This is post #4 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. In this post, I’m going to address one of the favorite excuses of the slower driver: “they’re just driving harder”.
What does just mean in this context? That driving harder is a simple switch that can be turned on and off at will. It’s like saying “I could drive faster if I wanted, but I choose not to”. If you’re on a race track with the intent of driving fast, what would motivate someone to drive slower? Actually, there are legitimate reasons for driving at 7 tenths rather than 9 or 10.
- Safety – As you drive closer and closer to the limit, danger increases. And by limit, I mean both the limit of the driver and the car. But it’s more about the limit of the driver. A driver who gets in over his head may wreck his car, someone else’s car, parts of the track, etc. All of these can add up to expensive expenses. Knowing your limit and the limit of your car will help you identify danger, and driving under that limit will keep more money in your pocket.
- Consumables – Driving faster means using up more obvious consumables like tires, fuel, and brake pads. But all components on cars are wear items to some degree, and all get used up more quickly the faster one laps a track. In an endurance race, saving fuel, tire, and pad can mean the difference between winning and losing, or even finishing. At the Buttonwillow 24, we brought 2 sets of brake pads and the first set lasted only 8 hours. Driving the next 16 hours on one set of pads meant we had to completely change our driving style to save the pads. We ended up placing 3rd overall with less than 1 mm of pad.
The real problem with the phrase “they’re just driving harder” is that driving harder isn’t what makes one person faster than another. Speed comes from acuteness of perception, quickness of action, and precision of inputs. Fast drivers understand the subtleties of driving better than slow drivers. It’s been a while since I made a tennis analogy, but I think tennis will put this into perspective.
They’re beating me because they’re just hitting harder
If you have ever played tennis in your life, you know that hitting the ball harder isn’t going to win many matches. At nearly every level of play, the placement of the ball (in the court) is much more important than its speed. At higher levels, ball speed can become a weapon, but it takes a lot of skill to hit a ball hard and make sure it stays inside the lines. And so it is with driving. Driving faster requires skill earned from many hours of practice. It’s not a switch to turn on and off on a whim.
There is no just harder. Anyone using this phrase is protecting their ego with a misunderstanding of high performance driving. It’s like a double ended sword: they’re cutting themselves as they say it.
If you really want to show people how conscientiously you drive, prove it. Let your actions speak for themselves. Do one burner lap that shows what you’re capable of and then back off the rest of the day.
A walk on the mild side
If you’re one of those people who makes a conscious decision to optimize safety and wear, I applaud you. Not only that, but I’d be happy to have you race on my team. I don’t care about winning. So I don’t care about your lap time. I do care about maintenance and making sure everyone gets to drive. So drive under your limit, save the car, and don’t be a hazard. But you can probably find a space for a burner lap in there somewhere.