The Sutton Circuit Guide
The Ultimate Guide to the Hallowed Tarmac of Sutton Circuit
As part of Sutton Circuit's e-Magazine our very own Jamie undertook to write a Sutton Circuit Guide and was a great addition to the e-Magazine, and more recently Jamie went on to publish the complete collection, and here it is.
Aiming to provide an insight into how the experienced drivers attack the track, each instalment began with an opening passage that would set the tone for each episode: "Welcome to the corner series, where we take an in-depth look at each of Sutton's unique turns. Known as a technical circuit, we'll be helping you get to grips with every twist and have your lap times go sub 40 seconds in no time."
And now, in an effort to string those features into the complete lap, we have collected together every article in the series, mildly edited for better flow (think of it as a second edition), to enjoy as a singular volume and to serve as the ultimate analysis of Sutton Circuit's sexy curves.
We start with the notorious Turn One. Considering it's reputation, it's surprising this corner doesn't have a more menacing name. But maybe it's because it has a villainy level similar to that of Lord Voldemort and is therefore known as "the corner that shall not be named".
With the heaviest braking point on the track, the angle of the corner is akin to that of a hairpin, albeit a very fast one. However, with the speed that it's possible to carry through this corner, coupled with the fact you can overtake around the outside if you get it absolutely right, I prefer to think of this turn not as a hairpin, but simply a massive pain in the arse.
Most new drivers have a rocky relationship with this corner, being the scene of the single most amount of lock-ups, spins and crashes around the track. This is mostly caused by the aforementioned heavy braking zone. A yellow cone on the left as you approach marks the point in which to hit the slow pedal. You must brake in a straight line here and with the sensitivity of the karts braking pedal coupled with the varying conditions of outdoor Karting, the exact braking point will vary from that yellow cone on a daily basis.
With your braking under control, make sure to turn in early and smoothly in order to hit the apex which is crucial to a good exit out of a tight corner. As soon as your front tyres kiss that inside kerb, get straight back on the power and run the kart out to the exit slab for the line of least resistance.
It takes practice, but nailing what is possibly Sutton's most infamous corner will net you a huge chunk in lap time. Happy hunting!
Now some of you may be surprised I'm even highlighting this corner, let alone creating an entire episode out of it. You'll be surprised further with just how much there is to write about. Admittedly, I am too. Of all Sutton's curves, this at first would seem the second most inconsequential corner behind the sorry excuse for a kink found on the entrance to the main straight (I'm calling that the Ripple). But you would be completely wrong to think that of either of them.
While the kink is super easy to drive through and barely requires any effort at all, being over so quickly and proving such a small challenge it barely registers as a corner, it does in fact have massive strategic depth and ramifications.
Therefore, I'm not going to bore you with how to drive this corner (take it flat), but rather how best to set yourself up for it. This changes depending on where you exit turn one in relation to your opponent and whether or not the surface is dry.
First of all, in the wet everything I said two paragraphs above becomes completely false. The magnitude of this corner is increased ten fold, and while still taken flat it requires some forethought. You will need to exit turn one with the intention to get over to the right as early as possible. Then, using the scientific principle of least resistance, turn in early and smoothly aiming for the apex, keeping to the left as you leave the corner. This prevents the kink from washing you out and putting you where you don't want to be for the entrance to the Lightbulb. Remember, the outside line is key in the wet.
As for the dry, the implications it can have on a wheel to wheel battle are severe. You may get down the inside of turn one, but if your rival exits alongside you he is going to have the inside for the kink, and although the amount you turn left is minor, it can be enough for him to edge out a kart length on you and slot back in front for the Lightbulb. The same goes for a cutback move. Make you sure you carry enough momentum off the first corner to hold your kart around the outside of the kink, because your rival will surely aim for it's apex.
The characteristics of the kink can mean we see fantastic overtaking, where a driver who has put the effort in to pass his rival around the outside of turn one can see his hard work rewarded with the aid of the final small advantage the kink allows him. It can also mean we see the worst of a heated battle, where a driver on the inside [Bruno] unwilling to accept his doomed situation that he's about to be passed by the stronger momentum of a rival on his right, [*cough* Bruno] pushes his opponent onto the grass before the Lightbulb, [*Cough* Bruno *Cough*] claiming that the line through the kink was his due to being on the inside, and thus allowing him the right to be on the optimum line for the Lightbulb regardless of whether someone had their nose alongside or not. [*...Brughh unoughh...* Scuse me, tickle in my throat].
As you can see, there is more to this corner than meets the eye. Make sure you take all the points mentioned above into consideration the next time you come flying out of turn one.
