Lukey Heights at Phillip Island...
Lukey Heights at Phillip Island in Australia is a typical blind corner. It's tempting to focus on the intersection of the curbing and racetrack at the crest of the hill and use that as a reference point. As you crest the hill, however, that point keeps moving further away - just what you don't want for a reference point.
In our last issue, we discussed how to cope with blind turns in a street setting (RSS, Oct. '10). At the racetrack, a blind turn usually presents a completely different obstacle than it does on the street; as such, it needs to be tackled in a different manner. On the street, a blind turn is most often the result of the road being constructed around an object such as a hillside. Your line and approach to the turn should be based almost entirely on safety rather than speed - because you can't see around the corner, you have to prepare for the possibility of debris in the corner or traffic coming the other way in your lane. At the track, a blind turn is usually that way because it is on the crest of a hill. Rarely will there be a turn that you can't see around because of an obstacle, but those pesky track designers like to add challenges like a turn with its apex over the crest of a hill so that you can't see it. Here, we are less worried about a car coming the other way, and more concerned with speed.
A blind turn causes angst for many riders because as you approach the corner, it appears that the track simply ends and you can't see the whole turn laid out in front of you. Many riders, lacking confidence in the situation, default to a street-oriented line, leaving plenty of room to the edge of the track on the entrance and using a line through the turn that will leave loads of room at the exit. But to make it through the corner quickly, it needs to be dissected just as any other turn is broken down into an entry point, apex and exit point. The problem is that if the apex or exit are hidden until you are practically upon one or both, you only get to see them for a fraction of a second each lap; this makes it difficult to even find reference points for these critical areas, let alone make adjustments to them.
This is what we most often...
This is what we most often see of a blind turn at the racetrack: A whole lot of nothing. The rider on the right, unsure of himself, takes a street-oriented line leaving himself plenty of room on entry and exit. The more confident rider on the left takes a line appropriate for the corner.
The first step to overcoming the natural trepidation of a blind corner is to eliminate any doubts typically associated with a part of the track you can't see. Too many times we see even experienced riders approaching a blind turn as if they don't know which way the track goes, when in reality the track is exactly the same as it was the last time they saw it - one lap earlier. There should be no doubt in your mind that if there was a bump just over the hill and then the corner opened up, the bump will still be there next time around and the corner will still open up. And no, there won't be debris on the road or a car coming the other way; if there is any such problem on the track, the corner marshal (and there very definitely should be a corner marshal) will alert you with an appropriate flag.
The next step is to find a reference point as close as possible to what looks to be the end of the road as you approach the corner. Ideally, this will be a mark directly on the track, such as a patch of sealer or a particular point on the curb. In a street setting, our natural focus shifts to the farthest point that we can see, but at the track this is a mistake. If you choose as your reference point, for example, simply the crest of the hill, you'll find that your reference point changes as you approach the turn - a bad thing. You want something on or close to the track that you can clearly see and identify as you approach the turn. At this reference point, you want to keep everything consistent, so that you can make changes based on where you end up at the exit of the turn. That includes your position, direction, speed and acceleration. For example, say you go directly over your reference point and end up at the perfect exit for the turn. The next lap, you may hit your mark perfectly but with more speed and run right off the track. Likewise, if your direction is slightly different, where you end up at the exit will change. Your reference point, along with your speed, direction and acceleration, should put you at an exit point comfortably clear of the edge of the track, and confident that you can repeat that effort every lap. Because this is the last point you'll have before effectively jumping into the abyss, this is a crucial reference; take the time required to find something appropriate before you go any further.
In some cases, there may be...
In some cases, there may be something in the distance that stays in view as you go over the crest of the hill or around the corner. Here, trees provide some continuity and can be used as reference. Note that your position and direction on the track may drastically affect where something far away appears in relation to you.
Just as important as the last reference point before you make the leap is the first reference point you see once you've crested the hill or gone around the blind section of the corner. Just as the last point needs to be as close as possible to the end of the road, the next point should appear as soon as possible. Because most blind turns are cresting hills, you'll likely find this point to be something far away rather than on the track. For example, cresting turn 9 at Thunderhill Raceway Park, what first comes into view is a hillside way on the opposite side of the track, with several objects that can be used as reference points to aim for. If you've done your job right on the corner entry, you'll be able to pick your point out as soon as it comes into view as it will be exactly where you expect to find it. Note the danger here of inconsistency: If you come over the hill in one position, aiming for a particular spot will be correct; come over the hill a couple of feet off line, and you'll ride off the track if you aim for the same spot. Consistency is key, from beginning to end.
At some tracks, you may able to see at least something through the entire corner that you can use as a guide. At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for instance, there are some telephone poles that you can see as you crest the turn 1 hill. At the Streets of Willow, a water tower stays in view as you approach one of the track's otherwise blind chicane sections. These can be valuable reference points, but again keep in mind the parallax issue: If you are off line even just a small amount, the poles at Laguna will appear to be in a different spot and steer you wrong.
Once you've found these two important reference points and you can end up at a consistent point at the corner's exit every lap, then you can start changing things. If you find yourself with room to spare at the exit of the corner, try adding some speed at your entry marker or changing your line. Or it may be a matter of keeping everything identical but applying slightly more throttle. Experiment, but proceed carefully. Vary one thing at a time, noting exactly what you changed and how much - you want to be able to make the exact same change next time around if it works. At each step, be sure the results are repeatable for at least a couple of laps in a row before changing something further, with no exceptions. Should you find yourself becoming panicky at the exit and unsure of where you are, back up a step and try something else.
With a structured approach, you'll find that a blind turn is like any other corner on the racetrack and can be conquered as such. It may take longer to find the optimum line and approach, but with good reference points and some careful work, you will make headway and see steady improvement. Over time, you'll find that a blind corner on a new track causes no anxiety and presents the same challenge as any other turn on the track.