Mid-Ohio is like that attractive passive-aggressive date you went out with for a while. Good looking, yes, but you were really never sure what they wanted. Sometimes things went great but you had no clue why. Like them, Mid-Ohio likes to keep the upper hand.
Tip #1: Mid-Ohio is a Moving Target. Like a dirt track, the grip level is ever changing. The racing line is well-used and polished. The question you need to highlight in your brain is: am I sliding? Both the clock and your tires will know. The surface is sensitive to sunlight, temperature, and rubber build-up. The overall lack of grip and the challenging layout makes for a potent cocktail. Compare your times not with the lap record, but with how others are running that day. The track can be off by three seconds. Have a plan for what you will do if the grip level is off. Don’t make wholesale changes to the car if the track is going to come back to you. How can you know that that is going to happen? You won’t. Like I said, Mid-Ohio likes to have the upper hand.
Tip #2: Most Turns Directly Affect the Next One. One turn flows seamlessly into another. You want to find a smooth sweeping rhythm that connects the turns. In the rain at any given track you try mightily not to upset the chassis. All moves and inputs are silky smooth with no harsh inputs to the tires. That approach is necessary at Mid-Ohio in the dry. Brute force and courage don’t win the day here. Calvin Fish, who taught for years at the Mid-Ohio School, said, “Patience is the key but so is the realization that you can’t learn any one turn in isolation. Turns 1 and 13 are high speed and require a high degree of commitment. The Keyhole and the Carousel demand great patience. The rest of the track is very technical and line specific.”
Tip #3: Track Time Matters a Ton Here. The nature of this track puts a premium on seat time. I went through the Mid-Ohio School repeatedly and I always gained something from instructors like Brian Till, Calvin Fish and Tommy Byrne. It is not just practice, but thoughtful deliberative practice, that leads to success. Knowledgeable instructors and coaches can keep you from going down the wrong path.
Turn 1 – A Test of Faith
You can’t see this corner until the last moment and many turn in too early for that reason. Look for the black metal plate on right wall as your turn-in point; the bridge is way too late. Aim for curbing on the left that separates pit out lane from the track. Reach out with your eyes and imagine the path you want to follow. You should almost touch the pit lane curbing as it begins. There are camber changes through this turn. Don’t let your hands react to each grip change or you will be rocking the boat just when you want it most steady. The apex is toward the end of the curbing but it is not critical to hit it. It may be best to let the car run a bit free here, don’t pinch it down if it costs speed. Heavier cars may want to run a wider line that has additional grip but stay off exit curb on track out. It can be slippery and there are significant bumps in the grass if you get off. This turn is much faster than it first appears.
Keyhole – Everything Comes to He Who Waits
Establish a reasonably late braking point and brake on a diagonal toward the beginning of the right hand curbing. The approach is uphill but then goes over a crest as the track bends into the turn. Stay close to right curbing throughout, no more than a half-car width off. Staying right on entry also helps to avoid a significant early bump. Smoothly bleed off speed to a slow moment that allows for uninterrupted acceleration on exit. Rotation is everything, lift if need be, to get nose to point. Avoid sliding. Fish says, “This is the most critical turn on the circuit. A common mistake is to over slow the car, then re-fire it and create a harsh transfer of weight, resulting in understeer.” You need a car to rotate through this corner on power without too much steering input. From about mid-corner on you should be against the inside curbing getting back to full throttle.
Tip #4: Break It Down. It can help to think of the Keyhole in two parts, A and B. Carry speed into part A, the first half, while bleeding off mph down to the mid-point to find a slow sweet spot. You must begin Part B going slowly enough to allow for uninterrupted acceleration out. Most of the passing takes place at the end of the Back Straight. You need to get a consistent shot out of this turn.
Turn 7 – End of Back Straight – Prolong the Straightaway Speed
A long downhill straight drops even more just as you approach the turn, but it is not the stop-the-car situation that it appears. Because it is blind up until the last moment, a lot of drivers over slow with a long, hard brake. Smoothly roll off the brakes to take a classic apex (which may feel early) under power. Carry speed to the left edge on track out where a favorable camber saves you. Fish says if you focus on tracking fast out of Turn 7 rather than worry about setting up for Turn 8 you can gain .3 right here. If your car is good over the inside curb, you can use it to open up the turn. This is a deceptively fast turn.
