Steering wheel hand positioning is a top focus for any racing coach or in any high-performance driver education track day class. Having your hands at 9 & 3 o’clock is as important on the track as it is on the street. This basic car control skill can actually one day prevent you from a crash. Why do so many drivers lose their discipline on this habit if it is the safer option?
Amateur racing drivers often ask, “It’s so much easier to just shuffle my hands on the steering wheel, does 9 and 3 o’clock ALL the time actually matter?” At Blayze, we found that over 40% of road racing drivers shuffle (also called hand over hand steering) their hands while turning the steering wheel. In other forms of motorsport like Autocross, that number is most likely much higher as some racing schools do teach student drivers a variation on the shuffle steering method.
Drivers say that they must shuffle their hands on the steering wheel to turn the wheel enough. This type of steering might work while driving around the city in your streetcar, but it may lead to a higher chance of crashing on the track. If you shuffle your hands on track you’ll definitely want to keep reading to learn why we need to correct this and how we go about fixing it.
Check Your Seating Position to Check Your Hand Placement
The first thing to understand is that the closer race car drivers drive towards the limit of the car, the smaller the inputs on the steering wheel we need to be able to make to control the car. At the limit, drivers are making lots of micro corrections mid-corner. The smallest inputs with steering can lead to faster laps – and we all want faster lap times!
Let’s check your seating position for proper hand placement. In a correct seating position, we always have the backside of our shoulders connected with the back of the seat. To know if you are in a proper seating position, do the following drill:
- Sit normally in your car with your hands at 9 & 3 o’clock.
- Without turning the steering wheel, reach one hand to the top of the steering wheel. The steering wheel should be under your wrist when both of your shoulders are still comfortably touching the back of the seat.
- Once you are sitting in this position there will rarely be a need to shuffle your hands on the steering wheel. When your hands are at 9 & 3 o’clock, and your shoulders are still on the back of the seat your body is in a position to make small inputs.
- With your hands at 9 & 3 o’clock, you should look similar to the driver in the diagram below.
Dangers of Shuffling Your Hands
When you shift your hands, you typically move your arm to the top of the steering wheel. When one hand is on the side of the steering wheel, and one is on top, it is easier for a driver to make more significant inputs than we want to on the steering wheel. This can lead a driver to turn too much, which can be especially risky on high-speed corners.
The most significant negative factor that it can lead to is a driver overcorrecting when those small corrections are needed. Most overcorrections directly lead to a spin or worse, a crash. We know a spin is just a crash without a bang, and we still need to take them just as seriously.
Many drivers may argue, “I can’t turn enough if I don’t shuffle my hands.” The big thing to understand for drivers that believe this is that at a certain point additional steering can actually become counterproductive. It is what we call “turning past the grip threshold.” Check out the following video by professional racer and Blayze Coach, Dion Von Moltke, to learn more about the subject here: turn-the-steering-wheel-too-far.
Understeer, like oversteering, is what we feel when the front tires threshold of grip breaks and the front tires start to slide. Once they slide, you are asking the tires to do more than it has the grip to do. Adding more steering wheel input after the tires start to slide, you are now asking the tires to do even more. Since the front tires are already sliding, the additional steering will never help the car turn more, it is useless and leads to negative consequences.
The big thing to understand as simply as possible is, once you start to feel that understeer you can stop turning. This is the rule and there are a few very rare exceptions to it. That additional steering input puts more wear and heat into your tires and can also lead to an ugly snap oversteer on a corner exit.
When you understand the big reasons why it is so important to keep our hand positioning at 9 & 3 o’clock, drivers will become more disciplined in doing it. Pros at every level, in every type of car, do this. When I see pro drivers in autocross, they manage to keep their hand at 9 & 3 o’clock on the steering wheel. The great thing about this is that this safety measure is true for both racecars and streetcars - for any situation when you are driving.
Are you looking for more race car coaching tips? We are focused on not only making personalized pro race coaching affordable and convenient but also trying to release as many free tips as we can! Below are a few more articles on different race car driver techniques we have released:
- The Racing Line - Do Late Apexes Mean Late Turn Ins?
- The Ultimate Guide For Heel And Toe Downshifting
Customized Coaching with Blayze
Our main goal at Blayze is to help grow amateur motorsports and help the education of those drivers. We would like to be a part of your racing journey from helping you start your racing adventure to then helping you learn the best methods for safe and fast driving. Let our expert coaches help you develop your racing skills by clicking here for a custom-developed feedback session.