Driving tips and tricks from the real pros

Do you remember learning to drive? So many rules, so many things to remember. Nearly getting whiplash before turning a corner. Don't forget to check the mirrors, is your blind spot clear?

While we learn loads of defensive driving skills before passing our driving test, most of us get into a comfortable funk after years of driving. And many of those skills are lost among the maths equations, periodic table, and second language vocabulary that you forgot a few months after school.

Professional race car drivings currently on the circuit have been deemed some of the best drivings around the world. Autoforum tells us why.

According to Ford, among the best drivers in the world are professional drivers found in the world of motorsport. Tackling the toughest racetracks in vehicles like the 500hp, Le Mans-winning Ford GT race car, requires a specific set of driving skills that is not only efficient and fast, but safe as well.

We call this defensive driving. Let us point out at this point that we are by no means encouraging speed on the roads, but rather pointing out that those that drive at speed are incredibly clued up on the skills of driving, and are driving obsessively well-maintained vehicles.

“Defensive driving is to drive so as to prevent a collision in any road or weather conditions,” says Derek Kirkby, Training Director for advanced driving at MasterDrive and Ford’s own Driving Skills for Life - a comprehensive driving programme that teaches SA drivers these techniques. Kirkby offers a list of driving tips straight from the race track that will make you a better driver on the road:

Hold the steering wheel like a racing driver

Conventional driving instruction teaches us to imagine the steering wheel as a clock-face and to keep our hands at 10 and 2 o’clock. Don’t do this, advises Kirkby. This convention is outdated. An airbag can inflate in 0.03 seconds, how quickly can you move your hands and arms out of the way?

Here is a very simple habit you can get into right away, use 9 and 3 o’clock. It is safer if an airbag inflates and should you lose control even for a second, you will know how to get the car pointed straight ahead instantly – just return your arms to their resting position. This position is also more responsive for quicker turns.

Do only one thing at time

Racing drivers have to make split-second decisions, and you can too if you concentrate on doing one thing at a time – either accelerate, brake, or steer. Remember that anything you do that changes the direction or speed of your vehicle can break traction, and loss of traction can mean loss of control. Smoother is safer and faster – brake before you turn into a corner, not while you are in it. Braking during a turn can either lead to spinning the car or not turning enough and skidding straight ahead.

Don’t follow

Have you noticed that Formula 1 race cars don’t have brake lights? Yet the drivers manage to not crash into each other at every corner. This is because they do not follow the car in front, and neither should you. We instinctively do what the car in front of us does, but you should never allow your decisions to be made by the guy in your path, it is downright dangerous. Why put all your trust in a stranger? Kirkby advises to rather look ahead, through their car and their windshield if possible and in between the spaces of the car ahead.

Use your tongue to balance

Here is a fun one. According to Ross Bentley, former racing driver and author of the popular Speed Secrets series, pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth activates the same area of your brain that is responsible for balance and your balance while driving is directly related to how you sense the movement of the car. Essentially, by doing this you are increasing your concentration, as well as your response time to any movement that your car makes.

Steer with the corresponding hand

When steering, the direction you chose to go should correlate with the corresponding hand. So, turning left? Use your left hand to guide the steering wheel. Going right? Use your right hand. Essentially, it should feel like you’re pulling your steering wheel down, rather than pushing it up. Kirkby explains that you are now using your fast twitch muscle fibres, which mean you have more dexterity and you can make quicker steering adjustments, ultimately giving you more control.

The car will go where you are looking

Ever notice how your car will wonder in the direction you are looking when you get distracted or take your eyes off the road for just a moment? That’s hand-eye coordination, and it also works for where you want to go. Instead of focusing on the road right in front of you, focus on where you want to go. Essentially Kirkby advises you to look up ahead through the top half of your windshield. Your hands and feet will take you there without you having to even think about it.