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Improving lap times when self-coaching is kind of like eating an elephant. You have to start small. Without a detailed plan, that goal is going to be really hard to achieve.
There you are, watching a replay of an entire lap for clues or comparing your own squiggly lines with ones from equally inconsistent friends in the paddock. Where to start? What to do?
Drivers sometimes “send it” in an effort to change something–anything. In the process, they blow past the desired risk-benefit ratio and bad things can happen. It doesn’t have to be that way.
What’s my advice as a seasoned, professional coach for bootstrapping your performance? First, narrow your focus to a few goals we always try to achieve. Strive for the best execution of fundamental skills. Use all the width of the road–unless there is a compelling reason not to. Commit to maximum throttle, and brake whenever the wheel is straight or nearly so.
Second, avoid the most common pitfalls. Don’t come away from the outside edge of the road too soon for a corner. Yet don’t drive so deep or square off the corner so much that you run the risk of missing the apex area.
“How do you eat an elephant?” asks my friend and colleague Ross Bentley. “One bite at a time,” is my reliable answer.
Let’s Go to Sebring
So, for a popular hypothetical, let’s go faster at Sebring. Let’s start with one small, three-bend area of the track that is crucial to a good lap–and to do it right, all the fundamental skills are important.
We’re looking at Sebring’s Turn 3-4-5 complex. Why this section? Thirty-plus years of experience working with hundreds of drivers, bolstered by measuring segment times–first with a stopwatch, then with data–has shown that drivers often lose more than they can gain here by simply being inconsistent.
This complex requires, as a proportion of the whole lap, a lot more time to negotiate. Hence, it’s easier to “mine time” here for greater improvement.
How much improvement? As much a full second for those in the 2:10-to-2:20 lap time range, and more for those running between 2:20 and 2:40. You can’t get that benefit in single corners–even Turn 1 or the hairpin. You’re simply not in them long enough.
The bigger picture: Fixing just one small section of track–any track–can pay huge dividends. How much would you pay for that 1-second gain? Exactly.
A. First, make an extremely detailed plan for where you’re going to put the car–not just at points, but ahead in the complex. Braking for Turn 3 is from high speed, requiring downshifting later in the brake zone, and drivers should make sure the right side of the car is parallel with the right side of the road and no more than a half a car width away from the right edge.
B. Think positively instead of negatively. Instead of anxiety over establishing an initial braking point, focus on defining an “accelerate to here” point–say, the far side of the second access road on the right when approaching the brake zone for Turn 3. This makes wide-open throttle last longer and also makes the braking more efficient–because it has to be!
C. The cleanliness of 100% throttle to max deceleration is a best execution of a fundamental skill. You’re looking for front-load peak deceleration earlier rather than later in the brake zone. This gives you more options later as you enter the corner.
D. Discipline yourself to leave enough brake for the corner by concentrating on earlier and slower brake release–even extending past the initial steering input. This allows you to roll a little more speed into the corner and also allows the brake zone to extend into corner entry. The goal should be to wrap the car around the corner, coming close to only the last few car lengths of apex curb.
E. At the Turn 3 apex, take only as much curb as required to avoid unsettling the car or requiring any correction or hesitation to get back to wide-open throttle for the bend to the right through Turn 4. If you’re against the Turn 3 apex curb before the last few panels, you’re turning in early, too quickly or both.
F. When it becomes remotely clear that you’re going to make it to the Turn 3 apex curb–or at least very, very close to it–commit to big throttle and get the car accelerating again. Cover the distance from back to throttle to the next speed adjustment downward–either braking for quicker cars or breathing throttle for slower cars–to get to Turn 5 as quickly as possible.
G. It’s shocking how many drivers dillydally, meander and lollygag while traveling between Turns 3 and 5. Every moment counts. Drive like it.
H. Now comes the hard part, the greatest challenge of this complex. The Turn 5 entry should begin center or right of center, blending and extending the end of braking into turn entry and past steering wheel input to the left. This makes for an easier apex two-thirds of the way around the inside curbing. By doing this, completion to wide-open throttle allows the car to slide out parallel to the exit curb past half distance of the curb. The whole goal for Turn 5 is to be faster in, slower earlier and for as short a distance as possible, and then back to wide-open throttle sooner and without any throttle correction.
Seeing the Speed
The best drivers have the clearest vision of where they want to go and exactly what they want to do when they get there. They’re able to commit and willing to tell the car how to move. To reach this level, start by identifying and practicing proper car placement, then focus on maximizing throttle and brake commitment.
Pick small, slower-but-with-speed-change sections of track and summon extra concentration to attack them with vigor. VIR Turns 4-5-6, Road America Turns 12-13-14, Mosport Turns 9 and 10, and Summit Point Turns 5-6-7 are also examples. If you have data, especially video with speed on it, use these tools to validate what you’re doing. Add speed gradually and, most of all, enjoy the benefits of your newfound commitment, which will yield desired performance improvement.
Peter Krause, a longtime driver coach, operates Krause & Associates LLC.