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Performance Driving


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The Fiero is a true mid-engine car in every definition of the term. And the cold hard fact is that the Fiero has no trouble performing on par with many of the world's finest exotics and sports cars. It is no wonder then that racing a car that performs so well can be a challenging endeavor. The Fiero is a prime example of a well-balanced sports car. Many sports cars can't handle the power they make, while others can't power the handling they have. With the V-6 version of the Fiero, the driver is offered a perfect mixture of stable handling and a smooth abundance of power. This type of combination provides the ability to explore the limits of the car easily and with a predictable behavior. But keep in mind that racing a mid-engine car will not necessarily be a walk in the park. Even though the mid-engine layout offers remarkable stability and control, the driver needs to understand vehicle weight transfer before the maximum performance limit can be used efficienctly. Drivers interested in learning to race with little effort might want to stick with low-torque, peaky front-engine sport sedans like the Acura Integra, Honda CRX, or Mazda Miata.

    There is a higher level of skill required to master a mid-engine car like the Fiero, as many racers will tell you. So it is important to understand that it takes dedication and a lot of practice to become constistant in such a vehicle. Just as go-kart racers shouldn't expect to be instant masters of Indy cars, don't expect to race the Fiero flawlessly after racing other [front engine] sports cars. If you are familiar with racing front-engine cars, you will have to adjust your racing style to accomodate the different behavior of the Fiero. And you can't exepect the Fiero to behave as nicely as a quick-shifting, effortless Miata. You will have to master mid-engine understeer, in-your-face rack-and-pinion steering, mildly boosted disc brakes, a long travel shifter, and a firm clutch. So lets take a look at what techniques can help you get started.

    Most racers will tell you that the driver's position is one of the most important aspects of successful racing. Keeping yourself in the proper position is just as important as keeping your car in the proper position. Sit comfortably, with your elbows bent (never locked) and your hands at the 3 and 9-o'clock positions. This will give you the best control of the steering wheel as well as offering the widest range of motion for your arms. When shifting gears, some drivers recommend using a push-and-pull technique which involves moving the shift lever forward with the palm of your hand and backward with the middle of your fingers. This technique is recommended to help prevent the urge to power shift and risk damage to the transmission. Another technique is simply holding on to the shift knob to move through the gears. The latter technique really helps with cars that have long travel shifters like the Fiero's, but try both to see which works best for you.

    Make sure you have full control over every pedal. You need to have the ability to use the full range of motion without locking your knee. Avoid having to reach for anything, in racing, speed counts! Lastly, make sure you can see all the gauges well, especially the tach. Once you have found a driving position that is comfortable, learn how your car behaves under various conditions and use different techniques to find out what works best for you. Accelerating and braking are both very straightforward, but there is some advice I can offer that might help make the process more efficient. When accelerating, use smooth throttle inputs. Don't mash the pedal or back off suddendly. Also learn how to match the engine's rpm with each gear so that shifts are smooth and fast. Keep this in mind, especially when downshifting, when making a smooth shift can really count. There is a technique called heel-and-toe downshifting that I would like to touch on briefly. This tactic is primarily used when approaching a corner and downshifting. It is important to always brake before a corner, not during and not after. To "heel-and-toe", use the ball of your right foot to apply and modulate the brakes while the heel of your right foot is modulating the gas for the next downshift. This takes practice! And you will likely brake too hard or rev too high a couple times before you master the technique. This is where knowing your car well really helps! Just about every car has different gear ratios to engine rpm, so take some time to learn how your Fiero's engine and transmission correspond.

    Taking a corner is the true highlight of racing. This is where your performance, as well as your car's, is measured from the moment you hit the brakes until the instant you turn the wheel straight. When entering a corner, it is important to approach at a wide angle and apply the brakes just before entering the turn. Don't begin your turn until you have lifted off the brake pedal. Then steer firmly and into the apex allowing your car to swing wide at the exit. This helps you maintain the fastest speed through the corner in addition to letting you hit the gas at the earliest opportunity to regain your momentum. A common mistake is to take the inside of the corner too soon. It is important to keep your racing line as close to a straight line as possible to maintain your momentum.

    Understeer almost always accompanies a mid-engine layout. When the engine is placed in the middle (behind the front axle line and ahead of the rear), vehicle response is different than when the engine is placed in the front. One of the main benefits of a mid-engine layout is the higher level of stability offered when the handling limit is reached. When the handling limits are exceeded in the mid-engine car, the tendancy is to slide rather than loose traction in the rear. When racing, it is easier to hold a corner with this behavior because there isn't a need for major, time consuming corrections. When the handling limit is approached in a Fiero, the front end will start to lose traction, causing understeer. Understeer can be regulated by lifting off the gas (hence, reducing the effect) or applying the gas (increasing the effect). With the torque offered by the 2.8-liter V-6, you can cause a serious departure from a racing line by flooring the throttle, so it is important to give smooth inputs to the throttle in order to maintain a proper measure of control. It is also important to not panic and hit the brakes during a corner if you feel that measure of control starting to slip. That may likely cause a spin. Your best bet is to modulate the throttle until the situation is again under control. Other recovery methods will be discussed later, but if you are starting to wander from the line you want to take through a corner, lift off the throttle to reduce the level of understeer (keep in mind that suddendly releasing the throttle can cause oversteer, which we will discuss in a bit). With practice, mid-engine understeer becomes a welcome trait since it is easy to control and predict.

    Oversteer is simply the reverse of understeer. This happens when the car starts to bite into a turn harder as a result of backing off the gas, applying the brake, or changes in the pitch of the road. If oversteer becomes too severe, the rear end of the car will have a tendancy to swing around, potentially causing a loss of control. This is where mid-engine cars have an advantage. When oversteer begins, the majority of the weight is still toward the rear of the car, helping to keep the rear tires planted and under control. Oversteer can be modulated in the same way understeer can with the throttle, except that the results are reverse. Applying the throttle will help to reduce oversteer while letting off the gas will increase the effect. If oversteer starts to cause a loss of control (like what may happen if you hit the brake in the middle of a turn), corrections can be made by counter-steering. Counter-steering is simply turning into the slide, or away from the oversteer. For instance, if you are performing a hard right turn and have entered the corner too fast, you might attempt to correct the mistake by applying the brakes just as you enter the corner. The rear of the car will want to slide while the nose will bite harshly into the corner. If the effect is mild, you might be able to recover by applying the throttle to compensate. If the effect is severe, you will probably have to turn left (modulating the steering carefully so as not to over correct and cause a fishtail), in addition to throttle modulation to regain control. Again, this takes practice.

    Racing a Fiero is a very rewarding experience. Many first time Fiero racers are surprised by the handling limits offered by the car. It is important to remember not to get overconfident and take unnecessary chances. The Fiero isn't a very forgiving car, no one should expect it to be. Mastering the Fiero's performance takes practice and an understanding of just how the layout works. Once mastered, the Fiero can be a very fun machine to race.

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