Q: I struggle with turning consistently fast laps during a race, how can I improve that?
A: Many factors affect lap consistency throughout a race. The biggest influencers are tire temperatures and pressures as well as driver fatigue and traffic. Of secondary importance are ambient conditions and fuel load. Track conditions are also critical, but are generally unpredictable, considering how grip changes as cars lay down rubber, kick up dirt, drop oil, etc. For our purposes, we’ll focus on what we can control: driver consistency, managing traffic and managing tires.
Managing tires requires experience in learning how specific tires generate heat on a specific car with a specific setup. It is important to test with a pyrometer and pressure gauge to observe how temperatures and pressures change over time. Homing in on an ideal pressure is pretty straightforward when setting up for a few quick qualifying runs. However, things are more complicated over a race distance. Tire pressures and temperatures rise throughout the race, which is important to consider when planning a race strategy. Running higher pressures at the start will provide better performance at the beginning of a race to get in front and stay in front. Alternately, running lower pressures initially requires keeping pace at the start in order to have maximum performance at the end of a race when others are struggling.
Additionally, driver fatigue is easy to dismiss. We hardly notice it when we’re in the car and the adrenaline is running, only to feel exhausted and dehydrated after we leave impound. Proper hydration throughout the day is critical. Furthermore, a regular workout routine will improve general fitness to reduce the impact of going a race distance. A driver who can complete a race in the same physical and mental state in which he began will be able to maintain a consistent line and pace, adapt to changing conditions and make better decisions in traffic.
Driving in traffic can be the most critical factor for drivers. Racing for position always sacrifices lap-times because it requires compromising lines and cornering speeds to set up and execute passes. It takes a great deal of strategy and patience to avoid racing for position when doing so could jeopardize a win or podium. For example, while second and third place are fighting each other, the leader pulls away by executing flawless, uncontested laps. It’s important to choose when to work together with your competitors to be in a better position at the end of the race. Furthermore, managing lapped traffic is an art and science in itself: Knowing when to ease up vs. being aggressive. Managing traffic will be covered in subsequent articles. — Joshua Allan
Joshua Allan is a driving coach living in California. A mechanical engineer, Allan has worked in the design offices of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and has been a vehicle development test driver for Maserati in Italy. He is a five-time champion in a PTD Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Learn more at RacerMentor.com