The Basics of Driving A Race Car Fast
After spending a lifetime driving as fast as possible for a living as well as operating a racing school for the past several years, I guess I am qualified to provide my opinion on this.
We spend a lot of time in our school ensuring that our drivers learn the importance of technique in all aspects of driving the car. Like most other sporting endeavors, if you don’t acquire the fundamental skills right away, you will develop bad habits that will be harder to change later on. However, drivers who come to our schools have already learned the basic skills, it is our job to improve upon those, identifying and assisting in breaking any bad habits that have already occurred.
One thing that I have noted is how some drivers methodically try to learn the techniques that we teach. However, later in the programs, when they want to drive fast, they forget all of the basics that we’ve been teaching and simply try to go fast. Obviously, this strategy is usually short-lived as the car usually ends up stopped and facing backward on the racetrack!
Lesson One: Never forget to implement the basic skills that we teach (such as rev-matching) when you are trying to go fast! Work on DRIVING WELL – not driving fast. Learning how to make the racecar do the work properly is the ONLY way that you will ever go fast.
When you watch a road race you will note that the cars are all driving on the same part of the racetrack, usually in a single file. This is because there is typically only one fast-driving line around the track. There is a lot of theory on this subject that can explain what is the driving line, how to determine the best line etc., so I won’t get into details on this. However, at our program, we assist the drivers by way of track markings to learn what is the fast line around the track. Our programs always begin with the drivers riding with Coaches around the track in a support vehicle, then our students follow Coaches for several laps driving our Formula Racecars. Our programs then provide the student the opportunity to drive on their own.
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Drivers often comment that once they are driving on their own that following the correct line becomes a lot more difficult to follow, with many drivers making mistakes in their first laps. It is a lot different to be driving on your own versus following someone around the track. That is why we provide the student with a Follow the Coaches before they set out on their own.
Lesson Two: If you deviate from the Driving Line, you will NEVER be as fast as if you follow it. Even if it means driving at a slower pace initially, getting to learn the driving line and following the same line each lap will ultimately lead you to faster times.
As a footnote, if I am at a new track and having a hard time determining the correct line, I will walk the track backward and figure out where I need to be at the exit of the turn, then work it all back from there.
Once again, much has been written on types of turns and the best approach to each kind of turn. My personal approach has always been to plan on the quickest exit possible onto the straight following the series of turns. This usually requires a slow in / fast out approach, getting the car to take a set and progressively apply the throttle as quickly / smoothly as possible without having to lift or modulate off the throttle. Once this is established, I would work on my braking to move the brake point as late as possible and pedal pressure as hard as possible, with trail braking as much as possible into the turn, without affecting my driving line or compromising my corner exit speed.
Lesson Three: Slow in – Fast out – Think ahead, not just try to brake as late as possible for a turn.
I personally feel that not enough emphasis is made on vision placement. In my view, one of the deciding factors between a good driver and a great driver is the use of his eyes. The best drivers have the ability to take in a greater amount of information through their eyes than others. (Next time you take one of our programs, ask me about my encounter with Ayrton Senna that altered my perception of the importance of vision).
By looking further ahead or through a turn, you will automatically improve your performance and chances of success by way of:
- Greater anticipation of situations that could arise in front of you
- Automatically helps you achieve the correct driving line
- Driving a racecar on the limit is about feeling the balance of the car. Looking ahead gives you more sensitivity to the racecars state of balance.
- Greater sensitivity to changes in driving line or yaw in the racecar. The best drivers are constantly correcting, making little adjustments to the steering and pedals throughout the turn. The best drivers make it look easy, with virtually imperceptible changes, they appear to be driving on rails, yet they are working the controls.
- Your racecar will go where you are looking – so make sure you are looking at the right places! Never look where you do not want to go!
Lesson 4: Keep your focal vision as far ahead as possible
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First Published: Jan 11, 2016
Updated: Mar 6, 2023