I’ve spent time with driver coaches before who are keen to just tell you who they’ve coached. They talk quickly and aggressively and don’t take questions well.
Wilson isn’t like that. He’s calm and eloquent and listens to questions as well as he talks. Within, oh, about a minute, I know I’m in the company of someone who understands not just the racing lines of a specific circuit but the whole theory of speed – someone who understands physics.
He knows that not everything he’d like you to learn will be appropriate for every corner on every circuit. And he knows that there is more than one fast way of doing things. But ultimately, he knows that what he tells you today will make you a faster driver. It’ll go into your noodle and you can call on it when driving fast “becomes a craft”.
And it doesn’t take a racing car on a specific circuit to learn it. In fact, the advantage of a four-seat family car is that an engineer can ride along, too, and feel the body movements Wilson would like them to understand – movements that might not even show up on telemetry.
Some basics, then. Wilson doesn’t just tell you “smooth is fast”, because although broadly that’s true, it’s rather more complicated than that – and he might want you to be a touch more assertive with the car later.
Let’s start with braking. Here, yes, smooth is good. He’d like you to introduce the brake pedal smoothly, because it brings all the discs to the same temperature, and they otherwise might snatch more on one side than the other. And avoid bumps.
Then we walk part of the track so that Wilson can show what he means. He points out surface imperfections and lumps to avoid. He says there might be “1000kg of load” on the wheels and that “every time you hit a bump, you take 200kg off, then reapply it”.
You can see pockmarks, a few yards after a bump, caused exactly by this, as tyres in effect land again. Ditto with downshifts: if you can feel it, even barely, weight is shifting and affecting a car’s ability to slow as effectively. Engineers have smoothed downshift patterns, or drivers leave downshifts to the last minute, to smoothen – and shorten – the braking zone.
So smoothness is important. Likewise on turn-in, although instead of a turn-in point, Wilson talks of a “weight transfer point”. Even a slight adjustment on the wheel might “introduce a 300kg load” to the outside tyres, “which makes it easier to keep turning”. Ideally, the wheels will be under-rotating – that is, travelling slower than the speed of the car – by around 3-5% under braking. “More than that is a lock-up”, and you’d be trailing the brakes in, slowly bleeding off the brake pedal as you turn, so that you don’t overload the tyres, right up to the point where their speed matches the road speed near the apex.
It’s around the apex where Wilson’s theories are at their most interesting. In historic racing, on rock-hard tyres that gave their best while sliding, the highest mid-corner speed possible via a long drift was fast. Today, when you must manage tyre temperatures and are looking for maximum traction, that might not be so.
“Tap your finger briefly on a really hot plate and it’ll be okay,” says Wilson. “But hold your hand for longer on a warm plate and it’ll burn.” It’s an analogy he uses to describe “shortening a corner”, which he demonstrates in the Insignia, applying a little extra steering lock mid-corner, so that you have to use less later.