Also known as the Horseshoe, this simple loop has proven remarkably unforgiving. The arching right-hander strips back each and every driver that passes through it and reveals them for who they truly are. You know someone is a novice when they enter the corner from the outside line of the track, attempting to follow the 'in-out-in' rule from the "Racing-for-dummies" text book. The problem is however, that rule doesn't apply here.
I was once given some insightful advice on how to be fast around Sutton: "Keep it tight". That was it. That's all I got. Talk about descriptive.
But that simple advice unlocked a secret I didn't even realise existed. It was true. The quickest route was in fact just keeping it tight. The entrance to the Lightbulb is a prime example of this, and actually has two different methods depending on the type of situation you're in.
In Qualifying, or on a clear lap, I like to leave half a karts width to the inside but approach the corner at a positive angle. This opens up the corner ever so slightly and allows for a more smooth turn in. You don't want to approach any further out than that however, as it effectively extends the track. Some people prefer just to stick to the second method though: Full race mode.
In full race mode, you don't leave any gap to the inner edge of the track at all, instead remaining as tight as possible in to the corner. This prevents the driver behind trying to ram his nose into the small gap you might expose, which can be catastrophic if you end up being nudged to the outside, as I shall explain further down. It's for this reason why some drivers take the full race mode line every single time - so they never forget to keep the door closed.
During the middle of the corner you can really explore the limits of your kart. You make a small stab at the brake pedal like a thug in an alley, then hit the green pedal as your inner tyres clear the inside kerb which recedes away at the quarter distance mark, before hugging the yellow line like teddy bears are going out of fashion.
The kind of kart you have under you can often be measured by how early you can get on the throttle through this corner. It obviously varies depending upon which method you use, with the tighter approach favouring an earlier application of brakes, throttle and steering, and the slightly wider approach encouraging a later style of play.
As for the racing, it can be fierce through this corner. Nobody wants to get stuck on the outside, an experience I relate to being left in no-mans land. Once you're out there, everybody is coming past you. I have seen instances of people holding their own around the high line, but it's rare.
In the wet this corner is even more tricky, probably the most difficult in terms of maintaining lap time. Between the fact the outside line is fast enough to spit you off at a moments notice, the exit demanding you get back on the inside or perish in a face full of barriers, and the chance of Lee Hammond causing a tidal wave, sometimes it's best to just crawl around the inside line as soon as the conditions allow it.
Now that you're up to speed with Sutton's Light-shoe Horse-bulb, see how early you can nail the throttle next time you take it. If you begin to drift out, feather off the throttle slightly or wrestle the kart back in, but make sure to keep it tight...!!
The Switch. Ironically named after the quick direction change following the Lightbulb (Light switch, get it?!?), this corner first won me over by proving it can be taken flat out in the anti-clockwise direction. But the reason it has become a favourite is not for the fast thrills, but the huge element it adds to clockwise racing.
Everybody has a slightly different line through here despite being a flat out turn. However, having said that, many a novice tend to lift through here due to lack of experience or confidence. You can't blame them, for looking at the angle from the outside you realise it's more of a bend than you might think.
There are two ways of approaching this corner. One: drive through it. Two: drive through it with the purpose of manipulating geometry in your favour. You see, the Switch leads you directly on to the run up to the hairpin. However, that run up is no ordinary straight. It's curved to the left. While not being significant enough to warrant it's own "Corner" instalment, I'll talk a bit about this skew whiff patch of tarmac here.
Most people turn in for the Switch as soon as it enters their consciousness as a noteworthy navigational point. This however, is too early. By taking an early apex, you find yourself emerging on the exit out on the right hand side of the road. This may not bother the uninitiated, as he needs to be there for the entrance to the hairpin anyway. But the thinkers have a different line through here.
There is a small risk of hitting Richard's cone with this approach, but by pinning yourself to the inside of the Lightbulb for a fraction longer and running your right front tyre over the kerb on the inside at the exit of it, you can turn in for a slightly more rounded off apex and actually emerge with a more acute angle in relation to the slightly curved straight.
Physics has determined that objects must move faster the further away they are from the centre of a spinning disc/circle/cylinder to cover the same ground as objects on the inside. Look, what I'm trying to say is that the closer to the inside of that curve you are the faster your journey through it will be. It's all about shortening your route.
This however effects adversely your desire to be on the right hand side for the braking zone into the hairpin, but from personal experience it's never been a problem to let the kart gradually drift over to the right from the natural curvature of the road.
Taking approach Two can also be beneficial for lining up an overtake into the hairpin. If your opponent chooses approach one, you can often simulate an undercut technique on the exit to get on their left hand side, but the success of this is determined by the degree in which your opponent took approach one.
