In these pagesthe world's No. 1 road driver refines the lively art of sports car handling toits essentials. His language is not technical. His lessons are drawn from adeep well of experience, including racing in America, where Brabham has seen atfirst hand the great postwar rise of the sports car. Month after month the boomgoes on. Scores of thousands of American sports car drivers, who have learnedto admire the sure-footed cars Brabham discusses below, wave fraternalgreetings to one another when they meet on the road. Brabham speaks to them,and to all who would safely join their company.
The motorists ofthe world may be divided into two groups. By far the larger one includes allthose who view the motor car primarily as a tool for transportation. They maybe more or less skillful and find motoring enjoyable, but they do not considerthe act of driving fascinating in itself.
Members of thesmaller group, on the other hand, take active delight in driving. They requiresomething more than comfortable transportation from point A to point B, andthey find that extra something, if they have the means, in a sports car.
Why a sports car?The sports car's reason for being is its ability to outperform the ordinarypassenger sedan on the twisting, undulating roads that are the abiding joy ofthe keen driver. The sports car is smaller, lighter and lower than the typicalsedan. Having a shorter wheelbase, it can be maneuvered within a shorterradius. Weighing less, it gives the engine an easier load to pull and thebrakes a lighter one to slow and stop. Because of its lower center of gravityit tends to hug the road more securely in the corners. Being more firmlysprung, it sways and leans less while taking a corner.
February 13, 1961
The engine, whichmay be in the front or rear, is relatively small—often a mere one-third thesize of conventional American V-8s. It differs from them in another way. TheU.S. engine delivers tremendous torque—that is, the ability to accelerate—atlow engine speeds. The sports car engine must be revved up much higher toachieve an equal effect.
Unlike some ofthe most popular U.S. cars, the sports car has neither power steering nor anautomatic transmission. The former, which is useful only on extremely heavycars and then only at low speeds, would deaden the driver's "feel" ofthe front wheels. Use of the latter, the automatic transmission, would not onlystrip the sporting driver of a time-honored privilege, that of selecting forhimself the gear he thinks proper for a given situation, but would also reduceto the level of boredom the fine and sensitive art of cornering. At bottom,serious motoring is cornering. There is no challenge in a long, straightstretch of road. It is the winding road that lures the sports car man,precisely because he can test his ability to select the right gear for everybend, sweep smoothly around it and have power in hand when he comes out of it.Parting the keen driver from his gearshift would be like denying a sailingskipper the right to set his sails as he pleases.
The parallelbetween skipper and driver is especially valid since each must develop a veryhigh degree of oneness with his craft if he is to excel. The expert driver isalways aware of the messages being transmitted through his hands on thesteering wheel, his throttle foot and, not least, the seat of his pants.
But what is itthat makes an accomplished driver and a safe one? First, there is soundtechnique, which of course is the cornerstone of safe driving. I assume thereader already knows the value of common sense, respect for traffic laws and anawareness of the rights of others—those building blocks without which thestructure of safe driving could not be put together.
The actualdriving process begins with good posture at the wheel. The driver should sitwell back, in position to use the pedals without having to stretch his legs,his arms extended but not stiffly so. The idea is to be comfortable and at thesame time have maximum leverage on the wheel and the pedals.
Many driversunwisely crouch over the wheel. I did so myself in my early days of racingmidget cars in Australia, because of the cramped little cockpits and thenecessity of ducking clods kicked up from the dirt tracks by other cars.Shedding the crouch was one of my biggest problems when I switched from trackracing to road racing, and often I still instinctively revert to thehunched-forward position in the stress of competition. Sitting back is lessfatiguing. And besides providing greater steering leverage a model posture alsokeeps the body firmly anchored to the backrest, preventing the driver fromswaying back and forth at the whim of centrifugal force.
