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Pobst Position: Electronic Controls
Page: 1 Links
A recent acquaintance of mine is doing track days in a Porsche Cayman S, and we talked about driving quickly and good technique. She is coming along quite well, so I hear. So well, in fact, that her instructors have recommended that she turn off her electronic stability control (called PSM in Porsches, DSC in BMW, ESP Audi, etc). This connected immediately in my consciousness with her several remarks about her desire to go faster. Danger, Will Robinson. I find there to be a certain bravado associated with driving without electronic assistance at track days. Like you are not a man if you leave it on. Like it is a step towards becoming a real driver. And it certainly is. Not unlike throwing your two-year old in the deep end without water wings or lifeguard. You better be darn sure you can handle it. You are betting your Porsche's, your instructor's, and your necks on it.

I am a huge fan of electronic controls for street driving, and for most track day people. Stability control will soon be government-mandated standard equipment, and this is a good thing that will prevent many crashes. These systems use a yaw sensor that feels if one end of the car is sliding more than the other, and then corrects it with individually controlled braking that can work on even one wheel at a time, and often throttle reduction, too. It is telling to note here that these systems never ADD power, and neither should you, when working to fix a slide that is too big. When should it be turned off? Gauge it by your level of frustration. My first question to my friend was, "Do you feel it interfering?" Her answer: "Gee, I don't know." "Then leave it on" I said, with emphasis. The best way to drive with stability control on is to use it as a guideline. If you feel it come on, then you were less than perfectly smooth. Use it as a safety net. Do not drive into it and have it constantly correct for you. That cooks the brakes, and is an ignorant way to drive in which there is no learning. Same with your anti-lock brakes. Just tickle them. Your best braking and handling will be achieved just before these systems interfere and start pumping the brakes.

Now, say you want to race a car with electronic stability. Easy answer. No. However, it can be very tough to fully disconnect the systems. One of my race teams struggled with that all season. The computers are tied into everything. Most cars will not allow the driver to completely disable stability systems. I personally hate these electronic aids if I am driving for lap times. None I have tried yet are smart enough. Here is where the frustration builds up. I feel constant interference. "I wanna drive this thing, back off, Computer! I create a beautiful drift into this corner, and you barge in and ruin it." I always turn all the controls off, but I am rather confident of my car control skills. You best be, too, Friend, if you choose to go full manual mode. I have seen many expensive new cars wrecked by drivers that hit that switch before they were ready. Further, the first few sessions after turning it off, be extra smooth and careful, you are in a brave, new world. How to prepare? Guess what? My old favorite, autocross! Solo II. Turn it all off. Drive at and beyond the ragged edge with nothing to hit but pylons. Reality driving. Low track time, but high quality, cheap, and safe. And the whole family can come play. Also, professional car control clinics. Barber, Bondurant, Russell, any good one. You know I am a big fan of these training exercises. I know of no way to practice high-speed skid correction, except maybe drifting! So practice it at low speeds as much as possible. BE the stability control. If you aren't, leave it on.
Originally printed in Sportscar September 09
 
 
 
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