Proper vision techniques can have the greatest benefit to a driver’s lap times. They also can be difficult to develop or change. Developing vision techniques for the track requires deliberate focus on how vision is used, and conscious effort to change. Drivers benefit by training their eyes to look farther down the track while mentally scanning their peripheral vision.
When drivers look just past the hood of their car, I call this shallow vision. They are thinking only one step ahead of their current action: when braking, they focus on turn-in. At turn-in, focus is on the apex. At the apex, they focus on the exit. Shallow vision leads to fixation on reference points, taking action at that point and then looking for the next reference. It feels like things are moving very quickly and the driver is using all his capacity to stay one step ahead. This also requires the driver maintain a margin of safety to account for unforeseen events and changing conditions.
Drivers looking and thinking two or three steps ahead exhibit deep vision: while braking, they look to the apex and exit to find the ideal speed and turn-in. At turn-in, they look to the exit to determine the brake release, steering input and then throttle application to maximize midcorner and exit speed. At apex, they are looking down the straight or to the next corner to set up while scanning for flags and traffic. By looking farther ahead, drivers plan the steps needed to achieve a desired result and account for changing conditions more effectively. They keep a smaller margin of safety because they can adapt early and avoid potential off-track excursions. They also minimize loss of speed and time.
Addressing The Problem
When coaching, I know a driver has poor vision when he frequently puts wheels off the track or has abrupt inputs and constant corrections below the grip limit. This driver oscillates around the ideal driving line while varying the cornering load. This keeps the car in a transitional state, which is imbalanced and artificially reduces available grip. As he pushes harder, he turns in early and over-slows the car. Drivers with proper vision technique are smooth and fast and their inputs and driving lines remain consistent even as their speed increases. These drivers maintain a constant cornering load by making micro-adjustments to account for small changes in grip at the limit. The car remains in a state of balance and provides maximum grip.
Drivers may struggle to maintain deep vision, and shallow vision reduces their ability to evaluate their position on track relative to their references. A fast driver must have the ability to maintain visual focus on the desired driving line and switch mental focus rapidly to evaluate whether he is actually following the desired line and determine what actions need to be taken to follow that line.
Fortunately, this skill can be practiced on the road. On larger roads and freeways, practice looking far ahead, even looking through cars. Fix your visual focus straight ahead and practice identifying other vehicles, road signs, vegetation, buildings, etc. On rural roads, practice identifying potential hazards (children, pedestrians, animals, etc.). Identify shapes and colors as well as road signs while maintaining your visual focus. What is the number on the speed-limit sign? What about make or model of vehicles around you? The challenge is to keep your visual focus on your path and scan your peripheral vision with mental focus. It’s also good to practice on curvy roads and clover-leaf on/off ramps. Look two to three seconds ahead and mentally scan your position in relation to the white lines and the edges of the road.
When you’re on the track, find references that can be strung together to create a curve. Some drivers talk about “sight pictures” where the cue is a mental snapshot in time rather than a single reference point. It can also be helpful to have two references in your line of sight such that you line them up like the sights on a gun. It’s important to find references that trigger correct and consistent action and keep you on the desired path. It’s best to have multiple references that define a curved path and can be identified in your peripheral vision or directly in the line of sight. Avoid fixating your visual focus on any reference.
The effects of proper vision are cumulative. Good vision leads to smoother inputs. Smoother inputs lead to a more balanced car. A more balanced car has better grip, which allows more speed. More speed requires maintaining proper vision techniques. Keep in mind: Anxiety up = eyes down. Eyes up = anxiety down. — Josh Allan
A mechanical engineer and driving coach, Joshua Allan has worked in the design offices of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and has been a vehicle development driver for Maserati in Italy. He is a five-time Performance Touring National Champion in a Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Send questions for future articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.