No matter how much horsepower you have on tap, a vehicle’s fastest laps will inevitably be the ones that require the least amount of steering input.  

Think of the total amount of grip at your disposal as a whole pie – if you allocate two-thirds of that pie to turning, you only have a third left to use for braking and acceleration. Exceed that amount and the vehicle will either understeer or oversteer, and neither will do your lap times any favors. In order to maximize the amount of the pie, we have to minimize the amount of steering required to get around a given corner.  

We asked Andrew Caddell, lead instructor at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington, to show us the ropes. 

A vehicle’s fastest laps will inevitably be the ones that require the least amount of steering input.

To eke the most out of your car and shave as much time off your laps as possible, you need to determine where to brake, when to start turning into the corner, and when it’s time to get back on the loud pedal. Much of this is dictated by knowing where the apex of the turn is.  

“The apex is the point in the corner that you want to aim for in order to carry the most speed,” Caddell says. “You start from the outside of the turn and point the car at that apex. The apex is going to be your lowest speed of that corner as well – you’re typically off the brake pedal by that point, and you start to add back throttle after you go by it.” 

Nailing your braking and turn-in points will help to get you from one apex to the next as quickly as possible. Caddell recommends ramping up the pace incrementally to find the limit. “If I’m on a course that’s new to me, I’m going to start braking a lot earlier than I need to,” he says.  

“You want to work up to it. If there are no markers set up on the course for braking zones, pick a landmark well ahead of that corner that you can see out of your peripheral vision and start braking there. If that’s too early for your vehicle’s braking capability, brake 5 or 10 feet later on the next lap, and keep working your way farther and farther into the braking zone with each lap.” 

Track driving is a skill that requires a lot of practice, but the challenge is part of the fun. With a bit of patience and a lot of seat time, you’ll be trail braking your way through the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca before you know it.