Text and photos by Ardie Lopez
So you’ve heard of Autocross, and you think you can be good at it and want to give it a shot. I believe almost anyone will tell you to go for it, the soonest chance you get. Well the following tips I’ll roll out are for those who’re ready to try it or have had a taste of it, and are based on some experience I’ve garnered through years of media events and a few races in between, and well, decades of driving in crazy Metro Manila. Read on:
1. Your biggest competitor is yourself, your mind. Autocross, unlike wheel-to-wheel circuit racing with several other drivers on the same track simultaneously is about going through a car “obstacle course” by yourself, and finishing it in the fastest time you can muster with the least amount of errors (knocking down cones and skipping sections). So you’ll need to temper your “gigil” tendency and not let adrenaline take over, and mess up your concentration, to be totally in control and conscious of your every action and reaction while attacking the course. Focus, try to breathe properly to relax, and be in harmony with your car so it’ll comply to your every correct input.
2. To get fast, you must be smooth, to be smooth, you must first be slow. This is something you can’t excel at or even finish properly through sheer spirit and confidence alone. It’s a precision motorsport that takes lots and lots of correct practice to get good at, so heeding and applying the basics is crucial, and taking it slow to understand the proper driving techniques and getting them right is essential. Don’t aim for theatrics and dramatic tire squeals, and whipping the car left and right (don’t mistake it for actual Drifting), as they’ll only slow you down. The really fast ones in Autocross go through the course fluidly with hardly any drama, but they finish really quick. So learn and understand in order to do, and use the first sentence of this paragraph as your Mantra.
3. Ever heard of target fixation? Remember, your hands follow your eyes, and your car follows your hands. Scan your path ahead as you go through the track’s obstacles, but look left and right also to have your brain keep tabs on your bearing, so that your driving inputs will just follow instinctively.
4. On taking corners, the rule to follow is slow in, fast out. Better to speed up exiting a turn than reducing speed coming in too fast by braking. Utilize and don’t waste your car’s momentum, driving smoothly and quickly entail not having to use your brakes unnecessarily, and having to accelerate to make up for lost time. Larger turning arcs allow you to enter and exit corners faster, so know the proper lines and braking points throughout the course.
5. Understand how to balance your car. This might take longer to understand, but more seat time through proper practice will help you get it and nail it. Balancing your car deals with managing its weight transfer when you turn, brake and accelerate, being sensitive to how it reacts to momentum. So taking sharp corners for example, your car’s weight will pull towards the opposite direction of where you’re steering to, so knowing the right speed and angle of which to take on that turn with, will determine how much you’ll upset your car’s balance and need to correct it to recover, or not. Again it’s about precision, of all your driving inputs on the steering, gears and pedals of your car, to be able to finish the course in the smoothest and fastest way possible.
6. Constant practice results in consistency, consistency fosters improvement. Correct practice, particularly, as the point is to not repeat mistakes you’ve made previously, and keep doing the right moves and maneuvers more efficiently to shave off seconds from your time. Practice until everything is second nature, more instinctive than theoretical, and the car becomes a seamless extension of yourself, where your every whim is its command.
Autocross is such an exacting but rewarding motorsport, for even a multi-gold medalist taekwondo champ like Pauline Lopez who has a formidable fighting spirit and fierce competitiveness, discovered that it levels the playing field for everyone, regardless of background, who has to start from scratch in order to advance. And competing in the recent first leg of the Toyota GR Vios Cup has got her hooked, as she’s raring to conquer the podium on the next one.