This is part II of an ongoing series, part one can be found here:
Once you’re at the track your responsibilities are: 1) be safe, 2) have fun, 3) get faster, and 4) be safe. The first thing you’re going to have to work on to both be safe and get faster is your vision. When you first get on track you will be overwhelmed by all the sensations and inputs, we need to get you down to just being whelmed.
The car goes where your eyes are looking. Look where you want to go.
As humans, we aren’t intuitively used to going fast. The fastest people can sprint just over 20mph and if you could average just over 13mph you could run a 2hr marathon. So, the farthest ahead humans have to look while on foot isn’t particularly far, but on track you’ll see average speeds of 60mph or more with peak speeds often in the triple digits. You will have to train yourself to look farther down track just to keep up. Typical human reaction times are about 0.2s, so anything that happens within 0.2s of you is unavoidable. You have to look at least 2 car lengths ahead just to outpace your own reaction time.
The farther ahead you look, the more time you’ll have to process, plan, and execute maneuvers (same thing applies on the street too). The first step is to raise your vision and literally expand your horizon. As a side benefit, the farther ahead you look, the greater your field of view will be. By looking farther ahead you’ll also see more of the track. When you come to a corner, you’ll have to shift your vision and look through the corner. You want to always be looking towards the next section of track (even in traffic you’ll want to look past the car in front of you and see the track ahead). You will find yourself looking out your side windows at multiple points around the track, that’s a good sign!
Once you start looking far enough ahead, the corners will seem to move towards you more slowly and you’ll start to have enough time to breathe. You will be able to stop reacting to the track and start being able to plan out your moves. This is your first step towards becoming fast and it will help you drive in a more controlled, predictable manner (which is safer). Looking ahead is one of those things that is simple and sounds easy but takes effort to achieve. You’ll have to actively practice looking ahead.
The next step is to notice the flag stations. The good news is that they don’t typically move and once you learn where to look to see them, you just have to practice looking at them until it becomes second nature. Glancing at the corner stations will become part of your routine for those sections of track and you will find yourself looking to them subconsciously after awhile. For most clubs, the flags are the only way to communicate with a driver on track. They are your lifeline, early warning system, and alarm clock all in one. Warm-up and cool-down laps are great times to practice looking at the corner stations.
The last part of vision is learning to use your mirrors. Trackdays are a team sport. Everyone out on the track is working together to have a good time and stay safe. One of the keys to both is keeping an eye on your mirrors for faster cars and drivers. Your goal should be to never hold up anyone else, and when faster drivers catch you you should see them coming and give them a point-by at the very earliest allowed passing zone. No one gets upset about slower drivers who are good with point-bys. Sure, it’s frustrating to catch someone on a great lap; however, as long as they are quick with the point-by you won’t (or at least shouldn’t) hold it against them.
You should be constantly scanning your surroundings. Your eyes should move from area to area and never linger on one spot or object for any significant amount of time. Don’t stare at apexes, don’t fixate on the lead car’s bumper, and don’t look at the wall. Take it all in and maintain a full 360 degree awareness at all times. If you’ve got good vision, nothing will be a surprise and you’ll be driving the track instead of just driving on the track.