The race may depend on the launch, but it also depends on how
much you know about your car. Every car has its own launching
method, and the techniques detailed here will help you determine
what is best for your car. All you need to do is experiment
with your car, and be aware of any changes to your setup, tarmac
quality or weather conditions that could change what you thought
was the best method. Pretty much the only hard and fast rule
is to practice in various conditions. Drag racing is definitely
hard on your car, but to become consistent in your driving,
you will have to sacrifice some hard-earned cash for tires,
repairs and modifications.
The way you launch your car is based mainly on two variables--the
type of transmission in your car (manual or automatic), and
the drive wheels (front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive).
We will take a look at managing a manual transmission first.
With a stick shift, the main aim is to avoid excessive wheelspin
by pressing the throttle too much, but also avoid bogging down
the motor by pressing the throttle too little. The driver has
to get the throttle input just right, like in that Goldilocks
fairytale. Each car engine has a different rpm range in which
it will produce the most power. The trick is to keep the engine
in this sweet spot from the moment you cross the starting
line all the way to the finish line, without any of this peak
power being wasted. Launching a car hard from a dead stop is
accomplished by slipping the clutch and spinning the tires,
both within reason. Power is lost here, but most engines have
narrow power and torque bands, so the fastest launch will include
wheelspin and slipping the clutch. The only way to find out
how much slipping would be just right is to experiment
at the track, holding the throttle at various rpm levels at
launch to see how much juice is needed for the quickest start.
While playing with the clutch and throttle, use the parking
brake to keep your car from rolling. This is the only way to
keep your car stationary while you work the clutch with the
left foot and the throttle with the right. You then release
the parking brake as you launch.
Some people may say a manual benefits from powershifting during
a race, which is to keep the throttle floored between shifts.
It is not a good idea for a beginner, since a ill-timed shift
can cause your engine to over-rev and inflict permanent damage.
In general, automatic transmissions are known as being more
useful for lazy commuters than for hardcore racers. But it may
be surprising for some to know that many pro drag-racing cars
have heavy-duty auto gearboxes. That's because the brake-torque
launch is an automatic specialty. This launch involves keeping
the car stationary by flooring the brakes with the left foot,
while using the right foot to rev up the engine against the
torque converter. In technical terms, this preloads the
entire drivetrain with the stress of a launch, allowing the
engine to rev closer to its power and torque peaks at the starting
line. Brake-torquing is also beneficial for turbocharged engines
as it allows boost to build up before the launch, reducing turbo
lag. The only problem is that there is a lot of stress on the
transmission, and the consequent heat build-up can destroy your
automatic gearbox. Unless your car has too much power for the
tires to handle, a brake-torque launch usually will not spin
the wheels. This is because the automatic transmission absorbs
the shock by design, and brake-torquing actually reduces stress
on the rest of the drivetrain. Instead of a sudden massive load,
the drivetrain has the torque applied slower instead of one
If your car has power brakes, you could apply the brake-torquing
technique even better. At the starting line, shift your auto gearbox
into neutral and floor the brake pedal with your left foot. Rev
the engine once and quickly get off the throttle. You will feel
the brake pedal sink further to the floor. This greatly increases
the braking force. Now shift back into gear. You will now be able
to rev up the engine even higher against the torque converter.
The downfall of standard automatics is their easy-going nature
while shifting, so you lose power during the actual race, where
a manual would have allowed for more aggressive upshifts. However,
the shift points of an automatic can be professionally modified
for drag racing, and some new automatics even allow for manual
shifting or have a sport setting for quicker gear changes. In
fact, you could shift up through the gears even on most conventional
automatics for a little more oomph.
The drive wheels make a big difference in the way your car
launches. Most front-wheel-drive cars lose traction and spin
the front wheels more easily because the sudden acceleration
transfers weight off of the front wheels toward the rear. This
is the reason why front-wheel-drive pro drag-racing cars have
wheelie bars installed at the back, to keep the front end pressed
to the ground. You have to launch using less throttle than you
would with a rear-wheel-drive, to avoid excessive wheelspin,
and then you gradually apply more throttle as you gain traction.
A front-driver with a limited-slip differential, like the Acura
Integra Type-R and the later-model Dodge SRT-4, also reduces
torque steer so you don't pull left or right under full throttle.
Rear-wheel-drive cars have more traction off the line, as the
weight transfers toward the rear during acceleration. You need
to slip the clutch more to keep the engine from bogging down
because spinning the tires isnít that easy, especially if you
are low on power but have wide rear tires. Also watch out for
wheel hop on older American V8 monsters like the Camaro and
the Fox-body Mustang. These cars also have tons of power so
wheelspin is possible, but be careful not to waste time doing
an unintended burnout at the starting line.
Recently, all-wheel-drive cars have made inroads in the sport
compact market with the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and
the Subaru WRX. These high-tech four-wheel-driven machines often
have more traction than they can use, so a nearly full-throttle
launch is possible without a hint of wheelspin. Generous throttle
application is needed since bogging down the motor is even easier
in these cars. But these perfect-looking launches are very hard
on the clutch and drivetrain. These cars actually last longer
for drag-race duty when equipped with an automatic, and the easiest
of all to launch, but the most hardcore of these rally-bred cars
only come with a manual in keeping with their corner-carving tradition.
After figuring out the best way to launch your type of car,
you then fine-tune your technique to factor in environmental
conditions like the track surface, the weather and ambient temperature,
the state of your tires and the contents of your stomach (stay
away from baked beans before a race). Learn the handling quirks
of your own car, and practice in various conditions. Vary only
one parameter at any given time--amount of launch revs, sweet
spot of the clutch, etc.
After your now-perfect launch, just keep the steering wheel
straight, shift just before the tach hits redline, and floor
it after every shift. With an automatic, shifting it manually
can fractionally improve your time, but just leaving it in Drive
probably will be better for beginners. After crossing the finish
line, just slowly and gradually apply the brakes and take in
the rush that you just experienced.