There is but oneright way to hold the steering wheel. Imagine a line bisecting it horizontallyand then grasp the wheel on either side just above that line. Because sportscar steering is much quicker than that of ordinary cars, the steering wheeldoesn't have to be moved as far to turn the road wheels an equal distance. Forsharp turns the hands have to be shifted on the steering wheel, but for mostbends on the open road that isn't necessary.
A light,practiced touch on the steering wheel is one of the keys to expert driving.Another, more important one, is a sympathetic approach to that much discussedand often abused mechanism, the gearbox.
There is nothingmysterious about it; it is merely a device for harnessing the engine's power tothe driver's varying needs. The lighter the work load assigned to the rearwheels the higher the gear should be.
Virtually allsports cars have four forward speeds. Whenever one is selected, a driving gearand the gear it is to drive must be meshed. To be meshed perfectly they must beturning at the same speed when the shift is made.
To achieve thistook no little skill in the days when all cars had "crash" gearboxes,so called because synchromesh hadn't yet come in and there was an unearthlyamount of clashing, crashing and stripping of gears as clumsy drivers tried tomatch them up by force rather than finesse. Synchromesh is the name given tovarious systems that synchronize the gears mechanically. It came into generaluse in the 1930s and is nearly universal today, the exceptions being a fewracing cars and a good many trucks. The Cooper-Climax Grand Prix cars I race,for example, have crash boxes because they can be built lighter and stronger ifthe synchromesh is omitted. But in shifting down from one gear to another it isabsolutely essential that I double-clutch (the English expression isdouble-declutch) to avoid the consequences mentioned above and others equallybad.
Every sports cardriver should learn how to double-clutch, even though his car is equipped withsynchromesh. As the phrase indicates, the clutch is used twice, not just once,as a downshift is made. (For a description of how it is done, see box atright.)
The point ofdouble-clutching is to bring the speed of the driving gear—which necessarilylags behind—up to a level permitting neat engagement of the driven gear. Thisis accomplished by using the accelerator when the car is in neutral. If thisstep is left out, synchromesh will prevent gear clash, but other undesirablethings may happen. First, the synchromesh system itself may be overloaded, andunder really brutal treatment may in time be badly damaged. Also, if the clutchis slowly engaged after a straight downshift there will be an agonizing bit ofclutch-slipping as gear speed is hauled upward. If the clutch is let in with ajerk the rear wheels may, in an extreme case, skid or even lock. More thanonce, I have seen racing cars thrown completely off the road because of faultydownshifting.
Needless to say,the gearboxes of cars driven on the road at normal, legal speeds are notsubjected to racing stresses. The worst effects of sloppy downshifting arelikely to be limited to excessive synchromesh and clutch wear. Even so, it isunwise to be sloppy about any of the techniques of good driving; the sports caris a precision instrument and should be treated as such.
The beginningsports car driver should practice double-clutching on a deserted section ofroad until he has it nicely coordinated. Having an expert driver along todemonstrate and coach will make the process simpler.
I have my doubtsabout the usefulness of the famous heel-and-toe method of downshifting inordinary highway driving. This entails applying the brakes while actuallyshifting down (see diagram 5 at right) and is only appropriate to a moreviolent kind of driving than is reasonable on the road. It is essential inracing, where one delays braking until the last possible moment whenapproaching a bend, but I personally never heel-and-toe in normal driving.
I can see thatknowing how to heel-and-toe would be helpful if a driver miscalculated and cameup to a bend much too fast. But in that case he probably would bewiser—particularly if he did not have the heel-and-toe business down pat—toconcentrate on braking in the usual way and forget about the niceties ofdownshifting until he had the car under safe control.
In contrast todownshifting, shifting up is less glamorous but not to be neglected. It isn'tnecessary to double-clutch, since the gears will be close to synchronizationanyway, but upshifting does require firm, decisive movements of the clutchpedal and gearshift. The clutch should be disengaged very quickly and then,after the shift is made, let in neither abruptly nor gradually but at a speedsomewhere in between. Meanwhile, the throttle should be used gently. Steppingdown hard on it overloads the engine, wastes gasoline and is not the quickestway to accelerate. First gear on most sports cars is only a starting gear. Oncethe car is rolling, the shift to second should be made immediately.
