MR2s and the mythology 
of "snap oversteer"

By Jeff Fazio a.k.a. JekylandHyde

In the MR2 community, from time to time, discussions pop up about "snap oversteer." What follows is an opinion piece, based on my experiences with (or dare I say without?) the mysterious phenomenon of snap oversteer. As far as I can tell, MR2s and snap oversteer go together about as well as sleighs and Santa Claus, but be fair warned that is not to say they go together well.

Before we can start deconstructing this whole matter, we need to define the term "snap oversteer." I have heard this term defined in at least two different ways.

The first definition indicates that snap oversteer is what occurs when an MR2 is driven to the point of significant oversteer and the driver over corrects sending the tail end of the car swinging the opposite direction like a pendulum. At this point, when the driver attempts a second correction the car suddenly spins harshly in the direction of the initial oversteer resulting in a completely botched turn leaving the driver to hopelessly pray that their fenders survive.

The second definition, I find quite entertaining. The term is defined } as sudden, unpredictable and uncontrollable oversteer. I have even read people go so far as to claim that this phenomenon happens so fast that a driver is completely incapable of responding. I simply can't even being to imagine driving a car through a turn in such a way that the rear end suddenly, unpredictably and uncontrollably steps out of line.

I have spun MR2s, and several other cars, many times and never has it ever been such a surprise that I literally had clue it was about to happen or had absolutely no chance to respond. In fact, I have always been able to at least swing the rear around the other way. That is not to say that I have always done so skillfully. I have dented enough metal to prove otherwise. The point is that even when I have screwed up beyond my ability to fix it, I have at least been able to offer some sort of pathetic response.

So, getting on with the discussion, I will explore the first definition in greater depth as I truly belief the second has no merits at all and, if it does, a lot of the same arguments would apply. Let me start with a metaphor:

Let's say that a skilled pool (billiards) player hits the cue ball toward the other end of the table and it deflects off the rail placing right where he intended. You could say the cue ball (for example) has experienced "bounce."

Now, let's say that an unskilled/inexperienced pool player, that does not realize how fast a cue ball rolls, hits the same ball on the same table, but much harder. The result of the shot is that the cue ball hits the other end of the table, bounces back so hard that it comes full table hitting the opposing rail hard. It hits the second rail hard enough that it bounces again to the end of the table that it first came from and bounces a third time.

How embarrassing it would be to have the ball flailing about. Instead of accepting, understanding and learning from the fact that the player hit the ball too hard, they save face by declaring that the cue ball obviously suffers from "snap bounce" and a new phrase is coined. How Wonderfully! The player is no longer responsible for the placement of the cue ball. It's obviously a defect in the cue ball.

After nearly 2 years of inexperienced players nailing cue ball s too hard with the same result, the manufacturer (Toyota in 1993) makes some changes. They rough up the surface of the cue ball so it no longer rolls as well. It's not quite as fast as it used to be, but the average player has more "luck" with it. Everyone is ha ppy.

When I was learning to shoot pool I had the chance to play against an exceptional player. After the second or third time I complained about where the cue ball ended up after my shot, he politely replied, "Then why did you put it there?"}

Until that moment, it never occurred to me that my actions dictated where the cue ball ended up. I merely thought I was "responsible" for where the object ball went after the cue ball contacted it and the cue ball just happened to go where it went. One of the biggest differences between a good pool player and a good shot maker is cue ball placement.

That being said, if you find yourself in fumbling in an oversteer situation, my question would be "Why did you put yourself there?"

The point is, in my opinion, snap oversteer simply does not exist. It's an invented term to explain away driver error and it tends to be unfair to the car. I'm not denying there is a unique handling to the MR2 (and some other cars), but it is something that can be learned and controlled.

An argument that frequently gets thrown back at me goes something like this, "Wouldn't you agree that the MR2 is more likely to 'snap oversteer' than a 240 SX?"

I'll reply with another metaphor:
Let's say your goal is to put nails into a wall and you are given a regular hammer to use. You get to work putting nails into the wall. After an hour, you are stopped and your hammer is taken away. In it's place you are given a full sized sledgehammer. Not knowing any better, you swing the sledgehammer the same way you were u sing the other hammer and the sledge goes right through the drywall resulting in a massive hole.

Would you now step back and say that was the sledgehammer's fault? \line It's a different tool and it should be used differently. If you drive an MR2 as if it were a 240 and you spin the car, is that a "flaw" in the MR2's design? A car, like a hammer, is just an object at rest until a person starts to use it and they are responsible for how it is used.

This past year (2005) at the SCCA's Giants Despair Hill Climb I went through an S turn at about 80+ mph, which was way too fast. The rear end started coming around on me and I started to correct. This was my first time dealing with oversteer on really wide, really sticky tires. I overcorrected and the rear came around farther than just straightening out and it slid farther, so I corrected again. I sent Hyde sailing off course like a bat out of hell. I will give you one guess who I blame for this.

I fully accept that what happened was my fault. It was driver error.

Over the past 15+ years of driving MR2s, I have lost the rear end many times. Generally it happens because of one of these reasons:

went into the turn too fast.

broke too hard while the turning motion was happening.

gave too much steering input.

got off the gas too abruptly while accelerating too hard in a turn.

did not rev-match while downshifting in a turn (or inclement weather).

 

All of those "I"s are my fault, not the car.

I have yet to spin a car in such a way that I have felt it was the car's fault. Unless something breaks or something external happens to the car, oversteer (and it's consequences) is the driver's fault. After all, who do you think is in control of the car?

The MR2 does have very different handling characteristics than a majority of cars. The problem with using the term "snap oversteer" is that it is used as either (1) an excuse for driver error or (2) to illustrate a flaw with the MR2. It's nice to blame this phenomenon on the car, but it is completely inaccurate, in my opinion. Snap oversteer is not something that happens to you, it is something you caused.

While there are performance MR2 parts that could improve your handling characteristics you still need to know how to drive the car. The more experience behind the wheel the better you will be at handling the "snap oversteer." 

Yes, the MR2's handling can be dangerous, but a gun can be as well. It's all how use it. People are responsible for what they do when they use a tool -- be it a gun or an MR2.

Snap oversteer ... centrifugal force ... Santa Claus ...
They simply don't exist.

Questions, comments and criticisms can be directed to: Jeff

 

 


Hyde "doing it right" throug the Devil's Elbow
of the 2005 SCCA Giant's Despair Hillclimb.

 

 

 

 


Kevin Tulay throwing my '85 MR2 through a turn at an 
autocross at the Hershey's Giant Center in 2005. That 
is oversteer he is controlling,that is not 'snap oversteer.'