Front Wheel Driving
As a driver in the Civic Cup, and having driven almost exclusively Front Wheel Drive cars for the last few years, I am a big fan and absolutely love driving them. I think this is particularly relevant, as most of us start our driving careers in FWD cars, and a FWD hot hatch is one of the most common trackday tools or first performance car. In this article I am going to describe how a well set up FWD car like a Civic Cup Car behaves on track and some techniques you can use to get the most out of any FWD car.
Most FWD race cars are set up to be fairly ‘twitchy’, meaning that the rear end of the car is very loose relative to the front, and the car tends to oversteer. This is useful because it allows fast turn in with minimal understeer, and also allows the car to ‘rotate’ more easily, meaning it is easy to get the front end pointing out of the corner, even though the rear may be sliding a little. Once a FWD car is pointing in the right direction and there is no more steering to be done, you can get straight back on the power for a fast exit. Remember in general, it is fast corner exit NOT fast corner entry that produces fast laptimes. Most FWD cars that earn notoriety tend to have a slightly more twitchy characteristic – 205 GTI, Renaultsport Clio, Civic Type R are all examples. The motoring journos tend to talk about ‘lift off oversteer’ – this basically implies the car is twitchy, as a lift of the throttle mid corner allows the rear to step out.
Having a car that likes to rotate fast is very responsive and useful getting into and through a corner, but can also be a bit of a handful, especially in the hands of an inexperienced driver. FWD however gives you a bit of a ‘get out of jail free card’ – the throttle. If the car starts to oversteer, it is easily caught by applying the throttle, with very little steering correction. This helps correct the slide in two ways – it transfers weight rearward, giving more rear axle grip, and it also physically pulls the car straight with the torque from the front wheels. This means you can set a FWD car up to be extremely twitchy – far more twitchy than you might want a RWD car to be – which can prove extremely effective in terms of laptime.
This makes a FWD car much simpler to manage in some ways than a RWD car – Apply throttle and the car will tend towards understeer, lift the throttle and the car will tend to oversteer. In a RWD car the situation is far more complicated, but that’s another article…
Another technique that can be employed to great effect is left foot braking. In a FWD car, especially a ‘twitchy’ one, exiting long sweeping corners can be difficult. As you feed the throttle in, you may get some understeer, but a lift of the throttle and the car can easily snap into aggressive oversteer. I had big issues with this at the Snetterton round of the Civic Cup. The second to last corner, Coram, is a reasonably fast and very long right hander at the end of the lap, and I was finding that the car was transitioning between understeer and oversteer very fast when feathering the throttle. Very gently applying some brake with your left foot can quell understeer without unsettling the car, allowing you to really get the most out of the exit of the bend with maximum control. Also, if the car has a plated limited slip differential, small throttle inputs are often not enough to cause the differential to lock up and be effective. Left foot braking allows you to load up and lock the differential more and faster, giving greater traction on corner exit.
A final word on Limited Slip Differentials – in a FWD car the effect of a differential is transformative. A torque-biasing gear type LSD (as you might find in most road cars) will distribute more torque to the outside wheel. This has the effect of pivoting the car into the bend as you apply throttle (good). Problem is they can only do this to a certain extent, so when the inside front wheel unloads too much (such as when on track) they act like an open diff (bad). A plated (clutch type) LSD is far more effective on the circuit. This type is essentially open until you apply throttle, and then the diff begins to lock. In an aggressive setup, this fully locks the wheels together, giving monster traction on corner exit even if you lift a wheel off the tarmac. It does however require regular maintenance and is extremely brutal for anything other than a dedicated track car – you don’t even really want to drive to the circuit with one of these diffs.
In terms of how you drive, a good LSD lets you be more aggressive. You can get on the power early, using a twitchy setup to your advantage to get the car rotated, and attack kerbs knowing that accelerating over them wont have you spinning up inside wheels. If you lose the back end, an LSD makes correcting with the throttle even more effective, so you can deal with big oversteer more easily. With a clutch type however, when you do break traction under acceleration, it means both front wheels are spinning, which means the front end breaks away fast and hard. This can be difficult to cope with in the wet, so in greasy conditions be measured with throttle inputs!
I hope some of this might help anyone driving on track in a FWD car – anymore questions drop us a line on facebook.