By on December 3, 2011

Here’s a little Saturday fun. Take one hugely confident, low-skill driver with a CTS-V. Load the car up with mods that range from the unnecessary (headers) to the dangerous (wacky-ass, incorrectly-installed shoulder belts) to the absent (track-ready brake pads or fluid). Let him pass a few people in a Novice session so he’s ready to GO FAST. Then add in an instructor who takes the wheel to prevent what he feels will be a dangerous crash and points the car into another one. The crash starts at 1:23 if you’re impatient. Click the jump to hear what I have to say about touching the student’s wheel… and the one time I did it during a crash.

In any discussion among driving instructors, bringing up the subject of touching the student’s steering wheel is a sure-fire way to raise a fuss. I’ve heard many intelligent arguments on both sides of the issue. My position is this: I always warn the students that I may adjust their steering gently if they fail to heed my visual cues. Usually, this takes the form of manually “unwinding” the wheel for them when their street-driving-educated minds just won’t let them do it to a proper degree. Once they see me do it a few times, they usually start applying the correct degree of steering themselves. If I haven’t warned the student in advance, I don’t do it. In general, however, it is an effective tool if you use it with commitment. That means that once you begin controlling the wheel, you keep control of it until the student knowingly resumes full control. Sounds simple right? Well, I’ve seen situations in which:

  • The instructor reaches over to adjust the steering
  • The student lets go of the wheel
  • Having made the adjustment, the instructor lets go
  • The unpiloted vehicle exits the track to the outside of the corner

Oops. Now let’s talk about what happens in this video: the student has a brake failure. He wants to go off the track one way. The instructor disagrees, so he reaches over, wildly shanks the wheel around, then huddles in the seat until impact. That’s absolutely wrong. Once the instructor intervenes, he needs to address the situation to its conclusion.

This is my story about a similar incident: I was with a very fast, very competent student in a Z06 at Autobahn Country Club. He was doing about 140 on the back straight when he pumped the brakes and got no response. He tried to take into the grass sideways at about 125mph. See the diagram below. The red line was the one he thought he could follow. The blue line was the line I had intended for us.

Seems like a long way, right? Trust me, at 100+ mph it’s over in a hurry. I straightened the car as we exited the track by reaching over with both hands, knocking his hands off, and steering off straight. Why didn’t I want the car to exit the track at an angle? Let’s watch Antonio Pizzonia as he shows us why not:

Hoo-boy, Pizzonia sucks. Watch him crank the wheel AGAIN after leaving the track. That might work in an F1 car. Not in a street car. When you leave the track sideways in a street car, particularly when the ground is uneven, you roll. It’s that simple.

Screaming through my helmet, I told my student, “IF WE TURN WE ROLL!” Two car lengths before the tire wall, I took my hands off and folded them in my lap. We struck at about 40mph. The nose of his Vette was pretty well ruined, I must say, but we were both completely uninjured. Like the student in this video, he disagreed with me about being able to “save it”, so I sent him the Pizzonia link in an email the following day and that seemed to calm him down. Too bad I didn’t have this one to send him. This is a 350Z going off sideways at Mid-O:

and this is what happened after the camera died:

Bad stuff, for sure. Never forget, kids, this track stuff can get serious in a hurry.

What’s the lesson from all these videos:

  • Make sure your car can stop as well as it accelerates.
  • If you need to go off, go off straight.
  • Any money you spend on your helmet is probably money well spent.

That’s it!

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55 Comments on “Jesus May Not Take The Wheel, But This Instructor Will… Briefly...”


  • avatar
    JJHUNSECKER

    Great post, great reality check. Remember newbies, it’s not like XBOX/PLAYSTATION when you crash at the track.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    No doubt about it. Had the same thing happen to me and had to quickly decide “Do I want to hit the river bed on all 4 or try to save it and hit it upside down?”

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Who the eff builds a track by a riverbed

    And yea that is pretty scary stuff.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    You’re right about discussing beforehand what to do when the instructor takes the wheel. Practicing a decreasing radius turn, my instructor reached over to adjust my wheel, but I just fought him off. The harder he pulled, the harder I pushed. I recall his elevated voice going, ‘why are you fighting me?’ Well Travis, it’s because I’m at my limit trying to control the car, adjust the braking, look for the apex, and find the point when I can get back on the throttle. So let’s us have a talk before, then I’ll give up responsibility and control, and I’ll have learned the technique. M’kay?

