Track limits used to be forbidden grounds that would have disastrous consequences for any driver bold enough to test them, but not anymore.
The track limits are easy to spot on a NASCAR oval (unless you’re Kyle Larson and the oval is Eldora); they are usually signified by a rather ominous looking wall. Drivers know that everything the wall is out of bounds obviously. Track limits are fairly easy to spot in circuit racing too. The racing surface is the area between the two white lines that circumnavigate the perimeter and interior of the asphalt circuit. This is a fact you may be surprised to know if you are a regular observer of the British Touring Car Championship, where track limits seem to be considered advisory despite the governing bodies insistence that they are not.
The heroes vs. those who just race cars
Drivers have always used the curbs or snuck out onto a bit of run-off in the quest for a faster lap time. It was always a bit iffy. If a driver succeeded, he or she was a hero. If a driver failed, then they would arrive at the awaiting gravel trap ready to wave a fist before taking the walk of shame back to the motorhome lot.
But now it seems circuit owners and the FIA have decided to reward these efforts by fitting lower, suspension friendly curbs and paving any area that a race car may accidently-on-purpose stray on to. When exactly did the Safety Elf decide that this was necessary? Gravel traps and grass have long been the natural predator of the exploratory fast lap. Knowing that the potential end to your weekends efforts lies just beyond that white line on the outside of the Parabolica has, for years been one of those invisible forces that separates racing heroes from the people that just drive race cars. Now all the drivers have been granted a faux immortality. Drivers can go into Parabolica without worrying about ending their race. Everybody can be a racing hero because the margin for error has been expanded by approximately another track width.
Where's the challenge?
If race tracks don’t want drivers to exceed the track limits, they shouldn’t put things there that encourage drivers to drive on them. For the UK, tracks are adopting a camera system built into the curbs to spot the curb hopping hooligans trying to gain an advantage. Seems like a lot of bureaucracy to me. Spot the driver that did the curb hoping, which at Touring Car meetings is pretty much everyone on the entry list, and then discipline them to the confusion of the on-looking crowd. What they should have fitted to the curbs is a sprinkler system. Keep the curbs and their glossy painted surfaces wet for the entirety of the race. That should keep drivers off them.
Ok, maybe not. But if I had a race track and I didn’t want someone driving over my curbs, I’d move my curbs somewhere away from the inside of corners.
On the outside of corners I’m a big fan of grass followed by a gravel trap. Grass gets the car away from the race track and gravel stops it before it hits the fence. Job done. At the time of writing this, they have not finished the modifications to Monza’s most notorious turn. I hope they don’t intend to totally remove the gravel trap from the Parabolica. Health and safety, eh?
What happens when you come out of Ascari and go hammering down the back stretch only to find the middle pedal goes to the floor? Surely even the FIA are not that silly