Track Day 101 Edition #4 - High Performance Driving Tips and Tricks to Shave Seconds off your Lap Times
Now that you're up to speed, here are some helpful tips to take seconds off your lap times while developing the right driving habits.
Track Day 101 Edition #4
For our fourth edition, we want to provide you with some tips and tricks on how to shave seconds off those lap times. In our last edition we focused on getting up to speed safely. After your first few track days have been completed successfully and hopefully without any major off track excursions, it’s time to start looking for ways to improve your speed. As you continue to work up your pace here are some things to keep in mind that are good driving habits to develop.
Oftentimes the message being pushed is “the later you brake the faster your lap time will be”. The idea being that if you’re full speed for the longest amount of time as possible it will lead to faster laps. This is only true to an extent. Yes, being on throttle as long as you can is the right idea. But if it forces you to overdrive the entry and miss the apex then oftentimes you will find out that you’re losing lap time. Especially when tackling hair pin corners that lead on to another straight away.
So the key is finding the balance of driving your car in deep to a brake zone without compromising the exit of the next corner. Those with Garmin’s or AiM Solo’s have probably seen this before, but if you brake really late you may end up gaining time and your AiM might reflect that with a few green dots. But if the driver over shoots the entry and has to spend time waiting to return to throttle on exit, then those green dots will disappear and suddenly multiple red dots will appear. Every driver's worst nightmare.
Something not always discussed is the point in which you come off the brake pedal. This can be just as important as when you get on it. When a driver releases brake pressure he is feeling that the car is stable and pointed in the right direction to begin rolling on the throttle. This point is super important and oftentimes you’ll find the best drivers have an earlier release point than your average joe. The sooner you’re on throttle the more time you’re going to make up at the end of the straight.
During your track day, always work up to it and slowly move your brake point one marker or half a marker at a time until you find yourself missing the apex and entry. Then back it up the next lap to find the sweet spot. We often use the phrase “smooth and slow on entry to make it up on exit” when it comes to tight corners that lead on to long sections. The sooner you can get to full throttle on exit the better as long as you’re not sliding the car too much on exit.
That phrase doesn’t always apply to corners with a medium radius, short brake zone, or no brake zone that might require just a lift. We tend to think of these as corners where you want to maximize entry speed as much as possible. Minimum corner speed is a word used by a lot of driver coaches when reviewing data. What’s your minimum speed entering a corner? Although not all of us have fancy data machines you can still focus on rolling speed into a corner by feeling it through the seat of your pants. Those of us that have ever done karting or been to an indoor kart track know it’s all about entry speed and pushing the kart into corners to keep your momentum up.
These types of corners at road courses will sometimes involve a bit of bravery. You’re putting the car right on the ragged edge of losing grip when rolling into the corner. Perfecting the art of driving a car at its limit can take time and lots of practice. We always emphasize working up to this. Don’t go flying into a corner without progressively pushing the car a little more each lap. You don’t want to have a big snap moment that sends you sliding off into the grass or worse.
Focus on getting the car slowed enough but not too much and then put an emphasis on how soon you can get back to throttle. Oftentimes in longer radius corners you might need to hold a maintenance throttle. If the car starts to step out in the rear then slowly bring that foot back to a lesser amount of throttle. But try and stop your natural reaction from wanting to lift all the way off the gas which brings us to our next tip.
Weight transfer is a big key in high performance driving. Your feet are what controls where the weight moves. If you touch the brakes you send weight forward. You take your foot and move it over to the throttle then you're sending weight backwards. For each of these actions you want to do them in a smooth manner. Jump on the gas too hard and you’ll find yourself doing a Tokyo Drift. Stab the brakes too hard and you might find yourself locking up your front tires with little to no control of your steering. These applications need to be done with finesse. The paddock mumbo-jumbo is “slow hands, slow feet”. If a car is working properly then you shouldn’t need to be jumping on and off the gas. Resist the urge to be throttle stabby.
Moving to our last point for this edition, we will talk about your hands and your eyes. Your hands are the extension of your eyes and they act based on your vision. In our favorite book The Art of Racing in the Rain, author Garth Stein says “the car goes where the eyes go”. Basic drivers ed can teach you this as well if you had a good instructor growing up. You always want to be looking ahead of you. If you’re looking 20 feet in front of you at the apex curb then your eyes are too far behind. You want your vision to be focused around your next point you’re heading to. If you’re flying down the straight then it’s your brake zone marker you should be looking at. If you’re at the apex then it’s your exit point you should be looking at. The mind will tell the hands to take you to that point if you’re looking at it. So avoid having shallow tunnel vision and pick those eyes up.
When it comes to your hands it’s important to keep things smooth. If you turn in too hard with too much implementation the car will want to push itself off the track. After a certain point, if you turn the wheel too far you are actually limiting the contact patch of the tire which will reduce overall grip. On corner exit, if you’re pinching the wheel too much the rear of the car will become overloaded and create a snap oversteer and potentially lead to a spin. Turn in smoothly and slowly and the car will have grip to make the apex. Then open up your hands and let the car use all of the available track surface on exit. This will keep your momentum up and aid in traction for high hp cars.
Although there is a plethora of insightful driving tips, this hopefully provided you with some good habits to consider and hopefully try to implement when hitting your next track event.