My driver training career began within the motor manufacturing industry, teaching engineers how to be safe when driving at speed on test tracks evaluating vehicles. In order for a test driver or engineer to be safe at speed, and have the mental capacity to critique and evaluate dynamic changes in vehicle components, they have to be disciplined.
Imagine you have 5 sets of springs and dampers to evaluate on a vehicle over the course of a day, perhaps you may have 6 evaluation criteria to score. Ride comfort, roll rates, understeer, steering response – the list can be long and varied. If each time you drive a lap, your speed varies or your line alters you will find it very difficult to evaluate the change in the components. Is it the component that has changed the dynamic characteristics of the vehicle you are driving, or is it the test engineers driving technique?
A test engineer has to have the ability to drive “Robotically”, consistently, making accurate and minimized inputs on the controls to enable a consistent test result.
Let’s transpose that thought to your laps on a track day, the analogy is not as far away from what you are trying to achieve as you might think! Having worked on the key areas of your technique, you may well find yourself circulating quickly, enjoying the experience, and feeling elated at your new found speed and consistency. Your objective may not be to evaluate your vehicles set up, but you do share a common goal with the test engineer – that being: to drive at your vehicles limit of adhesion and not have an accident. Perhaps now is a good time to talk about discipline and self control.
We have all met him, including me – that little demon who sits on your shoulder on a track day urging you to drive just that little bit faster into the next turn. Or perhaps, brake just that little bit later at the end of the straight. The demon is a random thinker, unstructured and reactive to speed, unclear of his abilities, he never knows when he is at risk of an accident until he is in it. He lives on a diet of adrenalin and fear and will do anything he can to drive you into the gravel trap. But don’t worry, there is an antidote to his influences: it is quite simply discipline. Introduce this mystical power into your driving technique and the demon evaporates away.
There are always features on a lap that you can use to tag your speed: RPM and braking points; and acceleration points should also be monitored. Use your peripheral vision to acknowledge the scenery as you pass it to add structure to your references. Imagine you have driven a tidy line around each corner for the last 15 laps and achieved a speed that necessitates you drive that line in order to stay on the circuit. If you now make an error and perhaps deviate from that optimum line you may well now be driving in to a problem.
We sometimes forget the basics and focus on the demons advice. Yes you may be able to brake a metre later or carry an extra 5 mph into a corner, but ask your self a simple question, are you building your speed from a disciplined bench mark? If you have achieved “Grip Limit” through a corner, then look for the next corner you have not. Don’t keep pushing for speed if the tyres are howling and you are understeering off of the line you have steered. I have raised this point because it is an area I am consistently working on with new circuit drivers. The advice seems obvious when viewed in print but not always when lapping the Handling Circuit at Millbrook.
In summary “the nearer you get to grip limit the less opportunity you have of correcting a mistake”. Add structure to your lap and be disciplined with your approach to speed, and don’t forget to enjoy the pay off: safety at speed and the satisfaction of knowing how you achieved it.