Q: How do I make the most of my off-season?
A: With the racing season over, some drivers winterize their cars while others are preparing them for the 2018 season. Yet how many drivers are sharpening their skills through the winter? There are many ways to prevent getting rusty for the first event of 2018. Better still, we can prepare for a return to the track stronger than ever.
Reading is important to a driver’s development. Some say, “I can’t read my way to faster lap times.” Yet, reading provides experience when not behind the wheel. My top picks are “Going Faster” by Carl Lopez and the “Speed Secrets” series by Ross Bentley. “Going Faster” is the bible on driving theory, racing lines and race craft. It’s the definitive reference for drivers and great for long winter nights. “Speed Secrets” is like a cliff notes version of “Going Faster.” It distills critical lessons into easy to digest bites while also giving invaluable insights into important concepts.
Visualization is equally important. Studies show how visualization can be nearly as effective for learning as having a real-life experience. Either will develop and strengthen neural pathways. Visualization can occur in a number of ways: remembering past experiences, planning and mentally executing a desired experience or watching videos and studying track maps. The technique is as simple as reading and imagining the scenes from the page. Close your eyes and imagine a full practice session. Start from the grid and imagine driving out on track. Think of the references and lines at the same rates is you would be driving past them in real life.
Visualization itself requires practice. It helps prepare as pre-race “practice” as well as post-race review. Visualize starting from a grid position with alternate start scenarios depending on possible actions of your competitors. Visualize making passes and defending lines. Imagine alternate driving lines and potential consequences. And when you finish, visualize your perfect lap. Review the moments that shaved off time as well as successful passes. Replay mistakes and learn to do it differently.
Last but not least, simulations are a great way to keep your skills sharp, learn tracks and develop driving and race craft techniques. Gran Turismo, Forza, Assetto Corsa and iRacing are the most realistic simulators available. All except Gran Turismo are available for a home PC. Logitech offers great wheels and pedals for the budget conscious. Fanatec offers more accurate feel for a premium price. Check out CXC Simulations for the ultimate simulator experience. Regular practice on any simulator will lead to gains in real life.
We all choose to race for different reasons: fun, competition, camaraderie. Whatever your reason, you will find that you get out of it what you put in. By investing the time between races, you will reap dividends in reduced lap times and the satisfaction of hard work paying off.
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 [email protected].