Nothing beats seat time when it comes to improving as a driver, but there are still plenty of ways we can improve over the long offseason. Here we will breakdown what our pro coaches at Racers360 do during the offseason to continue improving and hit the ground running in the new year!
The number one thing drivers can work on during the offseason is visualization. These mental reps can do wonders for any driver, but they must be done right! When done right, this is extremely taxing mentally and it is very common for drivers initially to “lose focus” and have to repeat what they were trying to visualize a few times over, but that is part of building that mental strength and endurance.
So, how do you visualize correctly? The very first step is we want to try and include all of our senses in the visualizing process. We don’t want to just see it, but we want to practice what it will sound like, what it will feel like, even what it smells like. The closer we can really get to the real environment the more powerful the visualization becomes.
The next step is for us to think about what are we going to visualize? Visualizing just any typical lap is not the helpful, we need to be visualizing perfect techniques and that lap that we want to be able to execute on when we are out there. As they say, “perfect practice makes perfect.” This is actually going to be tougher than you think. When you get tired or are not visualizing with intense focus, you will notice you can easily fall back into visualizing the same mistakes you are making in real life. When that starts to happen, allow yourself to reset and get back to visualizing what you want to be executing on.
Because this can be so tough mentally, you don’t need to spend an hour visualizing straight. Give yourself breaks and try it a few times during the day or as you lay down in bed at night. When you do your sessions you can also switch it up. Do you have one corner that you really struggle with? Well you can just replay how you want to tackle it next time you are out there, over and over again.
The ultimate test for how well you can visualize is to time your visualized lap. The best pro drivers can start a timer as they start their “visualized” lap and be nearly spot on their real-life lap times as they go through the lap in their minds. Try it out and see how close you can get and let us know!
The final step here, which is more for the racers reading this article, is you can visualize things beyond just the on the track activities. Race weekends can be really tiring and often we are exhausted before the race even starts! A lot of the time, especially for the bigger events like the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, I would visualize the whole weekend. What am I doing between sessions, what meetings do I need to go to, what am I doing before I hop in the car? All of this helps the whole weekend run smoother and when you run through your visualization of the weekend, focus on finding times throughout the weekend to relax and switch the brain and body off. When you can do it ahead of time it makes it much easier to actually do during the race weekend!
This will all keep you fresh throughout the race weekend which is a very underrated advantage once the racing really starts!
Studying Those Perfect Lines Or Techniques
The offseason is the perfect opportunity for us to take some time off and focus on fundamentals. There are a lot of great resources out there, especially on YouTube, to help us improve. But, sorting through the quality information from all of the rest can be extremely time consuming, so at Racers360 we did the hard part for you.
Our brand new Driver’s Lounge is designed to be the perfect tool for all drivers to use during the offseason. We have track breakdowns and written notes to over 30 racetracks — more coming soon — and we have gone through YouTube and curated what we called “approved onboard videos” to over 50 racetracks throughout the U.S. In this section we found videos from all different types of cars, that are well-driven laps, that you can be confident in using to study to set yourself up for correct visualizations at any track you may be going to.
In this we also have exclusive access to recordings of all our webinars and occasional discounts to our personalized coaching services. This is totally a shameless plug, but we have spent a lot of time and will continue to invest more time to make this the perfect hub for any driver interested in improving. The best part is it is only $100 a year! If you want to find out more click here.
Whether you are using our resources or others to study onboard laps, make sure you look at more than just the racing lines the driver is using. Pay closer attention to the sounds of the throttle, when are they picking it up? When do they get back to full throttle?
Look at the braking zones as well. How fast or hard does the front nose snap down in the braking zone? Are they hitting any curbs? If they are, think about why they are doing so and if it will help you as well. Use all of this information you are studying and put it back into the visualization process we spoke about above!
I know, I know, I can see a lot of you rolling your eyes at this one already, but please keep reading because it will actually turn into the single most important skill to help you turn the improvements you are visualizing to real-life improvements!
I have been lucky enough during my career to go and learn from some of the very best trainers in the world. Throughout many trips to Formula Medicine, a mental and physical training facility for top-level racecar drivers (they work with many Formula 1 and DTM drivers) the number one thing we consistently focused on was forms of meditation. As I improved on this I saw not only improvement in all the mental tests they put drivers through but also saw improvements in my qualifying performances and ability to “find the zone.”
Meditation is not some strange act that you see in the movies, you can simply do this by finding a quiet space, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. We want to do something that we can square breathing, here is a great article discussing what this and why we want to do it: https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing. Ultimately it has four simple parts to it
The purpose of this technique is really two-fold. First, it brings a lot of calm to your body and mind. Secondly, it brings your focus inward and that is where we find the zone. Its purpose is to fully clear your mind of any outside thoughts so you can be fully in the moment and focus on the task at hand to the exclusion of everything else.
The final tool we can use during the offseason to improve is simulators. Now, not everyone has one or access to one so we won’t go too deeply into this. If you have one or can use one make sure you use it correctly. Just like we spoke about in visualization it is “perfect practice that makes perfect” and simulators can easily create bad habits. But, when used well they are a powerful tool.
Bringing It All Together
When the season starts to ramp up again how do we bring this all together? Ahead of your race weekends you will want to start treating your visualization sessions or simulator sessions like how you will treat your real-life sessions, which means spending some time to focus in on your breathe and quiet your mind ahead of those activities.
So, before you visualize spend 3 – 5 minutes doing your meditation, and then spend 5 – 10 minutes visualizing or 30 minutes – 1 hour on the simulator at a time. If you can’t do something for that length of time don’t worry. Get your meditation in and do the other activities as long as you can.
When you get to the track timing of the above techniques become more important and this is often the area where most drivers go a little bit wrong. At the track visualization is important but this is where meditation becomes even more critical.
Visualization is great for us to do in advance of a weekend or a session but at a certain point we need to switch our mental state from, “what do I want to execute on this session” to “in the moment, on the task at hand, to the exclusion of everything else.” This means at a certain point we need to actually stop visualizing and focus on meditation. This process is a little bit different for anyone, so all I can do here is tell you what works well for me.
If I have an hour or more until my next session I will spend time visualizing the things I want to execute on for the next on-track session. When I am about 30 – 45 minutes away from being on track I go and look for a quiet area where I can be alone. That is where I spend 3 – 5 minutes (longer if I feel I need to and have the time to do so) to focus on my meditation. At this point, it is no longer time to visualize. You should have done that work already, you should know the changes you want to make, now it is time to just go out there and do it.
When drivers are still visualizing as they put their helmets on they often end up in a mental space where they are consciously driving, which is not where we want to be. That is not where you are in the “zone”. When you are putting your helmet on or are sitting in the car, it’s time to clear your mind and just go out there and execute.
The more you practice this the easier it will become to find your own “zone” and eventually you will even be able to readjust mentally while you are on track. Often times during a long stint I may make a mistake or something may happen that can get in my head, but because of the meditation practice I can take a breath down the straightaway and get my mind back to where it needs to be. I can only do that because I practiced constantly finding the zone outside of the car though!
The offseason is a fantastic time to work on hitting the ground running and taking your driving to the next level in 2020! We would love to help you do that in any way we can, so if you have any questions on how Racers360 can help you during this offseason please email us anytime at [email protected]!