Turn 8 – Madness Needs Control – Little to Gain, Lot to Lose
There have been bar fights about the proper line here. Your results may vary. Tracking out of Turn 7 has left you on the far left hand side. If you’ve done Turn 7 right, you won’t have time to get back more than mid-track. The hump of the hill limits the speed you can effectively carry. Go in straight, mostly on left side, looking to apex at the crest. Light hands let you feel the car’s balance. Avoid excess track out, staying at least a half-car width off right edge. You don’t want the car to get loose here and have to struggle to get back to the left side for Turn 9. This series of turns places a premium on quick, smooth footwork.
Turn 9 – Fast but Not Easy
This is another turn that is faster than it appears. You don’t need to get all the way to left edge on entry but you need to have a moment before turn in where you are parallel with the left edge for a beat. You can stay between 1/8 – 1/4 car width off the left edge and look for a classic mid-apex which may both look and feel a tad early. Most drivers need to turn in earlier than they first think. This turn may grease up mid-session. Running over the apex curbing may help turn the car. If possible limit your track out here to enable you to set up more directly for Turn 10 A. While many underestimate this section, it is also very easy to overdrive.
Turn 10 A & B – Think Ahead
Going under the bridge on left side, some find they can use the left curb to reduce the approach angle. As the track bends left for 10A many cars experience slight understeer. Look for the end of the left curbing near the crest for a turn-in point to 10B but don’t go all way to the right hand apex curbing for the apex. Let it run a half-car width off in order to set up for a straight approach at Turn 11.
Turn 11 – The Uphill Intimidator
Tip #5: Gas is Glue. Get a straight run into the approach. Follow the left edge for a beat or two before turning in but stay off the left curbing. A quick brush of the brakes is followed by a smooth, quick turn in for early rotation. The turn in point is about a car length before the end of left curbing which may seem early. Go to the gas soon to steady the chassis as you run up the hill. The first one-third of the segment may have a vague feel, like the car is not planted. You can use a lot of the apex curb and it helps to carry speed through the corner. Get your eyes up the hill and to the right at the moment of turn-in.
Have the car going straight at the crest of the hill with soft hands as the car will jump one-quarter car width to the left. Fish says, “This is the hardest turn on the track. The inexperienced driver will turn in too much and get snap oversteer at the crest of the hill. You need neutral hands over the crest. It never feels like you got it all.” The exit curb is smooth so it can be used as long as the car is pointed straight on it.
Turn 12 – Just a Bend in the Road
Stay a bit wide of apex in order to set up a straight line approach to Turn 13.
Turn 13 – Master of Deception – Don’t Be Late
In terms of direction and velocity, this is like Turn One but it presents an even more difficult visual. You arrive unable to see either the apex or how severe the corner is. Worse, the very first part of the apex curbing gives the impression that it is a mild turn. Many drivers don’t turn in soon enough and also fail to turn the steering wheel sufficiently. Be as close as possible to the right hand wall on approach. Turn in between the 2 and the 1 brake marker signs. It will seem early as you still can’t see the apex or the second part of the turn.
Tip #6: Turn the steering wheel aggressively and look where you want to go, not just at what you can see. There are camber changes throughout but as the turn is uphill, mostly they help you. Get to the apex without pinching the car. You want your arc to be as open as possible but avoid the track out curbing. If you are running too low, this is where you will bottom. Fish says simply, “You really have to suck it up for this turn. If you feel comfortable, you are going too slowly.” Get any speed adjustments done beforehand and turn in under power to settle the chassis.
Carousel – Patience Is a Virtue
There is a lot of pavement in the Carousel and most of it you don’t want to use. People run different lines here depending upon their car and their set up. Run straight into it on the extreme right side and aim between stands. It is a hard brake but you must come off pedal at the crest at the entrance, then back on. The car must be sufficiently slowed to allow turn in to begin. Trail brake into an imaginary spot about one-quarter of the way into the turn, between one-half to one car width off the right edge.
