Driving Technique: Taking Esses Faster: Upshift And Flat Out

Published: August 7, 2013; updated: December 18, 2013

Drivers of higher horsepower cars are often hesitant to be on power through medium and high speed S curves. I have seen this happen in the esses at Watkins Glen, the snake at NJMP Thunderbolt and turns 7-8-9 at Summit Point Main.

Whereas drivers of lower horsepower cars like Miatas are frequently flat out through these corners, drivers of high horsepower carsr like Corvettes can spend most of the actual corners off throttle, only returning to acceleration way past the apex of the last turn. This causes drivers of high horsepower cars lose a lot of time in such corners, and many do not realize just how much.

A strategy for going through the esses faster is to upshift early and accelerate through the rest of the esses flat out in the next higher gear.

How early? Depends on the car. To start, upshift as soon as the esses begin - right past the apex in turn 2 at Watkins Glen, between turns 6 and 7 at Summit Point, or exiting turn 10 at Thunderbolt. This will probably be "way too early" and you will have no power. Having no power, you should be able to drive flat out. Next lap shift a second or two later.

This strategy accomplishes two things:

  1. Higher exit speed for the following straight. On all three tracks that straight is fairly long, therefore exit speed out of the esses is important for overall lap time.
  2. Driving through the esses at speed with the weight transfered to the rear tires, which I will elaborate on.

Lifting before turns moves weight over the front tires and gives the driver increased confidence in the car making the turns. It is very hard, and in fact dangerous, to go from a full lift to flat out while the car is close to the redline and making lots of power. Upshifting early reduces the power that the car makes through the esses but keeps the weight on the rear tires, which adds safety. Once the driver is comfortable driving the esses with the weight on the rear tires they can safely start adding speed.

I worked with drivers at each of the tracks mentioned who benefited from the upshifting strategy. When you can execute it well you can go back to analyzing time spent in the esses vs time spent on the following straight and fine-tune your line further.

This video is a great example of the upshift and flat out strategy at Thunderbolt (except it is done between turns 12 and 13 rather than 10 and 11).

Tagged: intermediate, advanced