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The Art Of Driving Fast - The Effect Of Car Weight

by John M. White |

If you want to drive a car fast then you need to understand the effects of the weight distribution of production cars. The center of the mass height in relationship to the road will determine load transfer which in turn results in body lean. The lower the center of mass height of the car weight the less body lean. When the tires of your car pull it around a curve the momentum of the vehicle creates load transfer in a direction going fom the vehicle's present position to a point on a path tagent to the vehicle's path. The height of the center of mass relative to the wheelbase also determines the load transfer between front and rear. The car’s momentum acts at its center of mass to tilt the car forward or backward, respectively during braking and acceleration. Since it is only the downward force that changes and not the location of the center of mass, the effect on over/under steer is opposite to that of an actual change in the center of mass. When a car is braking, the downward load on the front tires increases and decreases on the rear tires along with a corresponding change in their ability to take sideways load. A lower center of mass is a principal performance advantage of sports cars, compared to sedans, trucks and SUVs. Some production cars even have body panels made of lightweight materials in part for this reason.


When you enter a corner in a production vehicle the machine rolls far more than any racecar will. This means that if you go in too hard on the nose the weight distribution dives to the front wheels, leaving the rear wheels bearing almost no weight. This makes the car light and unstable. This becomes more evident in the faster turns. In the tight turns most production vehicles are set to understeer. When a car begins to understeer, it takes an arc “less than desired” through the corner. This is usually caused by turning in too sharply, breaking too heavily or even carrying too much speed into a turn. To counter understeer do less of whatever it is you’re doing; if you’re on the gas pedal, back off a bit. If you’re on the brakes, ease up your braking effort, and if you’ve turned in too sharply, ease off a bit and then lightly apply the brakes. When you oversteer, the car takes an arc “greater than desired,” and the classic advice of “steer into the skid” still holds true. It is important to only move your hands as fast as the car is sliding sideways. Too much correction will generally stop a slide in one direction, only to create a slide in the opposite direction. Too little correction, and the car will continue to spin until the tires regain traction or the car hits something solid. As the old racing adage goes, oversteer is better because you don’t see what you’re about to hit.

The Best Advice

While modern stability control systems have made driving safer for those without advanced training, even the best electronics can’t counter the laws of physics. Regardless of the vehicle, the best way to avoid oversteer or understeer is to drive within one’s limits, in a manner appropriate to conditions. That’s advice that’s relevant to everyone.

Protect Your Vision

One thing you can do to protect your vision while driving fast is to wear a good pair of sunglasses with drivers gradient lenses like Serengeti Aviator Sunglasses. These sunglass lenses will change with the changing light conditions, making it possible to see better in almost any conditions.