Tip# 7: Timing Is Everything: Like the Keyhole, the turn is best approached as having a Part A and a Part B. The car must be slowing through the first half of the turn (Part A). Look for the slow sweet spot before you go to gas to begin Part B and do so in one single squeeze. The apex is far around corner, directly across the track from the right hand side of the pit lane entrance. This is the turn where you set your brake bias. Fish says, “This is a classic trail braking corner. There is a real sweet spot here. Get it right and you can gain .6 of a second. Many slow too soon and go to power too early and induce a push. This hurts you twice.” Once begun, the push will never get better, it will only get worse. A car that has difficulty rotating at Mid-Ohio is doomed.
Conclusion – Stay Ahead of the Track
Tip # 8: Talk Amongst Yourselves: Keep track of the times other classes are running ahead of you. I ran the Runoffs at Mid-Ohio ten times. While the late, great two-time National Champion Bruce May was still with us, I would ask him daily what he thought of the track condition that day. There would be classes running between his session and mine but I would get a sense of the track condition before I ran through Turn 1 at speed. And that was a very good thing.
Most Common Mid-Ohio Mistake: Trying Too Hard
Tip #9: Think about your hands and arms every time you pass the finish stripe. If you are tightening up, you are getting out of synch with Mid-Ohio. You must stay loose and be able to feel how your tires are tracking. You simply can’t overpower this track. It needs to be finessed. Gritting your teeth and pushing harder often results in the car sliding imperceptibly and slowing down.
P.S. What Kind of a Lame Race Driver Needs a Coach Anyhow?
Tip # 10: Check Out the Track. I don’t claim to be Aryton Senna but I ran over 30 races at Mid-Ohio and I got reasonably proficient at it. I won hard fought Nationals here in Formula Vee and my best Mid-Ohio Runoffs finish was a FV Bronze in 1996. Still, it was not unheard of to lose the handle on any given turn. At one Runoffs I told my friend and fellow competitor Steve Oseth that Turn One had become a problem for me. He suggested that we scope it out at the end of the day. We were sitting on the edge of the track at the turn in point when a Honda sedan rolled up. The driver was then Mid-Ohio School instructor Tony Kester who was talking and gesturing to his passenger. At length he looked out the right window and recognized Steve. He waved as he slowly pulled away and said, “Turn in at the black plate and drive onto the concrete like it was a driveway.” My problem was solved. The next day I had no doubt and no issues. The concrete is gone now so you need to come up with your own visual reference. The point is you can be very close to a solution and not know it. By the way, the passenger that Tony was showing around? None other than the current and two-time Formula Ford Champion Bruce May himself. Bruce had a ton of laps at Mid-Ohio but he was not above talking things over with his coach. Nobody ever called Bruce May lame. Nobody.
About the Author: James Kearney
After racing for 32 years, primarily in FV, I started coaching at the 2010 Runoffs where one of my drivers, Rick Shields, won the FV National Championship and was selected as the Most Improved SCCA Driver of the Year. In six prior tries, Rick’s best finish had been 9th.
Since then I have worked with 54 different drivers in club and pro racing classes. Cars are complicated but improving is not. Coaching provides a process for assessing performance and working on a couple of items per session. Racers can get lost in assessing all aspects of their car and not focus on their driving. A post-session track map review identify areas to improve. As they make gains, they feel more confident and less rushed. What feels slow in the car is usually faster.
What do you work on first? An instructor tells you what to do and how to do it. A coach looks for things you are ready to work on and acts as a guide to bring out your best. Everybody is different. I talk with my customers to get a sense for what they feel ready to tackle.
I’ve worked with drivers in many classes, FV, FF, Pro F1600, FC, Pro F2000, FA, Pro Atlantic and the Miata MX5 Cup Series. I don’t engineer the car, I tune the helmet. More information is available at KearneyKDD.com. Racing is even more fun when you are improving.