Shockingly (to me, at least), this is You Suck at Racing post #499. I’ve said to myself that I’m going to give up blogging when I hit #500. I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
In my previous post, I summed up what I think is the normal progression of high performance driving. In this post I want to talk about my recipe for how to get better.
When I wrote “You Suck at Racing, a Crash Course for the Novice Driver”, the phrase crash course was meant to be funny. Looking back on in it, I now realize it was prophetic. One of the best things you can do for your driving education is to crash the shit out of your racecar. I guaranty you will learn more from your next crash than the next corner you enter 10 mph too slow. Am I serious, or is this just another YSAR gimmick? Read on.
If you’ve ever raced online, you know that lots of sim racers are really dangerous. Those who don’t immediately crash into each other in T1 look for other opportunities later in the race. A clever racer will hang back, let the yahoos crash themselves out of the race, and then drive a safe-n-sedate pace to the finish line. This is a reliable way to get points and advance through the ranks of iRacing. It probably works in the real world too. Certainly, in my own real-world, wheel-to-wheel racing, I’ve tried very hard to stay out of trouble. I built and maintained my car. It’s precious. I don’t want it damaged. Being a clever racer is very important to me.
You know what’s better than being a clever racer? A skilled driver. Racers who get really good at staying out of trouble have acquired a skill, but it’s not driving. It’s how to avoid driving crises. But as a racing driver, the skill you really want to master is how to handle driving crises. The point of high performance driving isn’t to avoid problems, but to manage them. Or to quote some admiral or other.
Boats are safe in harbor. But then again, that’s not what boats are for.
Being a skilled driver is very important to me. I’ve said this enough times that I don’t mind quoting myself.
The only thing more fun than driving the limit is a brief trespass and safe return from well beyond. — Ian Korf
Crisis, Danger, and Opportunity
In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity. — US President JFK
Here is the word for crisis in traditional and simplified form.
The quote is very famous, but also apparently incorrect. According to Wikipedia, a better translation of the two characters is as precarious and change point. Those words work quite well for the specific crisis I want to talk about: oversteer.
Oversteer is a form of crisis because it demands your attention. It is both precarious and a change point. Precarious because it may lead to disaster. Change point because it offers the ability to change direction more quickly. Precarious and change point also describe the transition from intermediate to advanced driver.
On the Edge of a Knife
Exiting a corner on the limit is like tightrope-walking; entering a corner on the limit like jumping onto a tightrope while blindfolded. — Mark Donohue
My personal interpretation of combining precarious and change point is: knife edge. Corner entry oversteer is like standing on the edge of knife. Keep your balance, and you can experience driving Nirvana, (which Paul Gerard calls zero-steer). However, one wrong move, and you’re spinning off track, out of control.
Most people prefer not to dabble at the edge of disaster and therefore drive well below the grip and yaw limits of their vehicle, especially in corner entries where the knife is sharpest. Playing around at the limit can lead to dire consequences.
Avoidance Behaviors Suck
Whether it’s your personal life or driving life, avoiding problems doesn’t make them go away. It makes them worse. You will not perform your best when you have layers of anxiety, self-doubt, and shame on top of your driving skills.
Every time you get into a situation that makes you uncomfortable, you have an opportunity to acquire and reinforce avoidance behaviors. Have you ever spun on track and got chewed out by the HPDE organization? Ever went off track and broke parts? Have the track officials thrown a black flag at you? Have you crashed out of a race and lost all of your points? Whether you’re doing HPDEs, sim races, autocrosses, or real races, bad shit happens out there and those experiences may negatively affect the way you drive forever.
You don’t have to be ruled by your bad experiences. There is another way.
A Crash Course in Advanced Driving
If you want to become an advanced driver, the single most important skill you need to master is driving with yaw. Again, not drifting, but intentional, measured, precise, corner entry oversteer. If you want to get better at dealing with and optimizing corner entry oversteer, you need to experience it again and again for hours and hours without the consequences that create avoidance behaviors.
In the real world, it’s nearly impossible to train oversteer recovery because practice will often result in spinning. On the street it’s call reckless driving, and is illegal. Autocross doesn’t provide enough driving time. HPDE organizations will kick you out. Renting a skid pad or kart track are good ideas, but too expensive and inconvenient to do every day. And like every other sport, you have to practice every day if you want to achieve mastery.
This leaves only one viable solution: simulation training. Here’s my simple, sim-racing-based, 5-step program to becoming an advanced driver.
- Buy a high quality sim rig. If you spent less than $1000 for wheel and pedals, you probably didn’t. At least 5 nM at the wheel and a load cell on the brake. These are non-negotiable.
- Turn off all nannies and drive hard enough that you crash from time to time. The best way to recognize the limit is to go over it from time to time.
- Spend most of your driving time in deliberate practice doing drills (like every other sport). See the Driving links in the menu at the top of the page.
- Compare your telemetry data to faster drivers and learn to critique your own driving. If you’re not going to record and compare data, go back to driving just for fun.
- Get some coaching. Seriously, pay someone to analyze your driving. Also, give some coaching. Nobody learns more than the teacher.
Just because the recipe is simple, doesn’t mean it’s simply done. You’ll probably spend $2500 and a couple weekends getting your sim rig set up. You’ll have to put in hundreds of hours of disciplined practice. You’ll have to learn how to interpret telemetry data. You’ll have to eat a lot of humble pie. To top it off, at the end of it all, there’s no guaranty for success.
Some of you must be thinking “for fuck’s sake, you want me to do all this shit, just for a little corner entry oversteer?” Yes. All of it. And just for that.