There are maximumroad speeds for each gear. These are always specified in the instruction manualthat comes with every car. If they are exceeded, the engine will be put underundue strain. In no case should a driver go beyond the maximum engine speedindicated on his tachometer—the instrument that tells at a glance how manyrevolutions per minute the crankshaft is making.
Brakes are lessdelicate than engines, but no less important. There are two kinds—the drum typecommon to all sedans, in which stationary shoes press outward against a drumrotating with the road wheel, and the disc type, used on most Grand Prix cars,which employs a caliper-like affair to squeeze against a rotating metal disc(see diagram at right). As found on sports cars, both types are good, but thediscs have two advantages. First, they are not subject to fade. Drum brakes, ifrepeatedly used hard within a short space of time, get very hot. The drumsexpand, increasing the distance between shoes and drum surface and thuslowering braking efficiency. The discs get hot, too, but because they expandtoward, not away from, the friction pads mounted on the calipers, stoppingpower is not diminished. The second advantage is that the discs, when splashedwith water, simply throw it off, while drum brakes have to be dried out byrepeated application of the brake pedal.
The averagedriver does not need additional coaching on how to use his brakes, exceptperhaps in the matter of slowing abruptly from a relatively high speed. Thething to be avoided is locking the brakes. They shouldn't just be jammed on.The driver brakes firmly until he senses that locking is imminent, then lifts,brakes again and so on.
The objective ofevery sports car driver should be a supple coordination of steering wheel,gearshift and foot pedals. Here are basic guidelines to be followed:
1) Never let theengine labor in too high a gear. If it is not running freely, shift down.
2) Size upapproaching bends as early as possible and decide before entering them whetheryou will need to brake, shift or both. Decide quickly and act decisively. Itshould not be necessary to shift or brake while in a bend.
3) For every bendselect a gear that will permit you to take it at a reasonable, safe speed, with1,500 to 2,000 rpms in hand. In other words, neither select so low a gear thatyou must corner at maximum rpms (and therefore let the car become stagnant,with no further ability to accelerate), nor remain in one too high, in whichyou will have to lug along painfully after braking for the curve.
4) Neverdeliberately corner so fast that you risk losing tire adhesion. However,drivers sometimes accidentally go into skids, and everyone should be aware ofthe basic method of recovery: steer in the direction of the skid (that is, ifthe rear wheels are sliding to the right, turn your steering wheel to theright) and delay braking until you have satisfactorily regained steeringcontrol.
5) If you have anodding acquaintance with advanced racing techniques, firmly quash the impulseto use them on the road. Even the simplest of these—using the entire width ofthe road while cornering—is clearly out of order in everyday driving.Deliberately provoking a slide or drift is the deadliest sin of all. Apart frombeing patently out of place on the highway, controlled slides and driftsrequire painstaking experiment and practice, for which the average sports cardriver has neither sufficient time nor a suitable practice ground. Moreover,these techniques require reflexes of a high order, and a sharp sense of thesteering characteristics of one's car at high cornering forces.
For example, toget the most from a Grand Prix car in a high-speed bend one must often induceall four wheels to slip slightly sideways throughout. I might initiate a driftby quickly stabbing the brakes, then follow through with just enough throttleand a series of ever so slight steering corrections to carry on at somethingnear my car's optimum speed for the curve in question. If that speed is, say,140 mph, I dare not be so insensitive or rash as to try 141 mph, for then Iwould be off the road and, sadly, into the scenery.
During a race Imight also—and often do—slipstream a competitor's car. This is known as gettinga tow. The leading car breaks the wind for the one following, which thereby isable to keep pace at an engine speed several hundred rpms lower than normal.For this to be effective the following car must close up to within a few feetof the tail of the leader. Needless to say, I would never try to get a tow fromany but a seasoned, superior driver. Nor would I slipstream another car on theroad, any more than I would induce a drift.
