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Your approach to slalom

Old 08-09-04, 03:39 PM
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Your approach to slalom

The first part of an autocross course seems to end up being a slalom a lot of the time. How do you guys drive it?
Do you try to find the fastest constant speed you can go through, or do you get on the throttle, off(to transfer weight back to the front wheels), and back on again?
We're having a discussion at my work. I always try to keep a steady speed, but i'm not the fastest guy around a track, so people are telling me i'm wrong.
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Old 08-09-04, 04:12 PM
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There's an autocross saying: either be on the gas or on the brake, never coasting. With that in mind, I try to pick up speed as I go through the slalom, keep the engine in the meat of the power. If your suspension setup is okay, you shouldn't need to speed up and slow down; that will cost you time.

Slaloms are 'transitions'; you are going back and forth, causing the car body to roll left, right, left right. This will bring out any transition setup mistakes or problems, and problems in transition (as opposed to steady state cornering), are generally shock related. In my case it was excessive rear rebound damping. Excessive rear roll stiffness can cause slalom problems, too.
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Old 08-09-04, 04:26 PM
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This is an easy question. It depends

If the slalom is evenly spaced ideally you carry a nice even speed and just go through it while working the wheel (no course designer worth a sh*t would let that happen though). You get through any slalom quickest by doing the least amount of steering. This means you turn immediately behind the cones as you pass them. Imagine the rear tires just missing the cones by fractions of an inch. The sooner you move the car over the broader you can make your arc between each cone. This is the key to slaloms.

Depending on where the slalom is you may find yourself needing to accelerate through the slalom or slow down. In those instances you have to be balancing your hands with your feet. If you need to use more of your hands (steer) you should be using less of your feet (brake or gas). This is why the key is to turn so early behinds the cones: by not needing as much steering you can automatically carry more speed without sliding. Most newbs get behind in the slalom; they turn later and later as they progress through and this leaves them needing big steering inputs to round the last cone or two. If they don't slow the car this will leave the car slow at best or sideways/backwards at worst.

Entry speed is the part you have to get right. If you come in too hot it's very difficult to slow the car down while also weaving back and forth because you're asking so much of the front tires. If you come in too slow and try to speed up then you're unloading the front tires and making it harder to change direction again. The keys to slaloms are to turn as soon as you can and to keep all your inputs smooth, even while slowing or speeding up. You can make some adjustments in the slalom but you can't make big ones without it hurting you in some way.

When walking look closely at the slalom and figure out where you want to be on the way out. Many times you can drive the slalom as if the last cone was not even there because you're headed somewhere else anyway. I often see newbs drive right up to the last cone of the slalom and then veer off to the next part of the course. Regardless you should find yourself with your foot to the floor as you pass through the last gate of a slalom. You should accelerate while you're still in it and not wait until after you pass the last cone.

Remember that the front tires take a moment to make the car change direction. This means you need to steer the car before you actually want it to turn. The faster you're going the earlier you need to be with the wheel.

There really is no correct way to drive a slalom. There is only the correct way for the way that slalom is setup and its location on the course.
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Old 08-09-04, 04:29 PM
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If the cones are evenly spaced, you will want to maintain a constant speed that is as high as possible. Whether you are accelerating or braking as you enter the slalom will also be a factor. If the cones are not evenly spaced, you will have to adjust to accelerate or decelerate where appropriate.
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Old 08-09-04, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by DamonB
This is an easy question. It depends

If the slalom is evenly spaced ideally you carry a nice even speed and just go through it while working the wheel (no course designer worth a sh*t would let that happen though). You get through any slalom quickest by doing the least amount of steering. This means you turn immediately behind the cones as you pass them. Imagine the rear tires just missing the cones by fractions of an inch. The sooner you move the car over the broader you can make your arc between each cone. This is the key to slaloms.

Depending on where the slalom is you may find yourself needing to accelerate through the slalom or slow down. In those instances you have to be balancing your hands with your feet. If you need to use more of your hands (steer) you should be using less of your feet (brake or gas). This is why the key is to turn so early behinds the cones: by not needing as much steering you can automatically carry more speed without sliding. Most newbs get behind in the slalom; they turn later and later as they progress through and this leaves them needing big steering inputs to round the last cone or two. If they don't slow the car this will leave the car slow at best or sideways/backwards at worst.

