A quote from Shumacher’s article illustrates this very nicely. He states, “A Formula One driver wouldn’t be able to drive more than a few hundred yards in the seating position used by most drivers.” He goes on to say, “Many drivers sit too far away from the steering wheel and pedals. That might work in ordinary driving, but not in unusual situations. Precise steering corrections or flooring a pedal are nearly impossible if you’re not sitting in the right position.”
Here is a good procedure to follow in order to put you in the right position. First, adjust the distance to the steering wheel and pedals by moving the entire seat forward or backward so that when you fully depress the clutch your knee remains bent. If you have particularly long or short legs, you should error on the side of having more of a bend in your leg rather than less.
At the same time check the distance to the steering wheel. With your arms extended out straight, you should be able to rest your wrist on top of the wheel. If your car has a telescoping steering wheel set the seat distance first then adjust the steering wheel second. If you set the seat distance first and your upper body ends up being a little closer that’s fine. If however, you find that your arms are out straight when holding the wheel, then move the seat closer.
The reason for keeping the leg bent is to allow for the smaller foot muscles to work the gas and brake pedals. You’ll be able to achieve more precise inputs and hence better control of the car when using your feet rather than your leg to control the pedals. In most cars you can also adjust the angle between the backrest and the seat. The following is a quote from Shumacher. “The angle between the backrest and the seat should be 90 to 100 degrees i.e., nearly upright. Most drivers prefer a more shallow position for the backrest, and initially find this most comfortable. That’s not ideal, however, because the backrest supports the entire back only when the spinal column keeps its natural shape. Particularly on long journeys, this means more comfort and less back pain. An upright backrest also provides support for the back during emergency braking or in a collision.”
The seat height or vertical position is also adjustable on some cars. Here is what Ralf has to say, “A high seating position automatically provides a better all-around view and a better view of the instruments.” Of course there are limits to height adjustment: there should be at least enough room between the ceiling of the car and the top of the drivers head for a clenched fist. You may have to readjust the seat, backrest, height, and steering wheel a few times to get everything just right.
The last item to check is the headrest. According to Ralph, “The headrest is not there for comfort; they also protect against severe injuries to the neck and vertebrae. In a head-on crash, the driver is first propelled forward, then diagonally backwards and up. Therefore, the top of the headrests should be at least level with the top of the head or higher. Whiplash injuries and dangerous injuries to the cervical vertebrae come about because the headrest is set too low.”
After you have your nine-way electric seat all set, it’s time to adjust your mirrors. Adjust the side view mirrors so that they are level with your car, not pointing up to the sky or down at the ground. Then set them so that you’ll have a view of the lane next to you on either side. By moving the mirror so that the side of your own car is just out of view should get it just about right.
Now, you’re almost ready to buckle up. There is a very good reason why this is one of the last things you do before you get rolling. If you’ve got yourself all strapped in and need to readjust your seat or mirror you might not be able to reach the controls. More times than I care to admit I’ve gotten myself all strapped into my five-way harness only to realize that I left the door open, or my helmet is on the passenger side floor and I had to unbuckle and buckle up all over again.
You’ll want either the factory seat and shoulder belts, or your harness really tight. A trick to getting them really tight is to move the seat back a bit, snug the belts up then move the seat forward and back to its original position.
If you’re a member of Club Motorsports chances are you’ll be spending a fair amount of time on the roadcourse at Valley Motorsports Park. One of the first improvements you can make to your car that will actually help you become a better driver is a harness. There are many available that can be installed while retaining the factory belts. Without a harness your hands and arms are doing double duty. They are trying to hold your body straight and prevent it from moving side to side and front to back as you’re cornering and braking. At the same time they are trying to make precise inputs to the steering wheel. A harness removes this first burden, freeing your arms and hands up to the more important second task.
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