by Pat Moss,Champion Rally Driver
It seems a curious thing to say, but sometimes the very worst drivingconditions make for the best driving. In European rallying, where I have donemost of my driving, it is the dreadful roads and dirty weather that lend spiceto a sport which otherwise might become painfully insipid and tame. Lookingback on 50 major rallies, I can recall: tempestuous storms with blue lightningin Germany; black ice on the slants and switchbacks of the French Alps;unbelievably pocked and dust-laden roads in Yugoslavia; fords in England sodeep that water splashed into the side windows; impenetrable fog in severalcountries, as well as an imposing variety of ice, snow, rain, sleet andmud.
Often,particularly in my earlier days, I thought seriously of getting off the roadand into the safe comfort of an inn, but it has become second nature for me todrive on, whatever the weather. I find that I actually like handlingautomobiles on ice and snow, and I have never enjoyed it more than in the 1960Monte Carlo Rally, when in deepest winter my co-driver Ann Wisdom and I won thewomen's section of this supreme test.
Later we wonoutright the important Liége-Rome-Liége Rally, which had its fair share of foulweather. This was the first absolute victory for women in any of the ralliescounting toward the European championship. It helped disprove, I hope, the oldslander that giving cars to women is like entrusting babies with bottles ofink.
In point of fact,there are many women who drive abominably, but so are there men, and they areall at their worst when confronted with villainous weather and extraordinaryroad conditions—in other words, typical rally conditions.
February 27, 1961
I think theirdifficulties are largely caused by apprehension. Most drivers feel inadequate,get flustered in emergencies and fall back on their instinctive reactions,which are often all wrong for the trouble at hand.
Now obviously Icannot hope to persuade the reader to share my enthusiasm for motoring onslippery pavement, and I do not mean to imply that I dote perversely on all thenastier aspects of driving; I abhor fog and mud. But I do know that there is areasonable solution to nearly every road problem. Given an understanding ofproper technique and a reason to believe in himself, almost any motorist cantake the fear and danger out of foul-weather driving.
Building upself-confidence, of course, takes some doing, as I discovered the day mybrother Stirling took me out to show me how to drive my first sports car onpacked snow. Already well on his way to becoming a master racing driver,Stirling was an expert instructor but not a very patient one. I was driving aswe returned to the family farm at Tring, northwest of London. As I turned intothe gate, the back of the car went around and hit the gatepost. I was terriblyupset over having dented my beautiful new car, but Stirling just laughed andlaughed and laughed.
In thosecircumstances one learned quickly. One learned, above all, never to freeze inan emergency. A tendency to freeze is the most conspicuous failing of the ineptdriver. If he begins to lose control of a situation, his involuntary reactionis to slam on the brakes. That may be the right thing on a dry road, but whenthe pavement is icy it can be disastrous.
Brakes, steeringwheel, throttle—all the controls—must be used more gently when it is slickbelow. Merely getting underway can be a problem. If you try to start in bottomgear with a heavy foot on the throttle, you simply spin the rear wheels and getnowhere. The effective way is to use a higher gear and as little throttle aspossible, then accelerate very gradually once you have begun to roll.
As you proceed,you automatically use that extra bit of caution required when the going isslippery and the tires haven't their normal bite, but caution alone is notenough. You cannot, for example, creep up an icy hill. If you try, you won'thave sufficient momentum to reach the top, and the wheels will begin to spinuselessly as the pull of gravity brings you to a stop. Now you must either backdown or shove the nose of the car around (if you try this method, be sure tohave someone in the driver's seat) and then drive down. Once you are at thebottom, get far enough away from the hill to work up sufficient speed to makeit on the second attempt.
Coming to the topof an icy hill, you must prepare for the descent before you reach the crest.This usually means shifting into a lower gear so that you may use the engine asa brake on the downgrade. The wheel brakes are of little or no use since theywill lock at the slightest application and rob you of steering control. Stayingin a high gear leads to overrapid speed buildup which cannot be controlledsafely by the brakes. Slow and shift down, then, before you begin to descend,and nurse your way gingerly down the slope.