To wrap things up I'll stay on the overtaking theme but throw a little water into the mix. You see, in the wet, the nature of the corner still allures most to take the apex due to the angle of approach from the Lightbulb, the ample tarmac space on the exit, and the fact that taking the outside feels like your going completely the wrong way. However, in extreme conditions I've found it useful to venture out into that no-mans land on the outside. The excess debris there can actually generate a bit of grip and bite, sligshotting you up toward the hairpin. Your extra traction will allow you a run on the driver ahead of you, as he slides and squirms his way out of the Switch.
As you can see, this corner has a big part to play in any race. Use its charactistics wisely, and you will bear much fruit.
Quite possibly the most unanimously begrudged corner on Sutton's layout and the bane to most solid laptimes, the hairpin is arguably the most critical corner to gain time on other than Turn One.
With the entrance being an easy place to lock up, the exit causing heavier drivers to bog and a couple of cones thrown in for good measure, it's no wonder this is the first corner novice drivers question when asking if they are doing it right.
The key to this savage U-turn is precision. Around no other corner do you quite have to anticipate your approach more than this one, and it is here where most racing incidents happen. You approach coming off the slightly curved straight which was discussed in the last instalment. It is best to just let your kart naturally drift over into the braking zone using the curvature, and then look for the point where the grass meets the tarmac on the right and brake fractionally before the front of your kart is in line with it.
Keep the kart straight. Some use the small run off after the grass if they haven't quite got the kart perpendicular to the apex, which can also help to round the corner off for a tighter exit. Possibly useful if you are trying to pass someone, but it leaves you exposed to a potential assailant behind. I prefer to make an early turn in here. It will mean the driver behind has to really have the run on you in order to make a passing attempt and it will also help with the next phase of the corner: Squaring off the apex.
You see, Sutton's hairpin can be viewed as having two apex's, albeit really close together. The angular nature of the inside kerb means you want to be exactly parallel at the halfway point, running your tyres along the flat kerb to such a tight degree that the rubber mesh has to lend some reassurance. Be mindful of the cones however, the fastest routes are never without an element of risk.
Sutton's tightest corner is the arch nemesis of momentum, which is where it saps most of your laptime so try and apply the throttle as early as possible, perhaps just a little after you've begun turning in. Doing your upmost to prevent the kart from bogging is essential, and a perfectly arc'd trajectory should help. Your run out of the corner will be just as tricky, providing you've done the first two phases right the speed with which you exit along with a smooth use of the wheel will threaten to throw you right off the track before the loop. So hang in there and pinch the edge of the tarmac with the skin of your right wheels.
Once you've nailed the basics, you'll be made to feel like a complete novice once again after you start working on your racecraft. It is here where a clear seperation can be seen between a great passer and just a mediocre one. The 'nervy-newby' won't try anything into this corner at all, the 'audacious amateur' will attempt to pass but mistime it usually resulting in a crash or spinning out, and the 'aspiring astute' will draw alongside but fail to complete the move before the exit. By contrast the 'matured maestro' will make it their new favourite passing place.
Despite it's difficulty, potentially the hardest overtaking spot on the track, it's also one of the best. The reason it proves such a challenge is largely down to the short braking zone followed by a narrow turn-in where karts converge if nobody leaves room, but mostly because of quite a subtle but sinister bump on the inside. This bump means that you have to brake delicately, whereas the untamed in the heat of a battle will just stamp the brakes, thus locking as they hit the little devil and having quite a spectacular accident. But should you anticipate the beast, then it's a great place to pop your kart down the inside, especially if you've gotten a better run through the Switch by emerging tighter to the left onto the curved approach.
That principle is less effective in the wet, where an optimum line would be to dive headlong towards the outside corner pocket before swinging the kart around for a more pointed and direct exit. A block pass where you follow your rival deep into the corner while alongside him is usually your best bet in that situation, but it can be easily thwarted by a cunning driver who predicts your move and instead brakes early to enable a cutback.
A technical circuit such as Sutton earns its reputation as such with corners like the Pin. However, if mastered correctly it can become a key differentiator between you and your rivals during any race. May this guide aid your crusade against it and turn the fortunes in your favour.
Inspired by the long looping left hand curve at Junction 2 off the M69 towards Birmingham, this corner was originally designed to be run in the anti-clockwise direction where it can be taken flat out in the dry, earning a reputation as one of the most thrilling corners on Sutton's layout. However, with the decision to switch the circuit's default direction to clockwise the sting was taken out of the Loop somewhat.
