their place.
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