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Why MOTOR uses a professional race driver

By Scott Newman, 23 May 2017 News

Warren Luff Ford Focus RS cover

Data proves the worth in using a professional

MOTOR has used the driving services of Supercar and GT racer Warren Luff for more than a decade now.

Despite our best attempts to scare him off with tuner car blow-ups, eskies, dodgy food and poor fashion, he’s stuck around and is one of our biggest assets.

Like Liam Neeson in Taken, Luffy possesses a very particular set of skills. He’s fast obviously, but his stunt work also gives him the ability to slide a car with millimetric precision for the cameras, something not every pro driver is comfortable with.

BMW M4 driftLikewise, extracting speed from road cars, with their – compared to race cars – squishy suspension, rubbish tyres and dodgy brakes is a real art, but Luffy’s years as a driver trainer have given him mechanical sympathy and the experience to assess a car as a road car, rather than a race car.

A recent track comparison between the BMW M3 Competition, Mercedes-AMG C63 S and Alfa Romeo Giulia QV (coming soon) provided the chance to dig a little deeper. Being reasonably familiar with Winton I plugged in the Driftbox following Luffy’s laps to time my own attempts.

The chance to directly compare your data with a pro driver is an invaluable learning opportunity and also provided some interesting insight for the comparo.

I was pretty chuffed to get reasonably close, between 0.5-0.7sec in each car, but aside from the fact that I could do another 100 laps and not find that half-second or so, I’m under no illusion that I could set the lap times myself as the times in and of themselves don’t tell the whole story.

Firstly, Luffy tends to do two flying laps and then park it (see earlier comments about mechanical sympathy). With more laps no doubt more time could be found, but that isn’t the object of the exercise. The point is to nail a representative lap time while leaving tyres and brakes intact.

Examining the data shows how Luffy is able to do this. The picture below is the overlay of each of our two best laps in the Mercedes-AMG C63 S through Winton’s tricky back section (turns 3-9).

Winton lap traceThe overall time is similar (to within a couple of tenths), however Luffy’s trace (in red) is much smoother and from that smoothness comes the all-important consistency, crucial when doing lap comparisons as you can be sure the car, not the driver, is responsible for the difference in lap time.

Secondly, Luffy can extract the maximum lap time regardless of which track we visit. As mentioned, I was stoked to get reasonably close at Winton, but I’ve done hundreds of laps around there and the more difficult the race track (or more difficult the car), the wider that gap would stretch.

Nissan GT-R driftAs an example, at Performance Car of the Year 2011 then-Editor Andrew MacLean tried a similar experiment at Phillip Island, the circuit venue for that year’s contest. AMac is one of Australia’s finest journo-steerers, but at a much faster track the gap varied from a still mighty impressive 1.25sec to 4.48sec.

Luffy’s ability to quickly and consistently nail quick laps in unfamiliar road cars while also being able to do fourth-gear drifts standing on his head is why hopefully he’ll be part of the MOTOR team for many years to come.