It is when youhave had no warning that ice becomes a serious problem. Once, going down asteep mountain road in the Monte Carlo Rally, I hit a patch of black ice—snowthat had melted and refrozen. It was indistinguishable from the road surfaceitself, so I had no idea it was there until my car simply took charge. I had nobrakes, no steering, nothing. The car was going straight toward the edge of theroad. Had it gone over we would have been in for a precipitous tumble down themountainside. But, fortunately, the car hit a stone or ridge and bounced backto the inside. That taught me a lesson I shall never forget. If the weather iscold enough for ice to have formed, drive prudently enough on hills and bendsto cope with the ice or whatever else should suddenly appear.
Icy curves on theflat are much less taxing than hills or a combination of grades and bends, butthey bring an astonishing number of drivers to grief. In the first place, it isnever easy to calculate exactly how much to slow for a given curve. It isalways best to err on the slow side. An inexperienced bad-weather driverapproaching a slippery bend too fast often will put on the brakes and slideahead off the road without giving himself a chance to negotiate the bend atall. Or he will steer into the curve and then find the back of his car swinginground. If he freezes at the wheel, he will go into a full spin. The thing to dofirst, before entering the curve, is to pump the brakes gently to bring one'sspeed down. This is the cardinal point to remember whenever the brakes are usedon any kind of surface on which the tires cannot get normal traction. If therear wheels still break away in the curve, the next step is to steer in thedirection in which the rear wheels are skidding (see illustrations on pages 47and 49). Use neither the throttle nor the brakes as you maneuver to regaincontrol. And be careful not to steer so sharply or for so long a time that thecar wants to fishtail around in the other direction.
I sometimes findit convenient to use the hand brake to help get me through a bend I have comeupon too fast. I steer into the bend, then put on the parking brakesmomentarily with a quick up and down movement of the hand lever. Since only therear wheels are braked, the tail of the car slides around. If my timing isright this gets me pointed in precisely the right direction so that I then haveonly to accelerate gently through the curve, using corrective steering to keepthe tail from swinging around too far. In short, I induce a controlled sliderather than wait and scramble out of a slide that will come anyway.
This is atechnique to be used only if it has been mastered on a closed course where itcan't conceivably harm anyone. It should also be used only with cars having asuitable brake lever. If, for instance, the brake must be pulled on and thenreleased with a kick pedal, or a time-consuming twist and push, you should nottry the hand brake. It is always wisest, of course, to have one's speed down sothat cornering can be done without extraordinary maneuvers.
But, as I said, Ilike to drive on ice and snow—especially when my blood is up during a rally. Ican't say the same of mud. Mud is desperate. Driving on it—or in it—is ratherlike driving on ice. You must brake much earlier than you normally would, andwhen you are stuck in it you must prevent excessive wheelspin if you are to getout for, unlike ice, mud is gooey and yielding. It also splatters the passengerwho is so unlucky as to have to get out and push.
I am thinking nowof Ann Wisdom, who had to do so in last year's Alpine Rally when we took awrong road and got the rear wheels into mud in turning around to go back.Rocking back and forth—using first gear and then reverse—sometimes works inthis situation, but it didn't this time, and poor Ann had to take her mudbath.
Sometimes it isnot necessary to fall into the direct line of fire. It may be enough to standon the rear bumper out of the way of flying mud. The added weight in back mayproduce enough traction to pull the car out.
Fog is not somessy as mud, but it is just as troublesome. When it closes in I do notrecommend a tactic once used by Stirling; he had his manager, Ken Gregory, siton the hood with his legs extended to probe for obstacles as Stirling creptthrough the murk. I do suggest that you proceed very slowly, hugging the sideof the road and keeping your eyes constantly on the edge as a guide. Use yourfog lights, if you have them, or your headlights on low beam. When the beamsare raised (see opposite page) the light is reflected off the fog, forming awhite blanket of light that is impossible to see through.
If you encounterdeep water, whether at a ford or on a street where the storm sewers have backedup because of heavy rain, slow down immediately to crawling speed and drivecarefully through the water, churning it as little as possible. Barging throughtoo fast, you may splash enough water into the engine compartment to drown theelectrical system. If you frequently must cross fords in everyday driving, youmay find it desirable to coat the coil and distributor with one of thewaterproofing preparations on the market and put rubber caps on your sparkplugleads.
