In stage rallying, where the level of grip varies wildly, cornering isn’t as simple as turning the steering wheel. Because of the loose surface, we can’t simply rely on the steering wheel to always do its job (and it doesn’t matter how much you Mr Miyagi it back and forth).
Cornering in rally relies on weight transfer and momentum. How do we steer the car if not with the steering wheel? We calm our busy ‘wax-on, wax-off’ hands and learn to use the pedals.
We embrace the car’s natural tendency to slide around underneath us by steering into the skid (pun intended) using a technique called throttle steer.
So, what is throttle steer? It is the technique of steering the rear end of the car with the throttle independent of steering wheel input.
This is typically used in rear-wheel-drive cars because of the ability to directly control how much the rear tires are gripping or slipping by modulating the throttle pedal. It requires a delicate touch with subtle increases or decreases in throttle pressure.
To break things down, in rallying throttle steer happens predominantly on the exit of the corner as you get onto the straightaway. Assuming that you got the car rotated sliding into the corner using your brakes and weight transfer, the next step is to catch the rear end of the car with counter steer.
Try your best to keep your hands on the wheel and the counter steer smoothly in relation to amount of slide you feel in the car (meaning no ‘Jesus take the wheel’ moments or ‘Mr Miyagi-ing’ to full opposite lock for a small amount of slide angle).
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Remember that the car’s momentum is sideways at this point. Any enthusiastically early throttle input will cause the rear tires to lose more grip potentially spinning you into an unplanned victory donut. It is important to counter steer first, then smoothly reapply throttle.
As you apply throttle, weight is transferred to the rear. This starts to give the rear tires grip. However, you are still on a loose surface, so they won’t grip up immediately. They will continue to slide. Your counter-steer input will need to be maintained to some degree as you accelerate out of the corner onto the straightaway.
Your goal at this point is to keep the counter-steer input as calm as possible and use the throttle pressure to effectively aim the car in the direction you want to go.
In this state of simultaneously counter steering and applying throttle, if you add more throttle, you will add more angle to the car. This is because the rear tires slide more causing the car to increase its amount of rotation.
If you reduce throttle, you will lessen the angle as the rear tires regain grip and the car follows the direction of the counter steer. Small smooth increases or decreases in pressure are necessary to maintain stability of the slide. Try to using your toes and not your whole foot or leg. It doesn’t require being a brute. A little bit goes a long way.
Vision is crucial to a successful throttle steer. Look far ahead and look where you want to actually go. If your vision is too close, your body will attempt to react to every little twitch of the car making it much tougher to maintain smooth inputs. By looking farther ahead, your body has a better sense of the car’s attitude and trajectory allowing it to respond much more smoothly and appropriately.
Because the car slides around so much on the loose surfaces, it is not uncommon to be moving in straight line while counter steering. Maintaining your vision far ahead will ensure your throttle steer is keeping the car is pointed straight in relation to the road and in the direction you want to go.
Congratulations, you are now throttle steering! Remember, holding a big angle drift is not the goal of throttle steer in rally (you’ll look cool for Instagram, but you won’t be going all that fast). Too much angle and you lose time going sideways. But waiting for the car to completely grip up may cost you a few precious moments for forward acceleration.
Throttle steer is about finding the sweet spot between sliding and forward momentum. Drive with your pedals, not with the steering wheel.