Turning Play into Work

If you were headed to a track right now and wanted to work on your driving skill, which track would you choose and what drills would you do? First, let’s consider what makes a track great for learning.

  • Short. If you’re working on your technique, you need repetition. That means you don’t want lap times that are 4 minutes long. Something closer to 1 minute is ideal.
  • CPH. That’s Corners Per Hour. More is better. Getting better at track driving means getting better at braking, steering, accelerating, and most importantly, combining them to achieve balance. Drag strips don’t help. Corners do.
  • Variety. Each type of corner has a different optimization strategy. 90s, carousels, decreasing radii, off camber, ascending/descending, etc. If a track can be run in a reverse direction, that’s a bonus.
  • Slow. You don’t need to go fast to work on technique. And speaking of speed, you don’t need sticky tires either. Lower speeds are safer. That safety equates to your confidence and ability to learn. Slow speeds and low grip are the formula that let you explore the critical border between slip and grip.
  • Time. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for practice time. You can buy a lot with money, but not expertise. Some people learn faster than others, but everyone has to earn their own expertise. You can’t do that with a couple 60 second autocross runs per day. 1 hour on track is okay at the start when track days are overwhelming, but once you get over that, 2 hours is better.
  • Cost. Track time costs money. Whether you’re talking about a $1000/day racing school, time on a simulation rig, or driving around a parking lot, there are always expenses. Whatever your budget happens to be, you want to get the most for your money.

Tracks

In the virtual world, some of my favorite training tracks are fantasy rally courses. I like Karelia Cross and Gentlemen’s Rallycross in Assetto Corsa. AC also has skid pads, figure 8s, and some great drift courses. I actually spend a fair amount of time on one called Drift Playground. rFactor 2 doesn’t have much in the way of dirt, skid pads, or drift courses, so I go with Brands Hatch Indy and Lime Rock Park.

The best training track I’ve been to in real life is Pineview Run. I’ve only turned a few laps there, but it left a big impression on me. It checks off all the boxes. There are 15 turns in under 90 seconds. That’s a crazy number of corners per hour. There’s a good mix of corner geometries and big changes in elevation. Apparently it can be run backwards and they even drive it in the Winter. Too bad it’s 2720 miles away. Closer to home I have Thunderhill West. It’s faster and longer, but has some of the same qualities.

Exercises

So let’s say you’re at your favorite training venue. Now what? Here are 7 of my favorite drills.

  • Hand position. Try focusing on your hand position. Mix up 9-n-3, shuffle, hand-over-hand, and one-handed techniques. Figure 8s on a skid pad are ideal, but also hillclimbs with lots of switchbacks, or tracks meant for drifting.
  • No brakes. One of the biggest problems intermediate drivers face is the inability to sense speed. If you’re not allowed to use your brakes, you become very aware of your speed. Doing this drill will eventually lead to increasing your entry speed all the time.
  • Top gear only. Whatever the top gear is for your track, stay in that the whole time. Since you won’t have much acceleration on the exit, this will force you to keep as much momentum as possible at the entry. This drill helps counter over-braking.
  • Shift after corner. Enter a 3rd gear corner in 4th gear and then shift down after the corner. You may find you go faster because your focus on braking doesn’t collide with your focus on shifting.
  • Clutch-less shifting. This is one you can do on the street. Learn how to downshift without the clutch. This will get you in tune with the transmission. Also, every racing hero has a story where the clutch went out and they kept racing.
  • Heel toe. Focus on your heel toe technique on track, not on the street. Do a bunch of heel-toe shifts and then check your telemetry. If you’re doing it wrong, your blips will be the highest part of your RPM trace. Also check your brake pressure trace. It shouldn’t be affected by your shifting.
  • Unbalanced setup. Make one end of the car lose grip. You can do this with tire compounds, tire pressures, or suspension settings. Figure out how to be fast while driving around handling problems.

8 thoughts on “Turning Play into Work

  1. As far as corner speeds go, fast corners have their own techniques and “fortitude” requirements and to learn those you need to go drive fast corners.

    Other considerations might be picking a track at which you have a good basis for comparison (standard times for similar cars, perhaps data from other people), or one that you’re expecting to race in the future and want to practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m good at high speed corners that I can accelerate into (Willow Springs T8 for example), because I’m better at sensing traction while on throttle. I generally suck at high speed corners that require braking going into them (T1 at most tracks), because I’m not good at sensing traction and yaw while on the brakes. This is something I’m working on at low speed, and when I’m better at it, will transition to faster tracks. (Ian, go ahead and tell me I can learn this by sim racing.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sim racing helps a little but high speed corners are their own special problem that are hard to tackle. You need both (a) skill (b) conviction. Skill without conviction means over-slowing the entry. Conviction without skill means crashing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that you can’t drive high speed corners without driving high speed corners. But it’s a lot less scary when you know you have the car control skills first. It really is important to have data to compare to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oregon Raceway Park is great one for training.
    16 corners in two minutes with a variety of blind, off-camber, heavily cambered, uphill, and downhill corners.
    It also runs both directions.

    The rFactor2 version is a pretty good likeness of the track.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ever try Streets of Willow? that one is short and has lots of corners… its a tiny track and FAR away from us, but i remember it being sorta roller coastery.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As for Time above: Proximity to a membership track is a huge opportunity. I recently moved to the Houston area, and MSR Houston is open 7 days/week, and about 250 of those days are accessible to members at no additional cost. Toss in my street-legal FR-S training car, some hard compound 400 tread wear summer tires — it is Houston, after all — and you can log some serious hours for not much more than the price of gasoline and monthly membership. Lessons available. Beats HPDE any day (their limited days, their run groups, their rules). If available and initiation fees are reasonable, it’s a good investment.

    Like

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