What is the most important corner on a racetrack? In other words, if you could go just a little bit faster anywhere, where would you get the biggest laptime return? You have hairpins, fast sweeping corners, slow chicanes, high-speed S-bends, corners over crests, corners through dips, fast corners into slow… and on (and on) it goes. Where should your focus be?

In this article, I’ll share some new ways for you to think about this, plus share how to start giving yourself a more objective answer to what are the most important corners on the circuit. Pictures and charts included.

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Think Qualifying not Racing

Firstly, I want you to consider answering this “most important corner” question, from a qualifying context. The aim is simply minimising laptime, unlike in a race where finishing ahead of others is your goal. They can have slightly different approaches so just think “pure laptime” for now.

In this light, would you consider the most critical corner to be:

  • The corner leading onto the longest straight? – because you carry that extra speed for longest.
  • The slowest corner? – because you spend more time in them.
  • The fastest corner? – because you are least likely to be on the limit through them.
  • The corner you’re losing out to another driver? – because its a competition, right!?
  • None! – because frankly you may never have thought about this, or,
  • ALL the corners!? – because there’s no-where you don’t actually want to be on the limit!?

Haha. Ok so depending on your experience you might have heard, or believed, one or other of these perspectives. But which is right and where can you turn for reliable advice or insight?

How about a local.

Track Knowledge (of a Local)

Now, if you’re new to a circuit or coaching a driver on an unfamiliar track, your first thought should be, where should your focus lie?

This often comes with experience and seat time. Therefore a deep local track knowledge has often been proven to be a valuable asset for a driver on a familiar track.

What would it mean if you could gain some of those locals insights a bit quicker? Saved track time? Quicker on the pace? More impactful coaching direction from the very first session?

Local knowledge can give you the key corners required for perfecting the fastest lap and, back in the real world – give you some clue as to where you can get away with a little bit of… driver variability.

The Engineering: Ranking Corners by Importance

The complexity deepens when talking with engineers. They might mention the need to consider the type of car and more of your track’s characteristics than you originally thought of.

What’s pivotal on one circuit might be less so on another.

I know I asked you to focus on pure pace. But, when engineering a setup, you might want to consider more objectively which corners are key for lap time. Understanding this could help you make more informed compromises in order to maximise performance in both qualifying AND the race.

And as you try to rank each corner in order of importance, unless you have an objective measure of the impact of any changes, you can easily find yourself circling back to the idea that they are ALL important.

As with so much in motorsports, all the arguments for and against one thing or another seem feasible, so you end up with no clear direction and probably more confusion than you started with!

So, where does that leave you?

How about you flip it and I asked you:

Where will it cost you the most lap time, if you mess up?

That is much harder to answer, but is essentially the same question. And that is what I really mean here about trying to define the most important corner on the race track.

Back to thinking positively again, I find it can help to think about it like this: Ask yourself, where on the track could a slight increase in speed give you the most significant reduction in lap time?

It’s not just about nailing every corner but understanding which ones offer you the most significant lap time rewards for your efforts.

Applying a bit of Maths with Lap Time Finder

Determining the most important corners on a race track has a lot of “it depends” answers such that you can often feel no better off.

From a purely engineering perspective, however, you can try to rank each corner, or part of the track, in order of its importance to your lap time. With a bit of maths, you can start to put some numbers on this in order to help you prioritise where to focus your efforts to improve.

Here is a map of Brands Hatch, marked with key corners that significantly impact lap times, based on a very early version of a driver coaching software tool I’m working on called “Lap Time Finder.

What it is doing is trying to rank each corner to help you work out the most important corner on the race track to save you most lap time:

The most important corners of Brands Hatch Indy circuit, ranked for their impact on laptime.

Think of this map of Brands Hatch as trying to give you some of that local knowledge, without you having to be a local or spend hours and hours trying different things on track.

It will come as no surprise to you, that the big gains are in the corners. Therefore, the question you might want to answer is which corner are the most important for the fastest lap time around the race track?

Each marker is therefore flagged 1 to 4, with 1 being the most important corner and number 4 being the least important.

If you’re asking yourself, how much more important is one corner than another on this race track, or how much more important is number 1 compared to number 4, then this chart tries to give you that:

Brands Hatch time gain opportunities

Looking at both charts together, you can see that Marker 1 is halfway around the second corner on the track, known as Druids. It is also clear that it is significantly more influential than the first corner, called Paddock Hill Bend, which is Marker No. 4. This is not to say Paddock Hill Bend is unimportant – clearly, it is – but in terms of where it will cost you most lap time if you go, say, 1 mph slower through the apex of both, Druids is three times more important not to lose that 1 mph speed than Paddock.

Taken together, you should be able to start to now objectively answer the question of which is the most important corner at Brands Hatch Indy. Fun hey!

If you know Brands, how does this line up with your opinion of the important parts of the track?

Other Track Examples

If you are not familiar with Brands Hatch, which is a very simple track after all, then here are a couple of tracks in the USA. The first is VIR, the second is Buttonwillow.

The most importance corners, ranked, for Virginia International Raceway, USA
The most importance corners, ranked, for Butterwillow, USA

If you know these tracks, what do you think?

Interestingly, neither of these tracks have I visited or driven, but I have coached drivers here. Therefore, I’ve found it quite useful as a driver coach to quickly have this track knowledge in order to zero-in on how the driver is performing in these key areas.

The Case of Fast Corners

One caveat with what you see here is that it assumes you are close to the limit everywhere. Again, you’ll see that the fastest corner Paddock Hill at Brands, number 4, is the least important corner, according to the software’s assessment.

Often, drivers I’ve coached get, understandably, a bit more hesitant on the faster corners. Therefore, if they are not using all your grip in the fast stuff, this won’t show up, so you will have to be mindful of that and want to bump it up your priority list if they are not on the limit there. “On the limit” can be defined in this article.

Lap Time Finder – Follow The Progress

Hopefully, this has got you thinking a bit more about the important corners on a racetrack. Even if you already know the answer for a specific track, I’ve found that having this information to hand has helped me to quantify at least some kind of priority list as we work through the ALL corners are important ideals.

It also helps put some context around the “it depends” perspective for your race strategy.

Now, if only this track knowledge could be combined with some understanding of what the driver is doing, that would be useful too…

Wish me luck!

To follow along, click here for new updates on the Lap Time Finder, as I try my best to progress in answering this deceptively complex question. To be honest, there might be a point where I have to concede that either the data or my skills are not sufficient to create a product solution, but I’ve a few more steps to try first, and I’ll be sharing any progress on ‘Ahead of the Curve’ first.

Finally, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please sign up to ‘Ahead of the Curve’ below, and email me your ideas and questions.

 

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