What’s the most effective way to achieve faster lap times?
There is no silver bullet to bring big gains in performance. One driver benefits from being smoother while another gains with quicker inputs. Practicing alternate lines also can yield faster laps. Of course, data analysis is fundamental to pick up speed and time. Nonetheless, the most common limiting factor is how a driver uses his eyes.
You can’t get around the track without your eyes. You look for references on the track, for traffic, for passing opportunities, etc. Yet do you pay attention to where you direct your eyes? Ask yourself how far ahead do you look? How long do you focus on one reference before moving to the next? Generally, drivers don’t look far enough ahead.
This has consequences in speed and safety. A driver not looking through the corner may be surprised by debris or a spun car. A driver caught in the heat of battle may focus on the car ahead and miss the yellow flag while attempting a pass. This is extremely dangerous, leads to disqualification and draws the ire of organizers as well as fellow competitors.
Shallow vision also leads to target fixation when the unexpected happens. When the brain is caught by surprise, it tends to focus on the danger rather than look for exit routes. Give your mind advance notice to formulate a strategy. The same is true of the brake reference, turn-in, apex and exit. When drivers fixate on the turn-in and apex, the exit is a craps shoot. Those who frequently put wheels off typically suffer from apex fixation.
So how does a driver overcome this shortcoming? By slowing down and deliberately practicing moving his visual focus further down the track while expanding his peripheral vision to check for references and ensure he’s on-line. Before reaching the brake reference, look to the turn-in. Before turn-in, look to the apex. Before apex, look to the exit. With practice, you should be able to trace an arc on the track surface with your eyes a few seconds ahead such that your hands will follow.
In fact, this is a technique that can be practiced on the street so that it becomes second nature on the track. When you’re driving down the freeway, keep your visual focus several car lengths ahead and shift your mental focus to identify features around you: a road sign, a tree, a blue car. Can you identify the make or model without looking directly at it? Look through corners and use your peripheral to scan your placement in the lane. When you master this skill, you will become a safer, faster driver. Remember: Eyes up brings anxiety down; anxiety up brings eyes down.
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 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