One thing that is difficult to do throughout a racing season is staying sharp between races. Usually your first race in a long time may take a few sessions to really regain your bearings and be able to drive your car to its limits. Not being able to test or run many races throughout the year has always been a struggle for me, and I know for many others. With track time being so precious, there are a few things you can do to keep your skills sharp to be ready for your next event.
I believe the number one thing you can do is spend time on a racing simulator between racing events. Whether it’s a console game or a top-of-the-line simulator like iRacing.com, they can help you maintain your driving skill. Practicing on the simulator a few times a week will absolutely keep your racing skills fresh in your mind. With track time and test days being so expensive, for the money you cannot beat a racing simulator. My favorite is iRacing.com. I believe it provides the most realistic racing simulation experience for the best price. With a wide range of cars available and great selection of tracks, iRacing really does a great job of making it as realistic as possible.
The tracks are laser scanned so developers can make the tracks feel as authentic as possible. Having driven on tracks in the game and in real life, I must say they do an amazing job simulating the real thing. For less than the price of a test day on the track, you can buy a very nice setup like a Logitech G27 steering wheel. The kit includes a force-feedback steering wheel that simulates the steering feel of a real racecar very well, giving you the feeling of understeer and driving on rumble strips. Throw in the H pattern shifter and gas, brake and clutch pedals for the money you can’t beat a setup like this. With a diverse selection of racecars like a Formula One car, NASCAR or an MX-5 Cup car, it really helps you practice different skill sets. For instance, driving a Formula One car will help you practice your reaction time by catching a loose racecar or an MX-5 Cup car will help you practice your consistency and driving a momentum racecar. Also to go with all this, racing side-by-side with other competitors online will help you practice your race craft as well.
Another way to stay sharp in between races is to visit your local indoor or outdoor karting track. There’s no better way to practice your skills than to be behind the wheel of a racecar. So racing a go kart is absolutely the next best thing to give you the seat-of-the-pants feeling behind the wheel. Attending a kart track with friends or by yourself is a great way to maintain your race craft with there being a lot of wheel to wheel racing.
There are even a few ways you can practice your racing skills while driving a street car. A few things I love to do while driving every day is practice my left foot braking. I try to brake using only my left foot to make it feel instinctive to use my left foot to brake so it feels a lot more natural in my racecar. One thing I felt was always hard to do in a racecar is left-foot brake, so practicing it every day will make it feel more natural. You will learn to brake with your left foot effectively, without thinking too hard about it, which would always ruin my concentration and my run out of the corner. Also heel-and-toe downshifting is something I also practice every day and it helps me downshift as smoothly as possible, so when I hop into my racecar that is not something I have to relearn for a session or two.
Now the best thing you can do to stay sharp between races is to test. Even though those tests might be very expensive, they may be worth it. Because not only do they keep you fresh as a driver, but you also can figure out if your car is not handling or driving well prior to a race weekend. Giving yourself time to fix any problems prior to a race weekend.
Kyle Loustaunau is the winner of the 2014 Mazda Club Racer Shootout. He is currently racing professionally in the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup series.