This technique is the standard approach for the racing driver, where maximum control is particularly important. However, fixed grip steering is a great tool for normal and performance road driving for when less than a quarter turn of steering is required. Additionally, if the vehicle skids, this technique migrates smoothly into ‘rotational’ steering if required.
The method involves holding the steering wheel with a fixed grip and keeping the hands at the same position on the wheel when turning it to any angle. From a road perspective, this may be using ‘ten-to-two’ or ‘quarter-to-three’ grips and is useful for sweeping bends on open roads as it provides maximum control for the small steering angles. By not moving their hands, the driver can more easily ‘feel’ the tyres on the road surface and how much grip is available. It is also the best method to provide the most linear steering input for smooth driving and weight shifting. From a circuit driving perspective the ‘quarter-to-three’ grip should be adopted as this provides maximum steering wheel torque for minimal arm muscle effort and allows the greatest maximum steering angle. For racing cars with sequential paddle-shifters, this grip is also best aligned to use them.
The pictures below show fixed grip steering for left and right turns up to half a turn of steering wheel movement. Note how the arms are crossed at 180°. The arms are locked at maximum movement and achieving any further angle requires using a thumb in the spoke or moving the shoulders. During road driving, for between quarter and half a turn of the wheel the driver’s control starts to be compromised. ‘Pull-push’ steering provides a better solution. However, most corners on race tracks do not require more than half a turn of steering wheel movement so fixed grip steering remains suitable.
Kenny Brack provides an excellent demonstration of how fixed grip steering allows a racing driver to control and minimise excess sliding of a racing car on a very slippery track.
Thumbs In or Out?
There are mixed views on whether to lock thumbs into the spokes or sit them on the rim. Certainly, when first learning fixed grip steering with a ‘quarter-to-three’ grip, locking the thumbs into the spokes is very useful to prevent the driver from changing grip. This may become a preference and is advised by many racing driver coaches.
However, it must be remembered that during an impact or heavy kerb strike, the road wheels may be steered to one side in a fast, intense motion which can ‘whip’ the steering wheel around with great force. This can be violent enough to break the driver’s thumbs and perhaps injure arms or wrists. During off-road driving using a four-wheel-drive vehicle on rough terrain, it is best to hold the wheel rim loosely and never lock the thumbs into the spokes since large rocks etc. can have the same effect.