When a track coach begins working with an athlete, he doesn’t start by seeing how fast they can run the hurdles. Instead, he begins by working on getting them out of the blocks as fast as possible. They begin working on stance, breathing and learning to explode off the line. After the runner has mastered the start, then he will begin working on the sprinting, the hurdling and eventually the kick at the finish until it all comes together.
Why is this important to learning to drive fast? Because you can learn to achieve consistent and respectable lap times using the same technique. A common mistake beginners make is to buckle in and get out on the track and go as fast as they can with only one thing in mind: seeing how fast a lap they can turn.
A new driver attempting to get off to a good start should learn to focus on quality seat time, and this will not include turning a quick lap time. The first thing a student should consider is figuring out what specific areas he or she should work on. This could be standing starts, heel-and-toe technique, figuring out what RPM serves the most power gain when shifting, or finding the best line on a specific corner. Or all of the above.
It’s important for any good coach to teach a new student that when you have trouble with a single corner, your entire lap is going to suffer, let alone the lap time. Even a great driver knows when he messes up a corner it’s unlikely he will magically make it up. A good method for getting started is to figure out what corners need the most work and start with them.
Let’s assume the track you are going to run on has 12 turns. Start out with just four or five turns and learn to get yourself set up and find the entry point, braking point, apex and exit. Make a mental note of each one of these and consistently use the same marks every time. Try not to make any changes until you are certain you have given this a fair test. Then begin the process of carefully dissecting each part of the corner. Try braking later or slowing down on entry, turning in sooner and so on, but all the while keeping in mind you don’t have to turn in a fast lap time. As you get faster, you will begin to feel what works and what doesn’t, and before long that feeling in the seat of your pants will begin to know what works and feels right. It will be like assembling a puzzle. As all the pieces begin to fit together, you see the whole picture come into view.
The end result will be great satisfaction with the overall outcome of improved car control, and with it, less frustration. A student using these methods of training will then be able to take what they have learned on other turns and use it to help with future turns as well.
Of course there will be times when learning the best line or technique will be far more complex — for example, the esses at Sonoma Raceway — but this is when you can lean on the expertise of NASA instructors, because most of them have learned from years of racing experience.
A student who can learn to break down his or her driving technique will find faster lap times and better car control than any student who simply heads out on track to see how fast they can go. So break things down and watch the puzzle begin to complete itself.