“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” That quote from Benjamin Franklin is particularly applicable to those of us who neglected our racecars over the winter and are now dealing with all the issues that we swore we’d resolve at the end of the 2017 season. This subject may seem out of place in an article about driving trips, but the fact is, preparation affects a driver’s mental state. You don’t want to be exiting pit lane wondering, “Can I trust this car?” Similarly, making the necessary preparations prior to the race will pay dividends on the track: study maps, take notes, watch video, review data from previous events, etc. Preparation can never begin too early. The moment I arrive at the racetrack, I’m preparing for the next race while simultaneously focused on the current race.
The whole purpose of making the time and effort to be prepared in advance is to remain focused on your goal in the moment. For the most competitive drivers, that goal is to fight for the front of the pack. You’ll know who is the most prepared when you see them stand on the podium. Lack of preparation means that things will keep coming up, demanding attention and leaving no room to focus on the goal. Taking time in advance, creating a long-term plan and then executing the plan will lead to better outcomes by allowing us to focus on the details.
I recently changed a transmission between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. It forced me to stay awake until 3 a.m. bolting the car back together. This is not ideal. I’d have rather been in my hotel room watching video, analyzing data and getting rest. However, I was faced with the choice of racing or packing up and driving home. I chose to race in a compromised position. My warmup was spent focused on the transmission. Qualifying was more about getting up to speed than setting the fastest time. And I certainly was not at peak performance for the race. I thought I was prepared when I got to the track, but I had neglected checking the transmission fluid level and the drain plug. I mention this because it illustrates how things stack up very quickly. This event inspired this article.
When you are unprepared, there never seems to be enough time. With proper preparation, time becomes available and then it becomes critical to plan how that time will be used. Some may prefer to socialize and if that’s your primary goal in racing then that’s a great reason to be prepared. However, if your primary goal is to achieve peak performance, then there are a number of things that can be done with that time: download and review data and videos from the previous session; check pressures and lug nut torques; make sure there is enough fuel and fluids; make sure you are properly fed and hydrated with ample time before driving; get suited up and in the car early and go through a mental check list to verify each detail; get to grid early and visualize laps before going out on track.
One of the best race management tools I’ve found is an app called ASANA. You can use it to track projects and create task lists and checklists. As I go through my race weekend, I note items here and there that will need to be addressed: brake pads getting thin; contingency reminders; replacing any fluids or parts that are worn. I know that if I don’t keep track of every item and every thought that comes to mind in the moment, I will forget it until it becomes an issue screaming for resolution — or worse, something that takes me out of the race!
Many drivers begin packing up before the last race of the day. This is a great way to prepare for your departure. Get all the tools cleaned and put away. Pack up anything that isn’t essential for the race or for loading up. You have prepared for the race well in advance so you should have plenty of time for this. When you get home, unload and begin to prepare for the next race. Get the suit washed and bagged ASAP. Start planning projects identified during the weekend. Order consumables and parts. Set deadlines weeks before the next race. Ideally, the car and all necessities will be packed the weekend before the race. Now you have a week to take care of any last-minute items and start reviewing video and data.
Preparation takes time. There is a false belief that this time is better spent in action. An hour of proper planning can save two in execution. It also reduces unexpected delays and sourcing issues. Whatever time you spend in preparation is well worth the resulting peace of mind and clear mental state that is experienced when the green flag drops. — Joshua 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.