I’ve watched hundreds of race videos, and the most common issue I see is racers taking corners too wide. MUCH too wide. In this article, we’ll explore this common mistake and show just how much it’s hurting your ability to put up a great lap time.
This is article is part of the advanced racing series. Each of the articles are linked from the Advanced Racing Introduction.
Beginner racers tend to prioritize speed over everything else. Building up too much speed going into a corner causes overshoot, because there’s so much momentum that it can’t be redirected and carried through the corner. When you do this, you’ve added a considerable amount of energy into your quad that you will now have to counteract. As you try to turn, your momentum continues to carry you forward beyond where you want to be. If this is a hairpin turn, you’ll lose several seconds this way. Beginners tend to drive forward until they reach the turn marker and then begin their turn. This strategy will always result in a slower corner.
The biggest takeaway here is that you have to start turning before you reach the corner. Getting that last second of straight-line speed isn’t worth it.
While turning in too late will give you a slower corner, turning in too early may result in a disqualification or a collision with the the turn marker.
Making the corner sooner rather than faster reduces your speed somewhat, but it also reduces your overall course distance. Taking a corner tightly vs. beginning to turn when you reach the corner can reduce your travel distance through it by 40%. When you watch a video where one pilot seems to effortlessly slide by another though a corner even though both are going about the same speed, this is likely the reason: one is flying a shorter course.
Starting your turn sooner is also the solution for countering drift. Drift is the effect of the momentum you have already built, which becomes visible when you change direction. Your quad drifts when you turn at speed because you have momentum in the direction you are already going. When you turn and point in a new direction, your quad wants to continue moving in the direction it was going to begin with. You have to counter this force (or allow drag to do it for you). Turning in early uses the momentum you already have to complete the corner instead of fighting to remove it afterward. This also allows you to start building momentum in the new direction, making for a faster corner exit.
Another reason for taking turns too wide is a lack of trust. Turning in early can be unnerving when you aren’t used to it, as you’ll be facing toward, or even entirely inside, the course marker. The only way to learn how much drift to expect at different speeds is with practice and experience.
Practice Exercise: Hairpins and Turn-in
Set up three markers in an “L” shape with about 20–30ft between each. At first, use a 90-degree bend at the middle marker. Later on, you can vary the angle to practice turns of different angles. Tall flags will work best here because they serve as a better reference point when you are close to them, but use whatever you can get a hold of. The course here is simple: start by flying around the outside of the center marker, then cross to the inside before making a 180° hairpin around the next one. This sets you up for the same path back through the L, but in reverse. The laps will be very quick; only a few seconds each.
As you fly, take it slow: remember that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Your goal is to tighten your turns around the markers as much as possible. Start wide and narrow your turn a little each lap. Then, slowly increase your speed. Eventually, you’ll be drifting in—letting your existing momentum carry you into the turn—as you actively thrust in another direction. This point is a little scary until you get used to it, because you’ll yaw in well past the center of the turn. You have to build trust in what your quad will do. Build that trust fairly quickly with this exercise.
Reversing your path prevents you from spending too much time practicing turns in only one direction. You’re building muscle memory here, so if you only practice a course with left turns you physically won’t learn to turn right! Remember this whenever you set up a practice course. Regardless of your course design, it’s usually pretty simple to reverse the direction you fly around it halfway through your session.
Next up, we’ll dive deeper into cornering theory and learn about hitting the apex.