Donuts – The Indigestible Indulgence

The Alternative Highway Code.

Donuts 1

For the purposes of this piece I will henceforth refer to the Doughnut as the Donut. I choose an American English spelling because I really do hope that this most futile of driving manoeuvres was not invented in the UK. I don’t relish the shame of inventing the Donut being shouldered by America, I just don’t want it to be shouldered by my country. Historically it seems unlikely, since it is not easy to perform in a Ford Anglia, but much easier in a Chevrolet that your Dad has ticked the big V8 option on. The name, of course, is imprecise. An Edible Donut is a Torus, a three dimensional shape. The shape defined by the Driving Donut occupies only two dimensions and is, more or less, circular – just a big zero.

Donuts 2In case you need some more precise explanation of The Donut, and believe me if you know nothing of it no shame attaches, it is this. The conventional Dry Donut needs to be performed in a car with a reasonably high power to weight ratio and with all, or at least the majority, of the drive to the rear wheels. Initial technique depends on transmission. In a manual you basically turn into a tighter circle at reasonably modest speed, declutch and yank on the handbrake to bring the back out, then release handbrake and clutch whilst flooring the throttle. In an automatic, having no clutch, you must apply the footbrake to prevent progress whilst applying throttle. If you have mastered it, by balancing throttle, steering and brakes, the rear of your car will start describing a circle with the inside front wheel staying at the centre. Already tyres and brakes are being abused and the friction starts generating heat and ultimately smoke. At the same time, your tyres are never going to spin uniformly freely, so your whole drivetrain is also bearing the strain. To keep the car from just taking off in a particular direction, you must put load on the steering box and arms. If you are successful, you can continue spinning indefinitely, or at least until your tyres catch fire, your engine explodes, you run out of fuel or you vomit. Front drivers aren’t excluded, but the process differs and ideally takes place in reverse gear with the driver looking out towards the circumference, instead of in towards the centre. It is more difficult and even sillier. A proper Dry Donut is only successful if you produce lots of tyre smoke, preferably enough to make your car disappear. Wet or Icy Donuts are easier, are less likely to damage your car and therefore fail in the all-important tyre smoke test, so are really no indication of manhood at all

Donuts 4

In the Land of Hooning, I am not without blame. I have hooned, but not with the best of them since I’ve never found enough clear and unobserved spaces to practice long enough to become really, really good. And you need to become that, because clumsy hooning is humiliating to the perpetrator and embarrassing to the observer. There are hooning manoeuvres that have grace when performed well, such as the Handbrake Turn and, in instances, its more difficult reverse cousin the J Turn. but there is something intrinsically wrong with the Donut. Like the culinary delight that lends its name, it is cheap, basic and too many of them make you sick. YouTube is full of people performing Donuts – they all look foolish.

My disappointment increases at the number of motorsport professionals who indulge themselves with what is often referred to as a ‘crowd-pleaser’. Why are we pleased to watch an often highly paid young man abusing his great skill by trashing tyres, suspension components and driveshafts and ending up in the same place he started? I suppose it’s the same glee some had at the supposed naughtiness of a Sixties fledgling rock god smashing up his guitar or drum kit. They think it is anarchic, but of course it isn’t. Today, Donuts are at risk of becoming obligatory in Formula 1 and, although Vettel’s reprimand caused some bogus controversy last year, they are obviously sanctioned by his employers, with the additional work for the mechanics factored in from the PR budget. In fact, maybe one of those many pre-programmed functions on the wheel of a Red Bull is actually labelled ‘Donut’.

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When did the Donut arrive in the highest echelons of motorsport? Jean Alesi was doing them in 2001 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, but I would like to believe that Gilles himself, despite his willingness to brutalise a car in his attempts to win a race, would not have indulged. As for the likes of people such as Jim Clark and Alain Prost, whose smoothness and mechanical sympathies are well documented, such actions would surely be have been unthinkable, and I’m sure that the shy Clark, in particular, would have found such a crude display abhorrent. He would have recognised that Donuts are not an expression of joie de vivre, a celebration of breaking free from the tyranny of friction. They are just the charioteer whipping his horses until they bleed and the guy who woos the crowd with the stench of melting tyres and the screech of a tortured drivetrain one Sunday will be sulking in a corner of his pit two weeks later, when things haven’t gone so well.

Out in the real world, where people thrash their own cars round in endless circles, I get the idea that these folk just don’t really get cars the same way I do. I assume that many of them have the technical knowledge to know that what they are doing risks ageing components by 60,000 miles in a few seconds, but they carry on. The Donut shows neither respect or sympathy for engineering. It is the musician who keeps playing the wrong note and doesn’t seem to care. It is your mate who thinks it is really funny when he makes a long, loud, stinking fart. It is the hyper-active kid in his playpen banging his toy against the wall until the head falls off.

Donut? Just Don’t!

Donuts 3

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