Fast-Wheel Drive: Is FWD the King of the Gymkhana/Autocross scene?
Autocross, or Gymkhana as we prefer, is a great way for car enthusiasts of any skill or experience level to hone their car control and driving technique due to its accessibility and fun factor. One could argue that all you really need is a driver’s license, but it isn’t exactly a deterrent for the determined.
Gymkhana Vol III has returned! Take your car for a spin and put your skills to the test with our two different categories: Showroom+ and Prepared at Shah Alam Stadium this 20th May 9.30am-430pm! See you there! Register here: https://carl.st/gymkhana_vol_3
Simply knowing how to drive is enough, but not enough to post a good time. For that your car needs to be properly set up and yourself acutely in tune with its strengths and weaknesses and how to navigate around them. That said, there’s a longstanding debate about which format of car is ideal to thread around the short, precision course: front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? And for the sake of argument we’re going to ignore engine placement relative to this.
There’s no question that the latter, or rear-wheel drive (RWD) cars, tend to be more fun. Their propensity to break traction and stick their tail out is a hallmark characteristic, and while it can deliver the smiles, it can come at the cost of speed.
However, on a rear-driven car, the fact that the front wheels aren’t bothered with putting the power down, it can use all its contact patch to translating the driver’s steering input onto the surface. This separation of tasks make RWD cars a favourite of enthusiasts. Aside from this, mastering the power slide is also an addictive pastime.
The debate itself continues to rage on – RWD vs FWD remains a hot topic with no definitive answer. Part of the reason it might never be completely settled upon is the fact that there are so much more variables to a car that might ultimately impact its handling. No two cars are ever really equal, so comparing two models with different drive layouts with different drivers who’ve installed different modifications and tunes is nearly pointless.
That said, one thing is (almost) universally undisputed: around a closed, tight course, modern FWD cars are (or can be) incredibly fast and agile.
There’s also something to be said about the sheer accessibility of FWD cars compared to RWD ones. In 2023, nearly every new car sold on within the ‘mass market’ category has drive going exclusively to the front axle while rear-driven cars are generally priced less within reach for the budding petrolhead.
At the high level, mastery of a front-drive, purpose-tuned autocross/gymkhana machine is no easy task either. To compete at the top, drivers fielding FWD cars must have even smaller tolerances for error to thread the line between traction and understeer, but how it seems to pull you out of corners can be a greatly exploited.
Point is, FWD is the default gateway format that gets most of us these days hooked to cars and precision driving. And with the breadth of ability these cars have, they have a lot to offer and even aspire to. One only needs to look at how sought after (not to mention fast) the Honda Civic Type R is; the current and past 2 generations especially.
Now that the FL5 version restores the Nurburgring lap crown back to Honda, it’s also worth reminding ourselves how many more powerful, exotic machines it beats with its time of 7:44.881. Prior to this, a number of similarly front-driven Renault Sport Meganes held that title and humbled a great many big power, snarling beasts.
Of course, cars with all-wheel drive bring another set of parameters to the table with their own set of idiosyncrasies, disadvantages, and advantages to the gymkhana/autocross arena.
The most sound advice to be given here is just to enjoy the car you’ll be driving around the course. Take the time to learn how it responds and relish in the exactingly minor tweaks to your inputs that make the biggest positive differences.
Focus on the basics of light weight, proper suspension tuning, strong brakes, and as close to a perfect weight distribution as you can get it. Of course, this all depends on how ‘prepared’ you want your car to be. If your goal is a fun day out with others in the car community, an Autocross/Gymkhana event is right up your alley.
Once more, Carlist.my will be organising Volume III of our Gymkhana event this May 20th, 2023 from 9.30am to 4.30pm at Shah Alam Stadium! A perfect opportunity to put your car and skills to the test while having a blast! Register here: https://carl.st/gymkhana_vol_3