It still provides immense satisfaction though and I sometimes refer to this corner as Spoon, as you hug its inside curvature like you're enjoying a good cuddle. You hang on to the kart as the speed builds and builds, determined not to let off the throttle until you reach critical velocity where you release the kart on the exit and allow it to drift over to the left of the back straight, meeting the edge where the white track limit line decides to run out of paint.
Its even more hairy in the wet, where you take the line of least resistance and hang your kart around the outside as far as you dare, toying with the grass that seems like its trying to suck you in and playing chicken with the prospect of being spat off the tarmac towards a muddy, wet and humiliating grave. This game of dice is made all the more tricky by the way the tarmac falls away in the final third of the Loop, the off-camber exit asking you to defy the laws of grip when the corner is at its fastest.
The racing through here can have severe implications. You need to think about where you will be coming off the hairpin. Too many times a failed passing attempt has left the unfortunate assailant stuck on the outside of the Loop, and if he can't slot back in he becomes a sitting duck for the passers behind. If you end up being the subject of a passing attempt at the hairpin, the Loop can also offer you a ray of hope. If you can keep your nose alongside your rival on the exit, you can use your advantage on the inside, quicker because of the shorter distance of travel around the bend, to pull yourself back level with your attacker, creating a nice bit of wheel to wheel action along the back straight where you can defend your position into the final corner. Don't try a cut back out of the Hairpin though unless you have a significant speed advantage. With the nature of the loop, it just wouldn't work.
Despite the rule of sticking as tight as possible to the yellow line to attain the fastest route being pretty obvious, some still try unconventional methods through this elongated curve. When attempting to pass a slower kart, some allow their kart to drift out at the end of the first third, before cutting back in tight again for the final third, thus making somewhat of a bow through the corner. The tighter exit allows them to get a small run on the inside down the backstraight, affording a small chance of a pass into the final corner. We'll touch more on that next time, in what could be the final episode of the corner series.
The Final Corner
There isn't much doubt in my mind that Warwick Davis' excitable comments on the BBC were in reference to this monster. It's Sutton's fastest turn on the clockwise layout and really is a thriller where you're hanging on to the kart. There are two aspects to this thrill however. One for novice drivers who are hanging on to their own hide and one for the pro's who are hanging on to the back end of their machine.
The speed combined with the positive angle of the corner that requires you to get the Kart completely rotated for the run back down the main straight mean that keeping the rear in check is a tricky affair. It requires a super delicate touch on the steering wheel. However, much of this challenge can be alleviated by your approach.
As mentioned earlier, this corner has a double apex. But it is still only one corner as both apex's blend into each other seamlessly through the turn. Now the entry line has shifted like a sand dune over the years as grip levels swing between kart performance and the location of laid down track rubber. But I still hold that the old principle works best: Miss the first apex and hit the second.
You will want to leave about 3 quarters of a kart width to the first apex on turn in. What you do at this point is entirely up to you. Some make a small stab at the brake pedal and others just lift off. I don't think either is quicker than the other so the style you choose is completely your preference. The intention is to scrub a little of the excess speed that would otherwise make it impossible to keep the kart stable. I've heard stories from some of the lighter drivers that they can take this corner flat, but I'm not sure if I believe them.
After you've got the difficult bit out of the way, it's a case of getting straight back on the throttle and bending the kart in towards the second apex. You'll know you've carried enough speed when you can't help the kart from drifting out onto the exit kerb before the pit entrance.
We've noticed though that the owner drivers, likely not knowing any better, take a much tighter route through here. This means that on certain days, there is a healthy amount of grippy rubber laid down at the first apex. This will enable you to turn in much sooner, practically hitting that initial apex yourself as you take advantage of the sticky surface. You're much more pointed on the exit, looking like you are heading straight for the hedge at one point, but it's amazing how you can get the kart through if you maximise that exit kerb.
Finally, racing through here is intense. The general rule of thumb is that you don't want to be on the outside. If you don't get undertaken as your opponent takes the shorter route, then he's going to run you out of road and put you on the grass at the end of it. To make the pass in the first place yo
You need to have at least a significant portion of your front bumper alongside your rivals rear wheels on the approach. You can then stuff yourself into the first apex as your opponent leaves that gap mentioned in Principle 101. There are also opportunities to undercut your opponent on the exit and get underneath him as you race on to the straight, usually achieved if he is on the defensive and shoots wide due to his tighter line.
If I was to conduct a survey it would not surprise me if this corner came out as the drivers favourite. In the wet it's a geometrical nightmare, anti-clockwise it's scary and anti-clockwise in the wet it's just plain suicide.