The basics of track driving.
by Pierre Martins
Which way is the track going?
The common sense with regard to ‘looking-through-corners’ on a race track is set in the fact that the further you look ahead, the more time you allow your brain to process things that are hurtling towards you when you’re travelling at speed.
Suffice to say then - looking through corners gives you more time to react and more time to set the car up for the next piece of track coming up.
It’s the basis, the foundation, for fast track driving…
When you have no vision -
The opposite of looking through the corners is when you look just a short distance ahead in corners (say 10 to 15 meters), and always in the direction the car is travelling.
This is a common mistake made by rookie drivers and drivers who do not get track time often.
Not looking through corners will never work because when you’re at speed and you look just a short distance ahead, your brain undergoes bombardment by massive amounts of information coming towards you very fast in small increments. Subjected to this rapid-machine-gun-fire-scenario your brain works overtime trying to dodge bullets whilst processing each bit of information in quick succession. No surprise, under fire your mind will often go into overload and contradict itself when telling you what to do next.
That’s when you stop being smooth, your driving becomes erratic and nine times out of ten you scare yourself witless because things feel a lot faster than you’re actually going.
A simple demonstration -
If you double the distance that you are looking ahead, you automatically double the time you have to react. You can illustrate this to yourself by holding the palm of your right hand about six inches in front of your face. With your left hand, hold the tips of the fingers on your right hand and pull your right hand towards your face hard and release it…
He-he-he, smacked yourself in the face, did you?
Let that be a lesson for you. Now double the distance between your right hand and your face and repeat the exercise. See how easy it is to stop your right hand when you have more time to react?
The same principle applies when you approach and take corners on a race track. Generally speaking, the further you look ahead in corners, the better. As a matter of fact, looking through corners is the basis of fast track driving. All other tricks of the trade depend on your ‘looking-through-the-corners’ ability. It’s the first thing about track driving that you should learn, because nothing else will work properly if you’re not looking through the corners in the first place.
But there are problems with the concept...
Firstly, it’s not as simple and easy as it sounds. There is a right way and a wrong way to look through corners. Secondly, it is a perishable skill that requires constant reminders and practice to get it right.
Tunnel vision -
Let’s examine the first problem – the wrong way of looking through corners.
Imagine you’re travelling at speed in a tunnel and there’s a corner coming up. How would you look through that corner when the side walls of the tunnel act like blinkers on a racehorse? You can only look as far as you can see and that’s that. It’s like trying to look through a rolled up hosepipe.
Actually, looking through corners on a race track with ‘tunnel vision’ is not entirely wrong. You’re still better off than not looking through the corners at all, but there is a better systematic way of looking through corners, synchronized with the different parts of a corner.
‘Synchronized’ vision -
Race tracks are ‘open’. You’re not travelling in a tunnel. There is no need to be claustrophobic. In corners you can look in the direction you’ll be going in shortly, not the direction in which the car is presently going.
Think about the different parts of a particular corner. First, you have the approach where you do most of your braking, then the turn in point where you pitch the car into the corner, followed by the apex and exit or ‘track-out’ as some people call it. The trick of a ‘synchronized looking through the corner’ technique is to look at a specific point during each part of the corner before you get there, instead of following the track with tunnel vision as you go through the corner.
Okay here comes a corner. You reach your brake marker and step on the brake pedal. As soon as you have your braking sussed, tear your eyes away and look at the point where you want to apex the corner. As soon as you have the car turned in and heading for the apex, you should already be looking for the furthest point where you want to exit the corner on track-out, the point where you want to clip the outside curb.
The key word here is RHYTHM -
1. When you’re in the braking zone – Look at the apex.
2. Just after you’ve turned in – Look for your track-out line.
3. Before you reach the apex – Look for the exit point.
This technique requires you to look where you want to go, not the direction in which you’re going, but that shouldn’t be a problem because God gave you two eyes that can rotate from side to side in sockets and a neck for your head to pivot on so you can turn it from side to side.
Bike racers demonstrate it the best. You often see photos of world class riders in SBK and Moto-GP where, in mid corner, the rider’s head is turned 90 degrees to the direction the bike is going. It’s almost as if they’re looking at trackside spectators. They’re not. They’re looking at another part of the corner coming up…
Perhaps the reason why this is more difficult to achieve in a car is the fact that your vision in race cars is partially obstructed by things like the A-pillar, roll cages, wrap around seats and Hans devices. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying altogether.
The upside -
The nice thing about a synchronized way of looking through the corners is the amount of time it buys you. When you get it ‘right’ there will be no more panic and fighting the car through corners. On the contrary, you will be surprised how much time you have to actually drive the car.
Over-braking happens mostly when you fixate straight ahead. When your sense of self preservation kicks in you tend to slow the car down too much, but if you look away towards the apex whilst you’re still in the braking zone you’ll probably find that you’ll get off the brakes sooner.
You will also find you have more time to judge corner speeds, throttle position, slip angle and your ability to correct unexpected little slides will increase if you look way past the apex in mid corner. In the track out zone you’ll be able to focus more and time your up-shifts better.
As a matter of fact, a synchronized way of looking through corners actually makes fast track driving far more enjoyable. It buys you time to concentrate much better on the other things. You will find your rhythm sooner, making it possible to dance with the car.
The downside -
Looking in any other direction rather than the direction you’re going in is not a natural instinct.
You have to constantly fight the urge to look straight ahead and it’s all too easy to forget about looking through the corners during the opening lap when the field is all bunched up, or during the race when someone passes you and upsets your rhythm, or when you get tired towards the end of a race.
It’s especially difficult to keep your concentration when you’re sitting behind another car. You tend to fixate on the car ahead instead of looking through the corners and following your own lines.
You have to remind yourself to look through the corners continually. Well actually, reality will remind you with tell-tale signs when you lose your rhythm. The first signal that you’ve stopped looking through the corners is when you start driving like an erratic knob. Like I said, you have to continually remind yourself to look through the corners. Talk to yourself when you’re out on track or stick a small piece of duct tape in your field of vision on your windscreen as a constant reminder, or whatever...
So remember, your track driving skills depend on your ability to look through corners.
Good luck, keep your rhythm, remain smooth, dance with the car and enjoy the track...