Shun fancytactics, then, and concentrate instead on achieving a comfortable oneness withyour machine. If you do, the true pleasures of sports car driving will beyours. Safely yours.
HOW TO DOUBLE-CLUTCH
A practice every sports car driver should know and useto save wear on gearbox synchromesh system when shifting down begins (1) whendriver disengages clutch, backs off throttle and shifts to neutral. Driver isshifting down here from third gear to second. Next and most vital step (2) isto reengage clutch in neutral, step on accelerator to bring gear speed up toroad speed. Driver next depresses clutch pedal a second time (3), releasesthrottle and makes his shift into second. Process is completed (4) when he letsin clutch, gets smoothly back on throttle. Heel-and-toe system (5) combinedwith double-clutching permits ultra-fast deceleration during downshift. Drivershifts into neutral, prepares to hit throttle with heel while applying brakeswith toe. Technique varies with individual preference and position of pedals.Some drivers brake with heel and press accelerator with toe; others roll sideof braking foot down onto accelerator. Brabham suggests practicing downshiftingon empty road, with coaching from expert driver if possible.
SAFETY AIDS FOR ALL CARS
Fire extinguisher is too often neglected. All-purposepump-action type puts out oil, other fires.
Two-way Lantern is handy for nighttime repairs. Thewhite lamp lights work, red one warns traffic.
Throwaway extinguisher spurts 12-foot stream when topis pierced, but can be used only once.
Trouble light is rigged to be plugged into the lightersocket, has hang-up hook for easy positioning.
Flashlight is absolute minimum safety aid. Sparebatteries should be carried against possible failure.
Reflectors are among cheapest, best devices forwarning cars during emergency night roadside halt.
Wheel lug wrench is traditional model for changingfiats, unfortunately does not work on all cars.
Tow strap might save wrecker fee, lost time if hitchedto another car for tow from snow, mud, ditch.
Detergent mixture should be kept on hand to replacedwindling fluid in the windshield squirters.
Paper towels are an easy, inexpensive means of wipingwinter steam from windshield, cleaning headlamps.
Bumper jack is type found on most U.S. cars. It shouldbe kept rust-free, lubricated for best use.
Seat belt is the one safety device that everybodyshould have. This aircraft type bolts solidly to floor.
First aid kit has obvious value, is especially usefulwhen one tours or goes camping in wild, lonely areas.
Outside mirror removes blind spot hiding overtakingcars, also helps when rear window is clouded.
Highway flare is wind-and-rain-proof, burns for onehour, is visible at greater distances than reflectors.
Scraper-squeegee has metal blade for de-icing windows,rubber one for clearing away slush, snow.
In the final installment of "Safe Driving,"which will appear in the Feb. 27 issue, Britain's Pat Moss tells how to copesafely with bad roads and all kinds of foul weather.
TYPICAL sports two-seater has a short wheelbase, bucket seats, hand shift, disc brakes, wire wheels and, comparatively, a small engine. Typical American sedan, by contrast, is larger all the way around, has automatic transmission, bench seats, drum brakes and more luggage space.
SPORTS CAR BRAKES are known for efficiency. Newest type (left), proved on aircraft, has friction pads that squeeze a metal disc (large arrows) as hydraulic pressure (small arrow) is applied by brake pedal. In traditional drum type (right), lined shoes exert braking" friction against drum surface.
These highly specialized techniques, used by racing drivers, should be attempted only by experts, only on a closed track. Below, in a racing slide where the rear wheels have broken away, the driver has come into a sharp bend off-line and fast to pass black car on inside. Driver steers in direction of the slide, neatly coordinates wheel and throttle to recover. Right: driver goes into a four-wheel drift with all four wheels slipping sideways. Entering a gentle, high-speed bend, he hits brakes momentarily to induce a drift, then depends more on his throttle than wheel to steer car through turn.