Driving a race car can seem like a daunting task. They tend to have adjustable everything, big wings, front splitters, funny computers and screens to give you tons of info. Oh and you are out there with 60+ other drivers with various cars and states of conditions all trying to be numero uno. And you’re right there too. So how do you go fast?
In a recent race with National Auto Sport Association’s Great Lakes Region at Mid-Ohio, I had the opportunity to engage with a ton of great drivers and students of the sport. Most of our conversations took a very technical turn with cars, setups, modifications, tire size, compound type, and yada-yada-yada. A few were about how “aggressive” I appear to be on the track and how I seem to get into all the right positions to pass faster cars.
Truth is…I am not thinking about any of that technical stuff when I am driving. Nope, nada. My brain has reverted back to some ancient section of grey matter that wants food, fire, and grunting.
Nope, none of that technical stuff really matters on track. Yes, having a car that is ready to race is important for before you arrive at the track. In the car, your job is to focus on the 3 P’s - Preparation, Practice, and Perceptual Fluency (née Performance).
Come prepared to be a DRIVER! Often we can get onto the path of being the team engineer while driving or at the track: distracted by how much air pressure is in the tires, what are the spring rates this week, how much dampening is dialed in, what about that badass new exhaust that adds 23.4 metric horsepowers, did you see that new sticker pack? If you are interested in being a team engineer, there are a ton of opportunities at the Pro and Club levels for you to explore, but that is drastically different than being a driver. Yes, as drivers, we need to be able to effectively relay information on how the car feels back to our engineers. But this comes once we get back to the pits and reflect on the data and session. It does not come while in the middle of T1 at 90 mph (until you get to the Pro levels).
But what if you are a team of 1 you ask? Keep excellent notes to review with data and video after the event. That’s when you can shed your fire suit and helmet to put on the team engineer lab coat. Use those event artifacts to setup the car for the next event. Personal experience (as an engineer) is that I am much more focused after the event and have had time to mentally decompress from the driver mode to really put in heavy brain effort to reviewing how the car performed and what I want to do about it for the next event.
So come to the track wearing your fancy fire suit, awesome-sauce helmet design, and 2 flag girls…I mean brand ambassadors…on each arm. With the car as prepared as much as possible. Keep notes of where the setup is as current state. Take good notes and video to review later. Wait to after the event before making big changes to the setup.
You paid for every inch of pavement on the track – use it! Practice the Zen of driving. Have you ever had a game of (insert some sport that you like) where everything just flowed effortlessly and it was your best game ever? I am sure everyone can recall something they were doing as a performance where the world around them melted away it and every sense was hyper focused on that performance. For every session focus on the feeling of driving. Grip of your hands on the wheel. How the pressure of the pedals feel under your feet. The throw of the shifter.
For those who find their analytical mind hard to turn off, aim your thoughts on indicators that relate to fast laps, like: verbally calling out the mph of your entry speed, mid-corner, and exit for every corner; or talk yourself though the corner in feet from braking to apex – 200, 100, 50, apex, 50, 100, 200 out; or when you can get back into 100% throttle in each turn – calling out braking zone, apex, 100% throttle.
Practice in each time you are on track to be aware of the sensations of driving on the track. Relaying this back to Preparation – mental state is clean and the one goal is to go fast. Wipe away all thoughts about setup changes and lap times (cover your timers if needed).
Perceptual Fluency – what the heck is this? Perceptual Fluency is the ease of which information is processed that influences our judgement and the operation of acquiring information and understanding through the senses.
Again, what am I thinking about once I get behind the wheel? Well…nothing specific really. My thoughts flow in and out of those indicators of a fast lap. Scanning the track in front of me, looking for flags, weaknesses in driver ahead, and gaps to attack. With quick glances down to see the mid-corner roll speed. Feeling of brake pressure coming into China Beech. Sound of the motor and how fast I can get to 100% throttle. I want to make the input of information flow effortlessly into actions on track.
Tie this all together: come prepared to be a DRIVER! For every session focus on the feeling of driving. Practice in each session to be aware of the sensations of driving on the track. To be blunt and simple – drive! Nothing more, nothing less. Your subconscious driver is the faster driver. Focus on the simple stimuli of driving and indicators of fast. Keep the conscious analytical mind away from over-reviewing distractions and let the driving happen.
About the author: Michael Gerowitz works in the automotive industry and has more than 10 years of motorsport experience, including: multiple track records, series championships and numerous podium finishes. Michael has raced, test-driven and developed vehicles with two, four and sometimes three wheels. Educated as a high school teacher and scientist, he leverages those backgrounds to mentoring up-and-coming drivers. Michael is also a leading Performance Driving Instructor for Advanced Drivers. A native of Detroit, Michigan where he began his love of all things car and motorsports at birth. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, son, and two fur children. He also enjoys contemplating about going for a run while drinking a good beer.