There is someitem of special equipment for every imaginable road condition, and your safetydepends to a considerable degree on how well you outfit yourself. I personallywould not be without a nylon towline in winter, for I well remember the day Idrove miles into a snowdrift in a Canadian rally. I hitched the line to a carthat happened by and got out rather painlessly.
I always usespecial rear tires for winter driving, either knobbly snow tires or spikedones, which have recently come onto the market in Europe. They are not yetavailable in the U.S. I rarely use chains—changing normally takes up too muchtime and limits speed too much for rallying—but I can appreciate their value onlong stretches of snow-packed road.
It would behandy, also, to have a bag of sand and a collapsible small shovel in the trunk.The weight of the sand alone increases traction on slippery surfaces. Spreadahead of the rear wheels, sand can give the tires a grip on ice. And when one'sonly recourse is to dig out of a snowdrift the shovel is invaluable.
Installing alimited slip differential (see below) is a worthwhile investment for driverswho have unusual difficulty with wheelspin on ice, mud and packed snow. Thetrouble with the ordinary differential arrangement is that the rear wheel withthe least traction absorbs most of the driving power. Limited slip insures thatboth wheels are driven. Its usefulness is particularly dramatic when one wheelis on, say, ice and the other on dry pavement as the driver prepares to start.Limited slip differentials can be installed at extra cost either at the factoryor later.
Be certain thatyour windshield wiper blades are functioning properly. Straining to see throughfalling rain or snow is a bad enough job at best; it is intolerable when theblades streak and smear the glass.
Be aware, too,that bad-weather or bad-road driving is far more fatiguing than routinemotoring. Stop more frequently for rest, fresh air and refreshment. And thoughI use wake-up pills myself on long, nonstop rallies, I urge you not to. Get toolittle sleep and use too many pills and you will see things that aren't there,as I did in the 1957 Liége-Rome-Liége Rally. On one section in the Alps Iimagined I saw the same black cat at the apex of each successive bend, and ateach one it jumped aside just in time to escape the car in front of me."Isn't that cat quick?" I said to Ann. She brought me to my senses.Another time she threw her hands in front of her face and cried out. Sheimagined we were driving through a sea of burning cars.
In general, thehazards of the road aren't so menacing as the average driver might think. Usecommon sense and a light touch and you can cope with the worst of them inreasonable safety.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The text for the "Safe Driving" series wasprepared for publication by Staff Writer Kenneth Rudeen, assisted by ReporterEugenia Frangos. The illustrations by Dan Todd were developed from researchsupplied by Reporter Mary Jane Hodges.
"Slow and steady is the way to take a ford (left). Rolling through this one, I am trying to disturb the water as little as possible to avoid drowning the engine and getting water into the exhaust pipe. After driving out, I applied the brakes lightly several times to dry them out."
"Coming round a wet hairpin bend, I've started to skid toward a steep drop-off. In the middle picture I am steering in the direction of the skid to regain control. The bottom picture shows how quickly I was able to do so. The problem in this situation is to overcome one's instinctive reaction—which is to Jam on the brakes and to steer the wrong way."
STRAIGHT-AHEAD SKID results when inexperienced driver jams on brakes in panic, locks front wheels. Correct way to brake on ice is to pump pedal gently.
CONTROLLED SKID by advanced driver is induced by hand brake, which affects rear wheels only. With perfect timing, driver swerves wheel, eases through turn.
UNCONTROLLED SKID occurs when inexpert driver locks rear wheels too long, slides off road even though he is correctly attempting to steer in direction of skid.
NORMAL TIRES (left) give least traction when roads become icy. Snow tires (next) are best in light snow, shallow mud. For deeper mud and heavier snow, regular chains should be used. Reinforced chains (right) are particularly helpful on glare ice.
ADDING WEIGHT to the rear wheels (right) increases traction when wheels spin in snow, mud. For greater visibility in night fog, use low beams (bottom). Light from high beams (middle) is diffused upward, also back at driver.
LIMITED SLIP differential, available on all cars at extra cost, differs from conventional systems by transmitting available driving power to the wheel with most traction. This is accomplished when spring-loaded cage 1) presses outward against cone brakes 2), which engage axle shafts. When one wheel loses traction and starts to spin, cone device "brakes" it and permits the opposite wheel to receive the driving thrust it would not otherwise get.