Any good driver will tell you that you can only go genuinely fast when you are in a calm state of mind, and in rhythm to the flow of the track. Knowing your way around a circuit comes with time spent on it, but endlessly circling without breaking it down into its key elements isn’t going to lead to rapid progression.
So how do you become a calmer driver when the scenery is rushing at you so quickly?
What’s needed is to take the guesswork out of the equation, and this is where reference points, or landmarks, become crucial. There are four to identify for each corner: braking, turn in, apex, and exit. Learning to recognise them is a skill as important as being able to drive to them, and driving to them is the key to precision. Precision is the key to speed.
As an amateur driver you might only spend a small proportion of your time in a race car, and when you do venture out on track it can feel overwhelmingly fast. Landmarks help in processing all the information you are receiving, and build confidence that you are putting the car in the right place.
How do you set about deciding what your brake, turn-in, apex and exit points actually are? In an ideal world it will be done in conjunction with a coach, and a video data logging system. The advantage this gives is the ability to see precisely where the instructor has determined these reference points are, and can explain them. Once you have them set, you can drive a benchmark lap time before trying small alterations to the line to see if improvements can be made. Once familiar, the aim is to not look directly at the landmarks, but to pick them up in your peripheral vision – otherwise you won’t be looking far enough ahead.
A video logging system like the VBOX HD makes this process straightforward thanks to the clarity of the image, backed up with GPS data. Nigel Greensall, instructor and racing driver with vast experience, says: “The aim is to avoid overcomplicating the process of driving. ‘Landmarking’ the circuit relaxes the driver, and having the video means we can do this in the garage without me giving the instruction to them out on track whilst they’re concentrating on everything they have to do. Once we’ve done this I’ll ask my student to go out and drive more slowly, concentrating solely on hitting these targets – and they’ll often end up actually going faster. We want to reduce the workload he feels, so that the car is at its limit but the driver isn’t.”
He has further advice: “I find that turn-in, apex, and exit points hardly change – even from car to car. Braking is obviously the most variable, but can be managed by assessing the conditions and the car’s capabilities first, along with your prior knowledge of it. Braking hard in a straight line when there’s no one around you allows you to get a feel for this before determining your brake points.” It’s also vital to ensure that the landmarks you select are permanent: there’s no point choosing a shadow across the track, or a support vehicle on the other side of the Armco that is there for qualifying but not during the race.
Nigel has mentally catalogued most of the reference points he needs for each circuit based on years of racing, but can’t expect his students to do so: “We can create a visual record from each circuit now, and with the HD video it gives us a very high level of detail and precision. For instance: I find that in just about every car I’ve ever driven around Silverstone, the turn-in point for Stowe corner is just at the end of the rumble strip on the left side of Hangar Straight. Using the laps I’ve filmed, it’s easy to make the amateur see that he might not be driving to the correct landmarks: perhaps he is braking too soon. Generally speaking, braking early leads to turning early. Because it is so easy to see this in the video, the student can apply the changes I want him to make as he can watch me doing it, over and over again. The realisation dawns when they see that driving to the landmarks makes everything so much easier.”
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