Entry speed is the part you have to get right. If you come in too hot it's very difficult to slow the car down while also weaving back and forth because you're asking so much of the front tires. If you come in too slow and try to speed up then you're unloading the front tires and making it harder to change direction again. The keys to slaloms are to turn as soon as you can and to keep all your inputs smooth, even while slowing or speeding up. You can make some adjustments in the slalom but you can't make big ones without it hurting you in some way.

When walking look closely at the slalom and figure out where you want to be on the way out. Many times you can drive the slalom as if the last cone was not even there because you're headed somewhere else anyway. I often see newbs drive right up to the last cone of the slalom and then veer off to the next part of the course. Regardless you should find yourself with your foot to the floor as you pass through the last gate of a slalom. You should accelerate while you're still in it and not wait until after you pass the last cone.

Remember that the front tires take a moment to make the car change direction. This means you need to steer the car before you actually want it to turn. The faster you're going the earlier you need to be with the wheel.

There really is no correct way to drive a slalom. There is only the correct way for the way that slalom is setup and its location on the course.
Damn... He's good.
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Old 08-09-04, 05:16 PM
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Here are some plots from 2 different drivers in the same car last event. The start is at the bottom with a hard right onto a short straight and then shifting into second before turning left into a 4 cone slalom which dumps you into a 180 degree left hander. On the track map green represents acceleration and red represents deceleration. The charts to the left show acceleration and tire usage through the sections illustrated.

If you compare both drivers you'll see that they both accelerate/brake and steer at about the same time, along with having usage values nearly the same through the entire section. The driver on the left however has a visibly straighter line through the slalom. In order to do this he must be very close to the cones and turn immediately past them in order to leave as much room as possible in between the cones to move the car over. The closer you are to the cones and the earlier you turn past them the less steering you can use and therefore the more grip you can use for straightline speed rather than turning. The driver on the right still shows pretty good usage on the usage chart compared to the driver on the left, but the driver on the left is going nearly 10 mph faster at the exit to the slalom and also covered slightly less distance.

The two drivers drove this section very similarly but the driver on the left carried much more speed because of being just a little closer to the cones and using the entire distance between them to move the car over.

At the end of the 180 degree left hand sweeper after the slalom the driver on the left was already nearly 2 seconds ahead of the driver on the right.
Attached Thumbnails Your approach to slalom-slalom.jpg  

Last edited by DamonB; 08-09-04 at 05:22 PM.
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Old 08-09-04, 07:30 PM
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Here is my.02:

The way you approach slalom has a lot to due with your car handling characteristics, and the spacing of the cones. The key is to get your car to rotate around the cones at the greatest speed. If you car is under steering, you will need to get rear around. If you are over steering you will need to dab the throttle for traction, lift to set the front wheels, then dab again. In these cases, there is a distinct rhythm involved.

When you are moving through slalom near the limit you will notice there is a delay in between your steering input and the response to the car. You need to anticipate the delay, and start your turn just before you think you need to. I visualize trying to hit the up coming cone with the rear bumper of the car.

Always pace off each cone in the slalom during the course walk. With experience you will understand by just pacing, what you will need your car to do.

Mental attitude is also very important. I have worked with newer drivers, who have a negative out look towards slaloms. They defeat themselves before their run is over by allowing the slalom to intimidate them. Once you master them, and you will. Slaloms are a great place to pick up a few 10ths on people, who fear them.


