What better way to highlight the upcoming release of a new book on driving than to have the author, Paul Gerrard, do a series of pieces and a podcast interview for FBC discussing some of the finer elements of driving? In a new series, we are calling Optimum Drive with Paul Gerrard, we will focus on some intriguing parts of Paul’s new book coming out this April. You can pre-order the book right here from Amazon. If you’re a fan of the art of driving, this book is a must-have and we are very honored to be working with Paul on this special series just for our readers/listeners.
Paul F. Gerrard is an accomplished professional racing driver, precision/stunt driver, advanced driving instructor, vehicle evaluator and presenter. His career started in Europe winning a prestigious Winfield Scholarship that lead to successfully racing formula cars in both Europe and the United States. He made the transition into racing sports cars and simultaneously started instructing a wide range of drivers from military special forces to aspiring racers to teen drivers.
Next on his progression was television appearing as an automotive expert and driver on shows such as Top Gear (UK and US editions), MythBusters, Speedmakers, Supercars Exposed, Ultimate Factories and many others. He has presented on every automotive topic imaginable and specializes in make technology and driving easy to understand for people at any level. Paul is also a sought-after expert witness in high-level automotive court cases.
He has continually raced winning several national championships along the way racing everything from Pikes Peak to just about every professional road racing series all the way to being ranked number three in the world in vehicle jumping distance for a 2010 Hot Wheels Stunt.
Also under his belt is over two decades of racing driver coaching and director level responsibilities at some of the most advanced racing schools in the world. While his passion is and always was racing, Paul has cultivated and created a career that allows him to not only enjoy his passion but do something that is perhaps even more satisfying… share that passion for what he considers the most accessible and highest level mechanical interaction possible… a car and our uniquely human ability to connect with it.
Optimum Drive is a book about achieving driving greatness. Its focus is not on the simple mechanics of vehicle line and calculated corner speed but about the granular dynamic balancing a great driver can do to actually up that speed above what most people think is possible. There exists a secret handshake of sorts for the greats, an elite club at a level that almost seems superhuman. The process in this book exposes and describes the steps anyone can take to gain access into the most elusive step a driver can take…turning what they do with three simple controls into art.
The Art and Science of Test Driving and Testing
Good usable repeatable laps that is what the team wants the driver to do, seems simple enough but so few are really good at it. For a driver, it takes a lot of restraint to do repeatable useable good laps, the very mentality of a competitive person is to be aggressive not show restraint. You’ll see teams favor certain drivers for certain testing tasks, the lower down the totem pole you are, the more menial the driving task all the way from only straight line running to correlate wind tunnel with real world to individual testing/running of vehicle systems. The initial running is seldom done anywhere near the limit so those duties usually fall to the “Friday drivers”.
I mentioned the word correlation a moment ago and that is what the teams need to establish, a baseline. While the car may be turning its first real laps it, in fact, has probably done a whole season virtually over this Winter. The teams need to take all that virtual data and see how close it is to actual data they collect during the test. That is the all-important correlation they are after. Is the car behaving exactly how the simulations predicted?
To do this they break everything down as much as time will allow. The fairly recent draconian (cost cutting lol) restrictions on testing have made the reliance on simulations greater so there is a lot of pressure to get them right because the car is turning less laps and later in the process and that makes everyone very nervous. They don’t have much time to correct things if the correlation is poor. I wonder if a car has ever turned out better than they predicted? Usually of course the opposite is the case and there is always a team or two flying in some bits while the car misses some crucial track time or is embarrassingly off the pace relative to last season.
Through it all, the test driver (not the race driver) hat is on dutifully driving the car as precisely as possible so they themselves are not make the data harder to be correlated due to them being on their own driving program (like trying to go too fast and therefore perhaps being inconsistent).
The time for speed will come though some teams will fly under the radar until unleashing the cars full potential in Melbourne qualifying. Others (usually those who have something to prove or are still sponsor hunting) will go for a lap at the end of each day to show the world that this year is going to be different and generate some short-lived but important pre-season buzz.
The bottom line is that everyone is on their own program, some will be frantic, some restrained and others quietly confident. Meanwhile the drivers circulate with engineers dutifully checking data, all with fingers crossed that the car is living up to its virtual potential as it’s turning ones and zeros into actual physical form…untold millions invested, eight meager test days, then only a month to Melbourne…what could possible go wrong!?
The difference between two distinct yet necessary driver types: The test driver vs. the race driver.
Now, it is safe to say any good, let alone great, driver should be able to do both. One sets up the car and the other races it. The test driver is like a robot, they put the same good known input in (within reason) regardless of output (understeer, oversteer, lock-up, or wheel spin), and the engineers adjust and re-adjust the car until the output is as close to perfect as possible.
That’s how you set- up a car to maximize its performance. The more consistent the test driver’s inputs, the more accurate the engineers’ data, and the closer the can get to the ideal compromise in the car’s set-up. Then the race starts and the driver switches modes; the car’s set-up is now pretty fixed (just usually brake bias, anti-roll bars, and tire pressures, and wing adjustments at the pit stops), so the driver now needs to not be the rock-solid robot doing exactly the same thing every lap. They now need to be focused instead only on the output, continuously adjusting their inputs to optimize the output. The whole idea of our role being that dynamic car balancer is us in race mode, but the test (mode) driver balances the car and repeats the run exactly as the engineers tweak.