  • avatar
    Doc

    That 350Z video is scary for sure. It appears that in addition to braking problems, he had way too much speed coming into that corner.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      His speed was fine for a car with working brakes. That turn is surprisingly forgiving when it comes to entry speed, as you have plenty of time to clean things up before you go up and over Madness (where your line starts to matter a lot more).

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Yup, entering the grass sideways with a certain speed and c.o.g. combination usually ends badly… I’ve got a decent scar on my scalp to attest to this fact…

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    You don’t have to be at a track to go over either. I witnessed a car go over at a local autocross when the driver lost it in a slalom, tried to catch it, then left the runway with the wheels still turned. As soon as one tire hit dirt, the car did a slow roll onto it’s roof.

    Car was going maybe 35 mph.

    I always tell my autocross students not to try to catch up when they have lost it. The run is blown and there’s always another run. If you get to the point where your leaving pavement, try to get those wheels straight.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    Can’t believe that Pizzonia and student did not have on helmets.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      I believe that was Steve Sutcliffe of Autocar in the passenger seat.

      • 0 avatar
        rochskier

        I’m just glad both of them came through it okay, particularly Sutcliffe. He seems like the sort of guy you could just swap hoonage stories with over a couple pints any day of the week. I particularly enjoy the YouTube clip where he drives a Corvette ZR1 attempting to keep pace with a Murcielago LP640 and comes away fairly impressed with the ZR1.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I was impressed with his calmness after the roll. I’m pretty sure I’d have been swearing at the guy! Not because I should, but it’s a normal reaction for me.

  • avatar

    As a Nurburgring instructor, I have to agree completely, especially from an insurance point of view. If I “adjust” my students wheel angle while on track, I am now responsible for that car, and if we hit the wall, then I’m also liable for the damage.

    I limit my instruction to shouting if needed, and never touch the wheel. Other instructors at the ‘Ring have other opinions, but my method seems to work well. In 2 years of teaching, only one student has crashed, when we rolled an Alfa Romeo when the wheel separated from the car.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Mid-Ohio is my home track and we always tell our students go straight and don’t fight it. With today technology its the best you can do as a last resort.

  • avatar
    Doc

    Jack,

    Regarding the seat belts, could you explain why the ones in this car are incorrect and what the correct set-up would be?

    • 0 avatar
      DubTee1480

      In our dirt track cars the seat belts had to be attached at a hard point on the roll cage behind the seat. At shoulder level. The set-up in the CTS-V appears to assume the seat back of the stock seats wouldn’t break loose during a bad crash. Or that the headrest might not break/come off. I’ll put my trust in proper 3″ racing belts and a steel roll cage, thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      Belts stretch when you crash, sometimes up to twice their static length.

      If they’re long enough, they won’t stop you before you hit the wheel/dash/windshield/etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      Proper installation has the belts coming over your shoulders and proceeding in a very horizontal direction to their mounting point.

      You hit a wall, it is going to take a certain force to keep you in your seat. If the belts are horizontal, the force in the belts equals the force required to stop you. As the belts angle downward, the horizontal component of the force remains the same, but a vertical component appears as well. As you approach 45° downward, the vertical component equals the horizontal component (meaning you may fold up your seat back), and the tension in the belts becomes root(2)* or 1.7x what is would have been if the belts were installed horizontally.

      *root two sticks in my head… Can’t be bothered with the trig right now. Google it if you really need to know, but between you and me, you shouldn’t be designing seat belt mounts based on replies to a blog post.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        That is a very FIA and SCCA way of looking at it, different sanctioning bodies have different rules. You’ll often see Japanese spec racecars and WRC cars with long crossed harness straps secured lower ad further back in the vehicle.

        I mentioned it in my post below, but the harness the driver is using is a Schroth Rallye 4, which is designed to be bolted to the rear seatbelt mounting points and has a breakaway tab to prevent submarining, and is pretty much the only legal and safest 4-point harness, aside from their rallye-cross, which is meant to go on a harness bar or cage (but if you have a cage and aren’t buying seats and 4-points, i question your brain function)

      • 0 avatar
        Doc

        I appreciate the information. BTW I am not planning on designing a system. Just curious about how it works.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        The belts may be installed correctly, but I wouldn’t consider that a validation of their existence.

        The SCCA rulebook, as someone once wrote, was written in blood. Everybody understands the correct way to mount belts, because people have suffered broken necks and compressed spines from incorrect mounting.

