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Do your rivals seem to outstrip you effortlessly on the go-kart track? If so, it’s rarely about the vehicles. What’s much more likely is that your rivals are better at finding the racing line. Even in professional motor racing, the racing line decides who wins and who loses. As a result, drivers and teams intensively analyze the optimal route of each racetrack to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.
Claudia Hürtgen is one of Germany’s best racing drivers. She won the German Touring Car Challenge, the German Production Cars Championship and the German Endurance Championship driving for BMW on the most difficult circuit in the world, the Nordschleife (or North Loop) at the Nürburgring, as well as the 24-hour races at Dubai and Daytona (➜ Le Mans: 24 Hours of Thrills). Since 2012, Hürtgen has been Chief Instructor at the BMW Driving Experience.
According to Hürtgen, the search for the racing line never ends. “You have to constantly readjust and adapt the racing line to changing conditions,” the experienced racing driver explains. A number of factors affect the racing line: driving style (aggressive or defensive), road conditions (e.g. grippy vs. slippery asphalt) as well as the weather (dry or wet).
The key to finding the racing line is practice, practice, practice.
Chief Instructor, BMW Driving Experience
Racing tips – learn from the pros
At the BMW M Race Track Experience, you learn how to drive a car quickly and safely around a racetrack at more than 15 international circuits. Among other things, the instructors will show you the racing line on each track.
Use the full width of the road. That's what it’s there for.
Your line of sight determines where you drive. When you look in any direction, you will subconsciously steer the vehicle the same way.
Patiently feel your way towards getting comfortable with finding the racing line and the right speed. However, only increase your speed if you feel safe doing so.
1 Braking point: Reduce your speed until you reach the turning point.
2 Turning point: Here you release the brake, turn in and aim for the apex point.
3 Apex point: (a.k.a. clipping point): Here you unlock the steering again.
4 Exit point: Straighten the steering wheel and accelerate again.
Memorize the course in your own time. The points of reference and braking points are crucial. Determine the turning point, apex point and exit point for each turn.
As a general rule, take corners from the outside in. The apex point is your point of reference on the inside of the corner. When you’ve passed it, your eyes should look outward to the exit of the corner. Let yourself be carried out, unlock the steering and accelerate again at the end of the corner.
Every little steering correction disrupts the vehicle and costs time.
Don’t play with the gas pedal. Wait for the right moment to accelerate out of the corner. In most cases, you can accelerate as soon as you unlock the steering.
What is the racing line?
The racing line is the line which, if you follow it, will take you around the racetrack as quickly as possible. It depends on many factors: the vehicle, the driving style, the terrain and even the weather. The racing line is not always the shortest route, and for many corners there are multiple equally fast routes.
Every corner has its own individual racing line. Work out what it is. The next step is to put these individual driving lines together interdependently to form a complete race route. You have to do this because the racing line for each turn depends on the preceding and following sections of the track.
The shortest route is not always the fastest. Taking a turn wider may help you get to the finish line faster if you position your vehicle better for the next section. This is especially important when one turn is followed by another, which is known as a combination corner.
The aim is to get out of the second corner at maximum speed. So, for a combination corner, think backwards: How do you have to drive to get back on the gas as early as possible in the second corner?
1 You steer into turn A on the racing line; the apex point remains the same.
2 When you exit turn A, don’t let yourself be taken to the outer edge of the track; stay in the middle.
3 This way, you can better position your vehicle to take turn B.
Summary: You sacrifice the perfect racing line for turn A in order to take turn B perfectly and exit at the highest possible speed.
Take irregularities in the road surface, curbs, and the texture of the asphalt into account when you choose your racing line and corner speed.
Take wider arcs in wet weather. Most corners are inclined inwards, meaning that water collects on the inside of the turn. There is also more rubber abrasion, and both of these facts increase the slipperiness of the track.
Armed with this knowledge, there’s one more thing you need: Practice, practice, practice ‒ lap after lap. Always be on the lookout for the perfect racing line!
Sometimes it makes sense to deviate from the racing line. For example, if you want to make up time with a more attacking line.
1 Set the braking point later for this line.
2 Steer later and – most importantly – harder.
3 On this line, you can steer your car into a corner radius that unlocks earlier and begin accelerating again more quickly.
Use these tips only for driving on closed racing tracks, and only under professional guidance if you’re a beginner. These driving tips are not suitable for public roads.
Illustrations/Animations: Cyprian Lothringer