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Old 08-09-04, 10:05 PM
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Hey Damon when are you going to open up a rotary only or Mazda only driving school?
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Old 08-10-04, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Fatman0203
Hey Damon when are you going to open up a rotary only or Mazda only driving school?
No time soon. I can name at least 10 people just in my local region who are definitely better than me. I've taken some driving schools with some top instructors and I know I don't have their talent at this point.
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Old 08-10-04, 05:09 PM
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Damon brings up an excellent point: trade speed for distance. In short, stay as close to the cones and go as straight as possible.
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Old 08-10-04, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by RX744CSP
Damon brings up an excellent point: trade speed for distance. In short, stay as close to the cones and go as straight as possible.
It's not a trade. By driving close to the cones, you shorten your distance and straighten your line. By doing this, you can drive at a higher speed. There's no trade. It's a win/win .......... unless you drive too close, and hit a cone
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Old 08-10-04, 06:39 PM
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More great information, thanks guys. I'll try to put this to use on Sunday.
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Old 08-10-04, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by adam c
It's not a trade. By driving close to the cones, you shorten your distance and straighten your line. By doing this, you can drive at a higher speed. There's no trade. It's a win/win .......... unless you drive too close, and hit a cone
You are right, thanks for the clarification.... what I was trying to say, is that if you have a choice between a longer line at a higher speed, or a shorter distance at a lower speed, the shorter distance will win out.
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Old 08-10-04, 07:41 PM
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enter the first cone as late as possible even if you have to really turn hard for the perfect entry. IOW if you have to take off lots of speed for the correct entry your way better off than going in hot and early. Now its just like the rest of the course: steer as little as possible, slide as little as possible, and of course carrying as much speed as possible which makes the afore mentioned very difficult .
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Old 08-11-04, 07:25 AM
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A very repsected guy locally is Dr. Bob Woods. He is a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and is responsible for starting and running their Formula SAE program (UTA cars and drivers won something like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th in FSAE at Nats last year).

Dr. Bob layed all the physics out on paper for us and figured out that in a 5 cone slalom every foot you are away from each cone will cost you .1 seconds at each cone. I forget the speeds he used used but it was realistic for autox. Being right on top of the cones pays out big time but of course the risk of a penalty is higher. No way to do it right without concentration...

Now think about getting those fractions of a second back by being on top of every single important cone on the course. You're going to hit one on occasion but you have to strive to be tickling every one if you're going to run with the really fast guys. You can easily gain a full second over a course just by driving closer, regardless of where else you're screwing up.

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Old 08-11-04, 12:54 PM
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This picture was taken a couple years ago. I was way too late and way too far from the cones.
After seeing this picture I was appauled and made it my mission last year to work on getting as close to the cones as possible. Once, I came back from a good run and some one mentioned that I was cutting the slalom a little too close. I had run over the base of every cone, bobbled every one, but none left their box. I told him I thought that was just about perfect.
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Old 08-11-04, 01:53 PM
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There have been many times that I thought that I may have hit a cone, and didn't. Unfortunately, there have been a few times where I thought I missed one, and didn't
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Old 08-11-04, 02:53 PM
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Compare that with this picture that was taken earlier this year. A little closer.
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Old 08-11-04, 03:45 PM
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Yeah, you guys are confirming what I thought. For me, it's all about where I put my eyes, and not getting distracted and actually looking at the cones.
Is that your Z Travis? That thing is baddass.
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Old 08-11-04, 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Travis R
This picture was taken a couple years ago. I was way too late and way too far from the cones.
After seeing this picture I was appauled and made it my mission last year to work on getting as close to the cones as possible. Once, I came back from a good run and some one mentioned that I was cutting the slalom a little too close. I had run over the base of every cone, bobbled every one, but none left their box. I told him I thought that was just about perfect.
This give me an idea. I'm going to have my wife take pictures of me from an angle like this when I do the slalom so I can get an idea of how much closer I can get.
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Old 08-11-04, 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Jim Calandrella
Is that your Z Travis? That thing is baddass.
I wish. It belonged to a friend of mine...but he up and sold it. I was just starting to get the hang of it.
Prepared = Fun
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Old 08-11-04, 09:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Section8
This give me an idea. I'm going to have my wife take pictures of me from an angle like this when I do the slalom so I can get an idea of how much closer I can get.
If the cones aren't completely disappearing from your vision as soon as they pass the front bumper you're not close enough
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Old 08-12-04, 08:48 AM
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The secret of the slaloms (tm: Andy Hollis) ---> By taking a slightly wider entry on the first cone of the slalom, you can begin turning in earlier ... thus allowing wider arcs and less steering input. As a result, this allows you to carry more speed through the slalom.

A lesson that I always remind myself of ... there's not a lot of time to be made up in a slalom, but there's plenty to be lost in a slalom.
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Old 08-12-04, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by DamonB
If the cones aren't completely disappearing from your vision as soon as they pass the front bumper you're not close enough
That's helpfull.........very cool.
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Old 08-12-04, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by DamonB
If the cones aren't completely disappearing from your vision as soon as they pass the front bumper you're not close enough
Who watches the hood of their car during a slalom?

Seriously, if you can see them disappear from the hood, you aren't looking ahead far enough.
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