Fleet News

Driver training: car control

Former racing driver Robb Gravett is passing on some of the secrets of his success to fleets.

TO those who followed motor-sport in the late 80s and early 90s, Robb Gravett is synonymous with the British Touring Car Championship – representing speed, glamour and big horsepower. The only obvious connection between the 1990 champion and the fleet industry is that both involve cars.

But Gravett is hoping to make an impact in fleet.

As director of Ultimate Car Control, he believes he can offer driver training others have not focused on. Using skills picked up on the track, he and his team of instructors have put together a day-long course they believe covers all the requirements of current health and safety and duty of care legislation.

The key to Gravett’s course is control over the vehicle in extreme circumstances, the kind that can cause injury or even death if the response is incorrect.

Gravett believes on-road training is of only limited use.

‘Any type of training is better than none, but the problem is that you can’t reproduce emergency situations on the road,’ he says.

Central to the programme is learning to deal with something called roll oversteer.

Although many of the usual driver training subjects are covered, UCC’s roll oversteer course adds a bit of spice to what can be a dry subject matter. The glamour of a racing driver’s name certainly helps, but the atmosphere throughout the day is relaxed and jovial and the driving side of things will bring a smile to most faces – as well as potentially saving your life.

ROLL OVERSTEER
‘THE basic principles are the same with front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive,’ Gravett says.

‘It’s all about the balance of the vehicle – understanding where it is allows you to place it wherever you want it.’

Gravett explains how the weight of a front-engined car is distributed, with approximately 60% of the weight at the front and 40% at the back. When looking from the outside at a car braking hard, one can see the nose dip and the back rise, due to the front ‘loading up’ – under heavy breaking, the car’s nose temporarily takes 75% of the weight, while the back is lightened.

Under hard acceleration, the opposite is true, and the more weight on the end of a car, the more grip it has.

If an obstacle presents itself in the road, people tend to brake and turn as quickly as they can. This loads the front wheels, putting more grip into them, but by turning under braking the lateral weight distribution is thrown on to one tyre, upsetting the car’s balance and losing grip from the other wheels.

This is called roll oversteer and is one of the biggest causes of accidents, Gravett claims.

What is Roll oversteer?

AN ILLUSTRATED EXAMPLE

  • Normal weight balance.
  • 75% of the car’s weight is in this area.

  • A car is travelling along when an obstacle, such as a child, appears in front of it.

  • The driver slams on the brakes. Most of the car’s weight goes into the nose.

  • By steering with the brakes still on, all the weight goes to the inside wheel. Weight and grip vanish from the remaining three wheels and the car goes out of control and into a skid.

    Putting it into practise

    UCC’s course involves slaloming through cones before braking in a straight line and turning upon release of the brake. It’s only through doing it that the benefits of the technique are really apparent.

    Get the timing right and turn immediately on release of the brake and you can feel the tyres dig in to the surface, and the car whips round on a sixpence.

    But leave too much of a gap between releasing the brake and turning, and the car settles back, putting less weight on the front wheels. There is therefore less grip and the car understeers, turning in a much wider circle.

    ‘All braking and changing down should always be done, wherever possible, in a straight line,’ Robb Gravett says. ‘Most people will brake going into a corner. If you do that you’re asking the car to change direction on one wheel, but if you brake in a straight line you have two tyres holding the road.’

    The harder you brake the better, because a massive amount of grip can be forced into the front of the car.

    ‘The directional change point is dictated by the braking foot,’ Gravett explains. ‘The moment you come off the brake, you have to turn the wheel. If you wait for the ride height to settle, the turning circle will be much wider because there will be less grip.’

    Gravett, who points out that the technique is designed for emergencies only and is not designed for everyday cornering, says: ‘Most people can generally do two or three things at once, but when you’re driving you may have eight or nine things to deal with all at the same time.

    ‘The only way you can get round that is by using subliminal reactions.

    ‘When something happens it will occur when you least expect it and really quickly.’ By performing emergency manoeuvres in track simulations, Gravett believes the correct responses can become instinctive and could save lives.

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