Q: How do I make the most of my qualifying session?
A: Qualifying requires many pieces fall into place to achieve the fastest lap, particularly when competition is tight. Tires must be at optimum pressures and temperatures, which typically occurs immediately after warm-up and lasts only a couple laps. Managing track placement is critical to ensure these initial laps are not compromised by other cars. Some etiquette is involved when multiple classes share a session, but it’s mostly up to each driver to manage his or her own laps. Finally, a capable driver knows when a lap has been compromised and immediately switches to a strategy mindset to make the most of the next lap.
Drivers should know their pace in relation to other cars on track. A warm-up session helps determine where to line up on grid. However, many drivers scrub tires or test lines and setups during warm-up so times are relative at best. Gridding with drivers who pay no attention to relative pace puts some slower cars at the front of the pack. This leads to passing in the critical early laps, which generally causes longer lap times for all involved.
Therefore, passing cars are responsible for determining whether to pass. Any compromise in the line or pace means that lap is lost. Therefore, it may be smart to hang back and allow the slower car to complete his lap unchallenged. This scenario may create a large gap in front of the following car, resulting in a clear lap after setting up for a slingshot pass on the front straight, with some benefit from a draft! The slower car would be kind to lift after the completion of his lap to assist the faster car in starting the next lap unobstructed, on pace and on line. Alternately, the faster car might slow down sufficiently to complete the next lap unobstructed. This requires plenty of room behind the faster car to create a gap without interfering with other drivers. This has the added benefit of cooling the tires and brakes for optimal performance.
Similarly, a driver who is aware of several fast cars behind him would do well to point them by on the out lap. He also may choose to place his car off-line on a hot lap so as not to obstruct other drivers. Doing so will allow the faster cars to clear away and leave open track for the next lap.
Qualifying strategy must consider the entire session. Drivers who only think lap to lap will have difficulty completing a lap without interference from traffic. The best drivers are aware of their surroundings and are able to plan and anticipate their spacing one or two laps ahead.
Joshua Allan is a driving coach from 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 PTD champion in a Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Learn more at RacerMentor.com