Turn 2 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, also known as The Andretti Hairpin, is one of my favorite corners of the 2.238-mile famed road course and a perfect place to practice the art of trail braking. While writing this article, I was doing a little bit of research on the course itself and I stumbled onto some interesting information at the track’s official website:
http://www.mazdaraceway.com/map-directions/track-maps-0 (look in the upper right-hand corner, click “Download Racing Lines,” and read the description on the second page for Turn 2)
I found this information interesting and definitely think it is helpful for beginners. Heck, I wish I knew about that stuff before today. I went to my first racing school devoid of any driving advice and learned everything I know from racing schools at Laguna Seca. I read the website’s description of how to tackle Turn 2 and can confirm it’s a fair description that holds relatively true compared to the tutelage I received. However, my description of what it feels like inside the car when a driver beautifully executes this downhill hairpin is more detailed and drastically different. The one on the website reflects one for most “bigger cars” (fendered beasts) and the description below will be for what I have driven: a small winged formula car. To keep it simple, I will describe the trail braking exercise I did at school as opposed to how to do it while making a complete lap. I have to admit though – that my best execution came during last open lapping session after receiving the checker on the last day of my most recent racing school – what an awesome way to leave on a high note! It was my goal to stomp Turn 2 that day and I did! I got it pretty well once during the drill, but other times I either pushed too hard, understeered wide, or spun out. Although I am a design engineer, I like to ride and perform tricks on my BMX bike. To me, a race-car is nothing more than a big BMX bike except for one distinct difference: One trades bodily damage for equipment damage when a crash occurs.
When I do tricks on my BMX bike, I like to refer to it as “experimental physics” since I perform absolutely zero calculations and go 100% by feel. Consequently, the same thing goes for the race-car so many numbers below are “guesstimated” by feel alone. Here it is:
- You’re sitting in one of two lines on the main straightaway prior to the start/finish line and the mechanic on the radio signals you to go (the hairpin is clear). You give a little gas and clutch engagement starts happening immediately upon releasing the clutch pedal from the floor. You don’t need to launch the car, but just get it rolling. Acceleration in upper gears will get you up to speed prior to the hairpin.
- As soon as the car is rolling and the clutch fully engaged, go 100% throttle. The engine will start coming into its own at 4500 rpm and when it hits max torque at 5000 rpm, HANG ON! When 6000 rpm comes, do a clutch-less upshift (do not use the clutch pedal). Lift only about 10% off from full throttle, pull back on the shifter and get right back down to 100% throttle. Engine rpm will drop to 5000 rpm and immediately start rocketing back to 6000 rpm. Timing of the lift and shift lever motion are critical and can only be learned through practice (I don’t even know exactly when I do the lift and pull back on the lever. It’s second nature by now). The sequential gearbox and engine hate shifts with massive throttle lifts and shifter lockout can also occur if the timing is incorrect. You’re now in second gear and past 60 mph. You keep accelerating and repeat the shifting process two more times and are now in fourth gear and north of 100 mph.
- During this time, driving line-wise, the car when at racing speed will naturally fall into the apex in Turn 1 (the kink on the straightaway after the start/finish line prior to Turn 2). This kink you, of course, take full throttle and start heading driver’s right to an “instructor properly placed” cone to set up for the hairpin.
- As you pass the cone, you immediately angle in to the first apex and then start threshold braking. Your car, however, is not really heading right for the apex curbing, but a few feet outside it.
- You perform two heel-toe downshifts while threshold breaking down to second gear. Here you use the clutch pedal. There is a slight lapse between the downshifts, but I can’t quantify it (again, second nature).
- After the downshifts, you let up on the brake slightly to just get the car to turn a little bit, but only enough so you are almost going straight, but not pointing at the second apex. At this time, you are still going too fast for the corner and you can feel the lateral acceleration building in the back of the car in addition to the front. You are about to understeer.
- At this moment, you exhale. You start lifting off the brake pedal a little more and a little quicker. The rear starts to step out and the car begins to rotate. You think of it like carefully letting the air out of a balloon. If you lift too much or too abruptly, the car will spin or go too far sideways, scrubbing off too much speed. Too little and you will understeer and potentially have an off. Remember: you entered the corner SLIGHTLY TOO FAST and NEED to scrub some speed.
- As the car rotates, you are looking at the second apex, getting that nose to point at it by steering with the brake pedal. Counter-steer should be near zero (the best I have ever done is having the wheel turned about 45°). At this point, there is a pause in the slight drift you are doing when you balance it with the slight counter-steer.
- When the car is pointing at the second apex, the rear starts tucking back in and at this time you transfer from the brake to the throttle to get the car into a power-slide at a slight slip angle as the left front tire touches the curbing at the second apex. This transition is difficult and the rear might actually tuck completely back in prior to stepping out again as you get on the throttle (I’d love to maintain a constant slip angle through this transition, but haven’t completely done it to my satisfaction).
- As you carefully slide the car out of the second apex all the way to driver’s right, you start setting up for Turn 3. You do a clutch-less upshift to third gear, that is also the gear you will use through Turn 3.
If you do all of the above steps correctly, you have just STOMPED The Andretti Hairpin and have had the most incredible feeling of floating an open wheel race-car! Furthermore, a good instructor will be stoked for you and greet you with a big smile and a hi-five in the pits afterward, like mine did.