Racing Lines - Dickie Meaden

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Current page

198

Racing in the rain can both equalise car performance and emphasise driver skill difference – and in an open-wheeler it can be hair raising

Last month marked the 25th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s virtuoso first lap in the sodden European Grand Prix at Donington. I can remember watching the race at home on television and being blown away by the Brazilian’s immediate ability to carry speed where others feared to tread. It was as though he could see something blindingly obvious that the rest of the grid had missed. 

Never was this more apparent than his charge down the Craner Curves, where having already dispatched Michael Schumacher he simply drove around the outside of Karl Wendlinger. I was aware of the mythical ‘wet line’ – talked about in hushed tones by commentators – but I’d never seen it driven to such brilliant effect. It seemed extraordinary to me that the other drivers – no fools, let’s be honest – didn’t know the line, or simply couldn’t summon the cojonesto try it from the get-go. Then of course he passed Damon Hill and Alain Prost on the conventional (more slippery) line to take the lead at the final corner of the first lap. Class dismissed!

It was the same when Max Verstappen made the rest look stupid at Interlagos in similar conditions. True, Max was still racing karts when many of today’s F1 grid were already established Grand Prix stars, but for many of them to have seemingly forgotten about the karting line (another name for the wet line) proved once again that rain always provides opportunity to those with the feel, confidence and car control to find grip where others can’t.

In historics, where many categories race on the same tyres wet or dry, rain is a massive leveller. You only need to see cars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s race to know they all have more grunt than grip in the dry, let alone the rain. And without downforce to squeeze them into the asphalt or trick electronics to catch the car when the driver drops it, you have to summon every scrap of sensitivity to explore what little grip there is and then work beyond it.

For years after I first started racing I had a secret dread of rain, but then I used to suffer terribly with pre-race nerves generally. The added jeopardy of precipitation only served to ratchet up anxiety levels, which of course increases tension. And when you’re tense you don’t let the car flow, which makes it feel more edgy, which makes you tenser. It’s a horrible vicious circle. 

With experience I’ve learned to control my nerves, but it took multiple races at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in the modern VLN endurance series and famous N24 to get my head around the rain.

The ’Ring is a law unto itself weather-wise, so you can guarantee that at some stage you’ll have to deal with heavy downpours or, worse, rain at one part of the circuit and sunshine at another. Unless the rain is prolonged and torrential, conditions are likely to improve as quickly as they deteriorated. That means you sometimes have to cope with being out on the wrong tyres until such time as they become the right tyres again. It’s a school of hard knocks, but the ’Ring gives you a unique education.

I’ve since raced plenty of historics in the rain, and while a Cobra clearly demands a bit more respect than a Lotus Cortina, the challenge and the thrill is identical. Wet or dry, old cars are all about feel – that’s why I love racing them – but rain adds a whole other dimension to the experience. And because there’s none of modern racing’s Balance of Performance nonsense, you have the tantalising prospect of smaller cars sticking it to the bigger ones.

In historic touring cars Minis are absolute terrors in the rain. Hunting in packs they dive this way and that, slicing through the water with impunity while, wet line or not, the rear-drive Cortinas and BMWs slither impotently from apex to exit, their power advantage squandered in wheelspin and oversteer.

In big, powerful kit such as a Lola T70, it’s not the corners that require particular respect but the straights. Wide tyres, relatively light weight and colossal torque mean you have to tread carefully on the throttle, even in the higher gears. All it takes is some standing water and a greedy right foot and you can spin in a straight line. Or worse, get turned sharp left or right into the barriers. It’s a bit hairy, but racing a 600bhp sports car in the rain should require respect and favour those who can let the car flow, even when common sense tells you to curl up in a ball and find your happy place. It’s what makes historic cars so exciting to race and watch.

And the mythical wet line? Sniff it out and there’s nothing to beat the feeling. Especially if those around you are struggling. It takes some nerve to brake deep and run as close to the outside of the corners as you dare, but if you can just get your outside tyres on the less polished, less rubbery asphalt there can be a miraculous amount of extra grip.

One thing I still cannot get my head around – and something that brings us neatly back to where we came in – is racing a single-seater in the rain. I’ve only done it once, last year in a Chevron F2 car at Spa, but the typically Biblical Ardennes downpour had me well outside my comfort zone. Controlling the car is one thing, controlling the fear quite another. 

Chasing an impenetrable ball of spray along the Kemmel Straight guided by the engine note of the car hidden within and looking out of the side of my cockpit for a reference point is an experience I’m glad to have had, if only for the hair-raising insight it offers into what the F1 boys have to deal with. That said, I’d be very happy never to repeat it. Sometimes it pays to know your limits.

Dickie Meaden has been writing about cars for 25 years – and racing them for almost as long. He is a regular winner at historic meetings

You may also like

Related products