        For autocross, they may aid in control, perhaps as much as a $40 CG-Lock, but to use them on a full-speed racetrack is, in my opinion, insane.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        Not based on any rule book, just standard force balance. Those belts are counting on the seats being strong enough to resist the vertical force applied in a crash. In a 50g crash with a 200 lb guy, we’re in the ballpark of 10,000 lbs vertical force on the seatback.

        If you exceed the buckling resistance of the seatback, well, it’s bad news anyway.

        I’m not suggesting that the seatbelts themselves are not designed with a suitably high load factor to account for the increased force, but the seat back is likely not, and at the very least, there should be a cross-car bar behind the seat back with sufficient strength to resist the vertical load induced in a crash.

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      Are any 4-point harnesses safe to use without at least a half-cage / rollbar? If the roof collapses you will certainly be crushed because you will be kept upright in your seat by the belts. I’n no expert, but that’s how i’ve understood it.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      This setup is actually correct according to the manufacturer. They’re Schroth Rallye 4 belts.

      http://www.schrothracing.com/docs/Rallye_3_&_4_Instructions.pdf

      The manufacturer specifically directs that they should be mounted to the rear lap belt attachment points, as long as that point doesn’t result in the belt binding or going slack because of some obstruction.

      These belts constantly get berated by the track set in the US because they’re a “half-step” kind of thing that isn’t compatible with a full race car system (which would have wider webbing, an anti-sub belt, fixed to a roll cage, and used with a racing shell seat). Personally I would consider their safety equivalent to an old pre-airbag OEM seat belt and wouldn’t want to stick them in a car that has airbags and pretensioners on the OEM belts. But I’d consider them an upgrade over ’80s OEM junk, and they do provide the driver-positioning functionality of a racing harness. Schroth is keen to point out that they’re a “tuning” harness intended for road cars, though (and they claim that the belts are street-legal according to FMVSS 209).

  • avatar
    Adub

    Enlighten me on this, but all cars come with a “parking” brake for a reason. It is a mechanical backup in case your hydraulic brakes fail. How come nobody tried reaching for it?

    I would think that if you have enough time to pump the brakes several times, you have enough time to try that.

    • 0 avatar
      mistrernee

      Parking brakes have about as much braking power as holding a cupped hand out the window of the car and might cause a violent loss of control without slowing you down any.

      I remember using them on the highway once because the charging system failed and I had a flat battery. It couldn’t run the brake light and engine at the same time so I used the hand brake whenever I could. I still had regular brakes just in case.

      Take it from me, using the hand brake at highway speeds is terrifying and is more effective at spinning the car than slowing it down.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      Yep, mistrernee nailed it. Handbrakes are a surefire way to exit the track sideways… or backwards… or already upside-down. Even at street speeds, they are flat-out useless for stopping a car in an emergency situation.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Adub: Didn’t you ever yank on the parking brake just for the fun of a rear slide? If you locked the rears – a cable brake will be awfully hard to modulate in a panic – round and round you go…

  • avatar
    jco

    i’m confused, I guess.. how are you exiting the apex in a straight line if you hadn’t been able to brake from 125mph in a straight line? i guess maybe just the angle of the lines is making me think that.

    was there any chance of using the e-brake in a gradual way at any point? once all 4 wheels are in the grass, can you turn the wheel at all to avoid the barrier? i get why you did it, just wondering if those were the only two possibilities in that scenario.

    and with that Z, it looks like the tail hopped out under braking. that car was going off sideways no matter what.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      It did seem a bit twitchy, but I didn’t see any significant sideways travel until the guy turned the wheel. It’s possible only his rear brakes were still functional to cause the twitchiness. Even if the back end does kick out while braking one should still get off the brakes and counter-steer to correct it before going off.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The Z had way too much speed for the turn and was going offroading anyways. The Z06 driver wanted to cut across the grass and head for the straight. Grass may be too bumpy to turn on and always too slippery. Same with dirt. You’ll spin and or the wheels will dig in once you’re sideways. If you have to hit the barrier, better to hit it head-on. I’ve used the e-brake when my Z lost all pedal @ 80 MPH. Immediately I went sideways to the left. Let up, hit it again and went sideways to the right. Kept repeating that, left/right/left/right till I got the speed down. Wasn’t pretty but yeah it’s possible in some scenarios.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I always discuss with a student about putting my hand on the wheel before we ever get in the car. The rule is they are to leave their hands on the wheel and I will “adjust” if in an emergency or where I will help guide the car to the apex then track out if they are having trouble doing so. Always wear my gloves when in a students car b/c of it. The students should always be taught in class that if you go off you go off straight – if you need to correct your line to have room to go off (i.e. miss a wall) use the track to get the car turned so it can go off straight and miss any dangers.

