Driving in the wet

On Saturday, I had my first wet weather racing experience. A 125 superkart, slick tyres, and a very wet Killarney race-track in the morning presented a somewhat steep learning curve.

The kart is small and the track is big, which makes avoiding the large puddles quite easy. So aquaplaning was not a problem. The major issue was tyre temperature. Getting heat into the front tyres is essential to limit the inevitable understeer that occurs in the wet. Rear tyre temperature is essential for traction. But temperature proved elusive.

Until Saturday, I had no proper comprehension of the importance of rear tyre temperature. It became apparent in a straight line, at half throttle (maybe a little less) in third gear, when the power came in and the rear wheels spun up. The kart went a bit sideways, but a small correction sorted that out. Nonetheless, my eyes were opened.

Before getting out on the wet track, I had expeceted to be fighting the back end of the kart under acceleration and braking. The reality was that there was so little grip with cold tyres that I didn’t have the confidence to put the power down or brake hard.

In the dry on a warm day, driving smoothly has proven beneficial. It minimises driver effort, wear on the tyres and fuel consumption, and allows for incremental improvement in laptime as confidence builds. In the wet, that approach is useless, resulting in cold tyres, cold brakes, and no way of rectifying that situation. What is required in the wet on slicks is some aggressive, almost reckless warming of the rear tyres, and a complete lack of fear of spinning. Only then will there be enough temperature available in the tyres to attack the race-track.

At this point, it’s worthwhile talking about Formula One drivers. They drive in the wet, with over 750 horse-power available, and immediately get the maximum available out of the car in the conditions. Andallof them do it. In the dry, the difference in laptimes between the drivers is a few tenths. In the wet it’s the same, which is frankly astonishing. Occasionally a genius like Ayrton Senna makes everyone else looks silly, but such talent in the wet is the exception.

Driving a racing car is not easy. Formula One drivers just make it look simple because they’re that good at what they do. I’m an amateur driver, racing for fun, but the limited experience I’ve had on the track has already shown me just how incredibly talented F1 drivers are.


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