This data graph shows two separate lines for a rider through turn 13 at the Streets of Willow. The rider runs a wider line on one lap (blue line), but holds a tighter line on a following lap (red line), hitting his markers spot-on. The difference in this corner is just a few extra feet traveled, but multiply that by thirteen corners and the rider is traveling a significant distance farther per lap than required.
MotoGP riders are forced to find every last thousandth of a second they can. Here Casey Stoner demonstrates just how tight a line he’ll hold in an attempt to shorten the distance he travels over the course of a lap.
One mistake many riders make when looking to curtail their lap times is to simply push harder, ultimately pushing beyond their limits. Bravado on the brakes and right-wrist heroism inevitably lead to mistakes, which is why progress is better made by riding smarter and by determining where in particular you’re losing time. One aspect to consider is your lines and the distance you travel over the course of a lap. Feet traveled directly relates to time, and using less — or more — of the track where it matters most can cut split seconds from each segment, leading to quicker lap times without added effort or risk. In the canyons, efficient use of your lane via better lines can lead to a safer and more enjoyable ride as well.
A tighter line through a corner’s apex has exponential benefits when compared to a wider line; the primary advantage being that you’ll ultimately travel a shorter distance. A quick look at the data pulled from our 2011 600cc comparison at the Streets of Willow in Rosamond, CA shows the benefit of a tighter line in terms of time saved. Figure 1 displays our rider’s line through the Streets’ double-apex turn 13 over the course of two laps, while Figure 2 shows segment times, corner entry speed, exit speed and apex speed. Notice in the first lap (blue line) that the rider runs a wider line at both apexes, but that he’s able to carry a bit more speed at the entry, apex and exit of the corner, as indicated by the speed references in Figure 2. The rider takes a tighter line on the following lap (red line), this time running the bike closer to the edge of the track at the apexes and hitting his reference markers spot-on. Despite the rider’s entry and exit speeds being almost 1 mph down on this lap, he is able to better his segment time by .15 seconds, a big savings for just one section of track.
A corner with a larger radius than the Streets’ turn 13 can enable you to utilize a wider line and carry more speed without losing as much time. The added distance you travel, however, must be offset by increased corner speed or that line isn’t beneficial. Tire grip and G forces simply won’t allow this to happen. One corner in particular that comes to mind is Infineon Raceway’s famed Carousel, a downhill, large-radius corner that’s wide enough to allow the rider to carry speed around the outside of the bend. Even with that wide-line option however, faster riders dive straight to the bottom of the corner and hold a tight line through the entire turn. The extra speed garnished by running in the outer two-thirds of track simply isn’t enough to offset the extra distance the rider must travel.
The tighter vs. wider argument gets a bit more interesting at the exit of the corner — even more so when you take motorcycle displacements into account. In our example at the Streets of Willow, the slower exit speed for the quicker segment time must be taken into account. The one thing to remember is that a lightweight bike (a Ninja 250 for example) doesn’t have the power to compensate for added feet traveled during the course of a lap. This means that drifting said 250 to the edge of the track in your best Casey Stoner impersonation may end up increasing your lap times. On a larger displacement bike, however (a ZX-10R for example), using all the track at the exit to stand the bike up and get on the throttle will increase your speed on the straight and quickly offset the distance you’ve now traveled. To be clear though, just because you’re running a 600cc or up doesn’t mean you’ll need to use every inch of track at the exit. Take into consideration your comfort level and machine’s power, then adjust the amount of room you leave on the exit accordingly to enhance lap times.
On the street — and back down to a more respectable pace — utilizing a tighter or wider line can make your ride a much safer experience. Because you’re not concerned with saving split seconds of time here or there, leave a few inches or even a couple of feet at the apex of your favorite canyon corner. A wider line at the entry of the corner will allow you to brake longer while upright too, putting less load on the front tire. In addition, a less knife-edged line will allow you to see further through the corner, allowing you to spot over-the-line drivers with enough time to react accordingly.
|||| |---|---|---| Figure 2 | | Lap 3 (blue)| Lap 6 (red)| | Split time (sec.)| 6.609| 6.465| | Entry speed (mph) | 44.14| 43.23| | Exit speed (mph)| 58.90| 58.03| | Apex speed (mph)| 37.35| 37.17|
While corner speed is important, utilizing a wider line can actually be costing you time. The tighter line depicted in Figure 1 enabled the rider to better his segment time by .15 seconds, despite his speed at the entry and exit of the corner being almost 1 mph down.
Better line choice boils down to being a smarter rider and having a proper understanding of how lines affect your lap times at the track and overall safety on the street. Reference points and a little bit of consistency can go a long way. Next time you’re out at the track then, make sure your lines are ones that minimize the amount of distance you’re traveling over the course of a lap, also making sure you have enough reference points to can keep on that same line lap after lap. On the exit of the corner, experiment with standing the bike up and running a wider line only if you’re able to compensate for that added distance traveled with more speed.
Split seconds are written off by riders more focused on having fun than quicker lap times. But for racers, a thousandth of a second could be the difference between first or second place. Fortunately, that extra thousandth doesn’t require you push harder, but simply ride smarter. Choose tighter lines when possible, and use the entire track at the exit where applicable. In the end, you can cut your time without having to push beyond your limits. SR