    I most often see people upgrade HP, suspension, tires, etc. then never touch the brakes – it is bass ackwards in what you do to a car you drive on the track. Where I have this situation in a student’s car I have a long discussion of what can happen and why you can hit much higher speeds on straights but we won’t b/c of this issue. I tell them I will not ride with them if they have constant fade and have to pump brakes to get the pedal back. Having the brakes go out on a stock Miata versus a 500+ hp CTS-V is a whole different situation entirely.

    Watching the video they noted they pressed the brakes 3 times…I would be pumping like mad and as many times as I can to get some feel back in them. Unfortunately the camera view is the lap of the participants and can’t see anything. I also noticed the instructor had the neck supporter on (good choice).

  • avatar
    duffman13

    I have a few comments, some that mirror others up here, but it is what it is.

    A) His harness is not improperly installed judging from the video. I’m 99% positive it’s a Schroth Rallye 4, which is the only DOT legal, and IMHO the only safe 4-point you can wear due to a breakaway portion on one of the shoulders designed to prevent submarining. I researched this thoroughly, and own one myself. You generally mount them to the rear seat belt anchors.

    B) I’m not sure how I would have felt as a student about the instructor jerking the wheel, but I don’t know what they discussed prior. My instructors I’ve had in the past discussed with me when they would put their hands on it, usually to correct my line. Understandably this isn’t an airplane with 2 sets of controls and ‘i have the controls’ ‘you have the controls,’ but looking at it now i’d like to have that conversation at future track days.

    C) I go back to a magazine braking test where a 350Z with Brembos was basically brakeless after 5 100mph stops, because the stock pads were worthless. Anybody who goes to the track, *especially* with a high hp high lb car like that CTS-V without upgrading their brake pads and fluid to a proper compound is asking for trouble.
    [begin anecdote]
    I drive a RSX-S and tracked it twice last year. The first time on the track last year i tried the new Stoptech street performance pad, supposed to be good up to 1300F, with ATE Super Blue. I had to cut a couple sessions short towards the end of the first event I ran with them because I could feel the brakes starting to go when the schedule gave me only 60 minutes to cool down between runs. I upgraded to a proper track pad for my next event (Porterfield R4) and had no issues.
    [end anecdote]
    If this guy can’t feel his brakes starting to go (hint… stopping distances getting longer, pedal travel getting higher) he has bigger problems. Of course, if he didn’t upgrade his fluid, it could boil with little warning being standard dot 3 or 4, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

    I know there was no flow to the post, but it is what it is.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      Duff, the Z incident you’re thinking of was a Nismo 370Z. I’m pretty sure that was Car & Driver’s 2009 Lightning Lap.

      Some cars do very well on OEM brake equipment. Mazdas come to mind. I’ve tracked both 2008 and 2010 Mazdaspeed3s on OEM hardware and always been blown away by the reliability of their braking systems, and those cars aren’t light.

      It’s also worth noting that, depending on the compound, pad fade can come on much more suddenly than fluid fade (and with no obvious warning signs). Glazed pads can ruin your day in a hurry. It’s like trying to brake on glare ice.

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        OEM pads? I find that surprising, but hey if it works, more power to you. Not really familiar with brake pad glaze personally, I have always managed to do a proper break-in and never ran into it.

        Going back to the Nissan thing but in a different direction, go read up on GTR brake noise complaints. Owners of 500hp monster cars aparently are turned off by the part where a proper brake pad for the track (that comes installed on the car) makes noise and dust. I guess it just shows you what most buyers of high $ cars are looking for.

        On an unrelated note, how do you like the speed 3 on the track? I honestly kicked myself for buying the RSX when I did after seeing the initial speed 3 come out. My wife has a ’10 3 hatch and I love the car, it’s handling is pretty much surgical for a car in that category.

      • 0 avatar
        Byron Hurd

        It’s a very forgiving, competent track car.

        One complaint I’ve heard from a lot of fellow track-rat owners is that the Speed3 pretty much takes the platform to the edge of its capabilities, so if you reach its limits and want to go faster, it’s very expensive to do so. Most of the other issues I hear about, such as soft engine mounts and poor factory tune, are usually a product of owners who simply have no mechanical sympathy.

