NJMP Thunderbolt Instructor's Guide
Published: May 2, 2018
This page has my notes on Thunderbolt for instructors. It focuses on what students, especially novice students, are likely to do in various corners and is meant to complement the main Thunderbolt track guide.
I point out that due to the tire wall separating the pit exit from the track the car entering track does not always have good vision of cars already on track, which means two things:
- Blend line is ever so important.
- If the student is already on track and sees a car entering the track, they should accommodate the entering car to the extent reasonable. Frequently the car that is on track sees the entering car way before the entering car is able to see the car already on track.
Cars entering track should stay all the way track right into turn 2. Insist on the student doing this every time even if they are in a line of cars and other cars aren't doing this.
This is usually a problem free corner, and most novices tend to brake too early for it. An early turn in point here is a strong indicator of an early turn in point in subsequent turns 2 and 3 where it is more of an issue.
Most novice and intermediate drivers take this turn conservatively, which is good. End of the curb on the left is an easy turn in point to insist on for drivers that try to turn in early.
Before building any speed in this corner get the driver to start unwinding steering prior to the crest. They should not be forcing the car into the track at or past the crest.
Excessive speed going into turn 2 without understanding car dynamics, in particular with relation to suspension unloading over crests and the resulting trajectory and balance changes of the car, is dangerous and should be addressed immediately.
Turn 3 (No Chicane)
Less experienced drivers tend to turn in too early but are also relatively slow through this corner. Going in too fast and too early, like with turn 2, should be addressed immediately for safety reasons.
I find that novices are usually afraid of turn 3 the most and are very hesitant to add speed here. At the same time this corner is a relatively good one to work on early throttle application in medium to high power cars, in conjunction with an appropriately late turn in. I tend to focus on the turn in point and let the speed take care of itself.
Excessively late braking into turn 4 is common. As turn 4 is a very fast corner this typically does not result in an off, but drivers who do so tend to drive an entire session without ever hitting the apex. If the driver persists in ignoring my braking points in these types of situations I have had good results with pointing out that they haven't hit the apex once so far in this corner.
Possibly the most difficult corner to instruct at Thunderbolt due to relative lack of reference points and the fact that the car is transitioning left to right as it approaches the turn in point. Especially at intermediate level the driver needs to have an internal ability to figure out reference points to be reasonably consistent here.
Excessively late braking into turn 5 is relatively common as it is with turn 4, and unfortunately turn 5 is more difficult to set reference points for. I often times resort to hand signals and rely on the driver building muscle memory for their braking point.
I usually leave this corner alone when instructing novice drivers. Most drivers can be faster through it, and carrying maximum possible speed in medium and high power cars through turn 6 is unquestionably challenging. Novices have enough going on on the rest of the lap that I tend to use turn 6 as breathing room.
This turn is slower than turn 6, and as long as the driver applies more braking for turn 7 than they do for turn 6 they are usually fine.
Turn 7 is just about the best corner possible to get a novice to use the apex curb, as the curb is completely flat (Watkins Glen turn 1 is another corner well suited to teaching curb use). If I am not working on correcting mistakes on the balance of the lap I will work on using the curb in turn 7.
I don't usually worry about the line through here for novices.
From my experience novices are capable of touching the apex curb in turn 9, and even getting on it, in the majority of vehicles. Hence the line I teach novices for turn 9 is roughly the same as the race/max performance line, which is a tight entry and using the curb to rotate the car.
The advantage of the tight entry is if the driver comes into turn 9 too hot (not unexpected late in the event) they have a good amount of track surface to recover.
Unlike turn 9, in turn 10 I usually offer the novice driver the options of staying tight and using the curbing to rotate the car or coming out wide to turn later and achieve a later apex. I find that drivers of heavier cars on street tires in particular are more comfortable with a wide entry, whereas drivers of lighter cars on higher grip tires can go either way, and for a novice comfort with their driving is very important.
Novices typically do fine here on their own and I use this section of the track as breathing room.
Novices tend to turn in early in turn 12 which is something that should be addressed before they start building speed. Crashes into inside wall at the exit here are unfortunately common and for the most part preventable.
Thunderbolt is an excellent track to teach curb usage to novice and intermediate drivers, as all curbs except for the apex curb in turn 1 are usable in most vehicles. Novice drivers should certainly be staying off the exit curbs, though intermediate drivers can try them with appropriate steering technique.