There are some big differences between driving a normal car and driving a high-performance car. Knowing what these differences are is key if you own or plan to own one, and along with some helpful tips this article will hopefully prepare you for your first experience driving a high-performance car.
Our 5 tips for driving a high-performance car are:
- Get out on a track
- Take things slowly at first
- Look far ahead
- Practice your cornering
- Learn how to negotiate oversteer/understeer
After I go into each of these tips in more detail and discuss how you can apply them when driving, I will go through the main differences between a normal car, such as your road car, and a high-performance or even a race car.
5 Tips For Driving A High-Performance Car
1. Get Out On A Track
This is one of the most important tips, although it is not always possible to implement. Whether or not you aim to take your car out on the track regularly, getting some experience with it on a track surface where you can really push it to its limits will teach you a lot about the car, and it can undoubtedly make you a better driver (plus it’ll be a lot of fun!).
Do It If You Get The Chance
If you don’t have a track near you or are unable to afford the fees to take your car out (it can be pricey), or for whatever reason you can’t make it, then don’t worry. This tip is not essential for owning a high-performance car, but it will really help if you are able to put it into practice. Keep your eyes open for possible track day opportunities anyway.
Essentially, getting a shot on the track will allow you to go faster than you would on normal roads, without fear of oncoming traffic or other obstacles getting in your way. Obviously, you have to be sensible, but we won’t go into the characteristics of common sense driving in this article. You can use the racetrack as a sort of sandbox to learn how to get the most out of your car.
Learn The Limits Of Your Car
Getting on a track is the best place to put all of the following tips into practice as well. You can use your time on the track to find out where the limits of traction lie, how much accelerative power really lies under your right foot, and how strong the brakes are as well. It can prove very useful when you transfer this knowledge over to the road.
Aside from that, you may also wish to use your performance car in racing situations. I won’t go into the details of doing that in this article, but it is worth noting that the best way to prepare for a track situation is by practicing on the track itself. Even if you just plan to try and set some good lap times at your local racetrack, it is worth putting some time in to practice.
2. Take Things Slowly At First
This next tip is one that you will need to put into practice at the track and anywhere else you drive your new high-performance car. As with learning anything new, you need to take things slowly. This allows you to take more in of what you are learning, and it allows you to learn things faster – although it may not seem that way at first.
This applies to every aspect of the learning process, from the gear changes with the paddles (more on that later) to the braking distances that are now probably much shorter than they would be on your road car. It is going to be quite difficult to get used to the car when you first start driving it, and if you try and go too fast too soon, you may struggle to control the car (which could have disastrous results).
Learning how to get up to speed safely will take some practice, and putting in this practice will save you a lot of pain (and potentially money) in the long run. You need to resist the temptation to simply floor it all the time, and instead you need to take the time to learn how the car handles in different situations, and then you will be able to master every part of driving it.
3. Look Far Ahead
This is a very useful tip for road cars and performance cars. However, there is one important difference, and that is in just how far ahead of you that you need to be looking in each case. In your road car, you will probably switch from looking a couple of car lengths in front of you to looking towards a bend hundreds of meters away.
This allows you to gauge what is coming up ahead as well as keeping an eye on the road immediately in front of you so that you can avoid things like potholes. However, when you are driving a high performance car at high speeds, such as when you are on a track, you need to shift the point where you are looking to quite a bit further ahead.
Speed, Distance & Time
Speed, distance and time are related to each other through a triangle of simple equations. Time is equal to the distance you go divided by the speed at which you travel. So, if you look 100 meters ahead of you in your performance car at 80 mph, you will reach that 100 meter point in half the time it would take you if you looked 100 meters ahead in your road car at 40 mph.
If you double your speed, you halve the time it takes to travel a given distance
This means you need to look 200 meters away in order to give yourself the same amount of reaction time that you would have going slower in your road car. Things will appear to go past you much faster, and so by looking ahead of you further than you normally would, you effectively cancel this out by making sure you still have the same amount of time to react to things in front of you.
Note: You obviously still need to be able to switch to looking closer in front of you from time to time, especially at low speeds and in traffic!
4. Practice Your Cornering
The concept of reaction time that I have just described coincides with the amount of time it will take you to slow down in your high-performance car. Not only will your new car have more power, but it will also most likely have better brakes than your road car, meaning it will stop a lot faster, shortening your braking distances.
This can be hard to get used to at first. This is where practicing your cornering can come in very handy. Doing so will give you the chance to learn how rapidly your brakes can slow you down, and how soon before a corner you need to apply pressure to the brake pedal.
Much More Grip
Not only that, but you may also find that the car has better, grippier tires, such as ones designed for racing, and so they too will help stop the car more suddenly but also give you more traction when turning into corners. You may find that you are able to corner at higher speeds and take sharper turns than you would be able to in your road car.