        Personally, my only gripe is that the suspension components wear a bit too quickly for my tastes with a lot of performance driving. I expect extra wear and tear from track/auto-x, but my OEM shocks were basically done before 30k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      arbnpx

      I have a Schroth Rallye 4 harness installed in my driver’s side seat (a Recaro Sport, so the belts are going through the eyelets). I remember the discussion before and during installation: make sure the seat back is strong enough, and make sure the belts are going downward when they run over the shoulder (i.e.: make sure the belt guide is higher than the shoulder). If it’s not higher, get a harness bar for a horizontal mount instead.

      I’ve been running the Rallye 4 for autocross for over a year, and they’ve been very good. Maybe Jack disagrees with them being used on a 100+ MPH course, but “wacky-ass, incorrectly-installed” is being overly harsh and ignorant.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    This seems like good advice for street driving as well.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    I’ve been planning on doing some track days with my 11 Mustang GT next spring. Anyone have experience with the stock brakes? I don’t have the Brembos, just the basic ones. Hawk HPS pads maybe a good plan? I think the reason so many guys upgrade stuff other than brake system is the cost.

    But I’d rather not be the guy pumping the brakes and getting nothing – the ultimate fear.

    • 0 avatar
      thesal

      Not the HPS. You need HP+ as a minimum. Make sure you use better fluid (dot 5.1).
      Also, try to limit your stints to ~5 laps at a time. The brakes may be fine, but your street tires will
      need a break…

      Good luck and have fun!

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      It depends on your tires. With the power and weight a mustang has now, something like hp+ or stoptech street performance is a must using regular summer tires. If you are using something grippier like a max performance tire in the sub-200 treadwear range like kumho xs, hankook rs3, or Bridgestone re-11, I recommend a full track pad like the hawk blue since the level of grip is too high and you’ll end up braking later and heating them up more.

  • avatar
    Travis

    I really don’t think it’s fair at all to call him a low-skill driver. He’s still in the advanced drivers division.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    Three things:

    1. Flashback: Going straight off Lime Rock’s Diving Turn at 95mph (ITS RX-7) onto damp grass. Yes, that distance between the asphalt and the tire wall shrinks dramatically, don’t it? I hit head-on, but then I had no choice: no steering due to the dampness.

    B. Thanks for reminding me for the 212th time why I will never instruct.

    4. In fact, thanks for reminding me why I stay far, far away from HPDEs and the lo-skillz crowd.

    • 0 avatar
      mad_science

      “In fact, thanks for reminding me why I stay far, far away from HPDEs and the lo-skillz crowd.”

      Are you dissing HPDEs in general, or just saying you’re glad to no longer swim in the kiddie pool?

      It’s not exactly fair to mock those who are trying to learn just because they’re unskilled. We’re all ignorant and crappy at some point.

  • avatar
    massarchers

    That is why the only “mods” on my car are ss brake lines, ss brake pistons, race pads, brake cooling ducts and hi temp fluid changed twice a season. Stopping being more important than going…

  • avatar
    whostandsbytruth2255

    Editor,
    Please don’t use the Name of the God Jesus for your title. This hurts people. If you can change it please do.
    Thank you.

  • avatar
    maxell0405

    Wow, Antonio Pizzonia is a hack. I doubt that move would have worked on an F1 car and it was just painful to watch. Glad no one was hurt – especially with their unprotected melons just asking for it.

    I don’t think an instructor should ever take the wheel unless the driver is really screwing up, ignoring verbal instruction, and the instructor is sure he can fix the problem just by steering. If you take the wheel of my car and we hit something, I’m gonna be pissed at you.

    It’s very hard to say what happened here because the video of the crash doesn’t show the track at all. But the earlier part shows that this driver is pretty good. His lines are good and he seems fast and smooth. But brake failure is a bitch. All any driver can do then is keep the car as straight as possible to avoid rolling and assure that if there is going to be an impact the car should hit nose first. Here the instructor yanks the wheel to the right, and the car seems to spin in that direction and hits on the side. I would say the instructor screwed up badly.

    Looking back on my track days, I think it should have been emphasized more that if you go off you must straighten out the wheel as you leave the asphalt. “Two feet in” I heard plenty, and that’s easy, but straightening the wheel when you’re going off due to understeer/too much speed is a bit counter intuitive and should be drilled into novice drivers.

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