By: Bryan Sellers
This past June, my co-driver Wolf Henzler and I scored a TUDOR Championship victory in the Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen International in the Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR. The win – our sixth – wasn’t the first under challenging weather conditions. Torrential rain caused the race to be red-flagged for a period of time and we ran on a soaking wet track throughout most of the race.
Driving should never be taken lightly regardless of road conditions. After all, you are in control of an object that weighs over two tons and is directed almost completely by your input. So, when you and your vehicle are navigating adverse conditions like rain, snow or high winds, you have to notch everything up a level.
As a Falken Tire race driver, I am constantly called upon to maximize the performance of our Porsche 911 RSR. That includes getting the most out of it whether it’s wet or dry. Since my first time behind the wheel of a go kart at age nine, I’ve been learning how to control a vehicle through all kinds of situations. Of these, rain is one of the most common and dangerous weather challenges every driver must face and conquer.
Here’s what you need to know about safety driving in the rain.
The first few minutes are the trickiest. When the rain first starts to fall it becomes possibly the most difficult time in wet weather driving – on the track or on the street. The oils from other cars and the chemicals from the asphalt are released when it starts to get wet. Then, the oils and water mix and create a very low grip situation. The only option is to slow the car. Regardless of whether you’re a professional driver or everyday commuter, you must drive within the grip level limits that rain delivers.
Keep your eyes on the road. The worse it rains, the more cautious you need to be. Always be aware of the distance needed to slow the car down. This is something that is very similar whether you’re in a passenger car or race car. The hardest thing to judge is how early or late you need to start the process of braking. Make sure your margin of error is plenty wide.
Ensure clear vision. In adverse conditions vision is always difficult. In the Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR we deal quite often with spray from other cars. Additionally, fogging of the windshield is a danger. It is no different on the street. Try everything you can to have a clear line of vision. That means using the windshield wipers as efficiently as possible and trying to position yourself so you are not affected by the spray of other cars or, even worse, big trucks. Offset yourself in lanes – do not drive directly behind others, but stay in the next lane – to ensure you can see what is happening ahead of you.
Stay calm. At some point you will find yourself in a potential panic situation. Quite often it will be because of hydroplaning, which occurs when the tires of your car are separated from the road by a buildup of water that exceeds the tire tread’s ability to channel it. Hydroplaning translates into zero control. If you car does begin to hydroplane, remember that less is more. Stay off the pedals and keep your hands as straight as possible. Unless you’re driving through a flooded area, deep standing water or a massive monsoon (or your wear bar indicator is showing), your tires will regain grip.
Let the tires do their job. Even great tires like the Falken AZENIS, ZIEX, and WILDPEAK can only handle so much water dispersement. However, there have been some pretty amazing advancements in our rain tire technology. The Falken tire tread pattern not only is designed to help cut through the puddles, but the channels are actually manufactured in such a way as to create pressure and a ‘water pump’ of sorts. Water isn’t just pushed through the tread but it’s also pulled through when driving in a straight line. Technology is great, but remember simple physics. If you accelerate, brake or turn, the energy you had must change directions. If you change directions too quickly, that energy can carry the car in a direction you did not plan.
Drive prepared. Keep your equipment up to date! There’s a reason that we go through multiple sets of tires when we race. The right grip is everything. Fortunately for you (and your wallet), you don’t need a pit crew to do simple tire maintenance and your tires are designed to last thousands of miles. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Always keep an eye on the tread depth because even the best driver has zero control when there isn’t sufficient tread left. You can avoid a lot of problems on the road by being prepared before you ever start the engine.
Bryan Sellers has been a Falken Tire factory driver for seven years. As one of the elite American sports car racers, the Braselton, Georgia-resident has driven the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR (and its predecessor the 911 GT3 RSR) to GT class victories at Mid-Ohio (American Le Mans Series, 2011), Baltimore (ALMS, 2011, 2012), Petit Le Mans (ALMS, 2013, TUDOR Championship 2014) and the 2015 Six Hours of the Glen. Follow him on twitter @bryansellers, and visit his website at www.bryansellersracing.com.