This will all combine with your increased amount of power when you are exiting the corner, and this will take some getting used to as well. It is all too easy to slam your foot on the gas pedal and end up powering into understeer or oversteer (partly influenced by whether your car is front- or rear-wheel drive). Our final tip will deal with both of these situations.
5. Learn How To Negotiate Oversteer/Understeer
You will really only be able to put this final tip into practice on a track, because you don’t want to end up in either situation when out on the road. However, being able to negotiate oversteer and understeer can be essential in track situations, such as during a race, and for everyday driving when the conditions are not what you expect, or if you make a mistake.
Oversteer and understeer are very common occurrences in high-performance cars, as drivers tend to underestimate the power of the car and overestimate the grip of the tires. So, it is very easy to end up in either situation even when you are not driving too fast, such as if you try and take a corner too sharply or approach a roundabout with too much speed.
Understand The Theory
Having a solid understanding of why you might end up in oversteer or understeer is key to knowing how to prevent it and how to negotiate it. Essentially, they occur when you lose traction in the rear and front wheels respectively, and so it is important to learn how to selectively regain traction in each case. This will help on the track and on the road as well.
The best way to practice this is to get out on the track and force yourself into either situation in a safe manner, and in an area where there are no nearby obstacles. This can also be done in a large open space, which will probably prove to be safer if you can find one. Then, simply keep going until you are proficient at correcting each type of situation.
Practice Practice Practice
This last tip is an extremely practical one, and it is one that will become much easier to master the more you practice, and it will make you feel more confident when you are driving your high performance car.
The Main Differences Between Road & High-Performance Cars
There are many key differences between road and performance cars, but perhaps the most glaring difference is the engine. Most road cars will have low performance, highly efficient engines that are designed to offer a safe, smooth driving experience. These vary from 1-liter engines up to 2- or 3-liter engines, but anything above that is really only for high-performance cars and SUVs.
Most road cars will have an engine size of between 1 and 2 liters, while a Range Rover may have a 4 or 5-liter engine instead. This size is on par with some high-performance cars, but the reason here is that the car is so heavy. The Range Rover may weigh 3 tons, while a Lamborghini Huracan with a 5.4 liter engine might only weigh 1.5 tons.
At the extreme end of the scale, you will find a Bugatti Chiron with an 8-liter W16 engine, which is 8 times bigger than a Volkswagen Golf TSI, with a measly 1 liter engine. This massive increase in engine size corresponds to a large increase in power, which is the next obvious difference between road and performance cars.
If we stick with our examples from before, the VW Golf with the 1L engine has around 110 HP, which is not too bad for a road car, but it is on the low end overall. The heavyweight, 3-ton Range Rover with the 5L engine on the other hand offers more than 500 HP. This is a lot, but you do have to bear in mind that these are big cars that need that power to carry the weight.
The Lamborghini Huracan can offer between 400 and 600 HP depending on the model, and this power is designed to move around half the weight of the same engine-sized Range Rover. This means it can reach a top speed of just over 200 mph (320 kph), while the heavy Range Rover is only able to muster around 140 mph (225 kph). The Golf’s top speed is just around 120 mph (193).
The concept of power is often associated with speed, and the above examples, as extreme as they may be, should illustrate that there is not always a clear link. However, the speed of performance cars is simply much higher than that of your road car, and this is usually down to the power-to-weight ratio, as we can see above with the Lamborghini.
It is worth remembering that you will go much faster in a performance car than your road car, and the difference in acceleration is usually the thing that most people struggle with when they drive a performance car for the first time.
Moving on from the engine, one of the other big differences between performance and road cars is in their design. Usually they will feature a lot of aerodynamic-enhancing features, and this can stretch from their chassis to differences such as spoilers or even front wings. Although these are sometimes added to road cars as modifications, many are standard with high-performance cars.
These types of cars are usually sleek, long and smooth, with few blunt faces that would add drag and therefore inhibit the performance of the car. On the inside, these cars tend to be much more minimalistic, which helps to keep weight down and of course enhances performance further. Most high-performance cars are two-seaters as well, which is something to bear in mind.
Going back to the mechanics of the car, high performance vehicles tend to be automatics or have paddle shifters. This can be a shock for those that are used to driving stick-shift, but with the rise of automatic transmissions over the last few decades, this is becoming less of a difference between performance and road cars and more of a similarity.
There are other aspects of the car that will differ, such as the brakes and various other internal and external components, but the ones we have mentioned already are some of the most important.
If you have never driven one before, it can be very daunting to get in the driver’s seat of a high performance car. You will have a lot more power beneath your feet, and you will be surprised at how many other differences there are between that and your normal car.
Gaining an understanding of these differences is one thing, but learning how to negotiate them and use them to your advantage is another. The best thing that you can do is get out on a track and put in a lot of practice and learn every aspect of the car, such as how it takes corners and how quickly it stops. Putting in the time is the best way to become more confident driving your high-performance car.
Rich Opong( Founder, Flow Racers )
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.