As you may know, I’m a professor at UC Davis. We are encouraged to teach First Year Seminars on whatever topic we like. These courses are supposed to be a fun way to hang out with professors and talk about mutual interests. I teach a course on “High Performance Driving”. Usually this is a lecture only course, but this year I decided to bring my sim rig into the office and have students drive it. This gives me the opportunity to collect and analyze data from a variety of experience levels, and provide some coaching to observe how they improve.
As usual, I start with the NA Miata at Brands Hatch Indy with all settings at default values.
This student, who I will call Student-R (in case there is more to say in another post), had had a little sim racing experience before, but he doesn’t own a rig. He’s probably played a lot using a hand controller. In his first session, his laps were in the high 1:07s. I had him go through the 3rd-gear-no-brakes drill and he eventually got just as fast doing that as he was using brakes and gears.
A week later he came back to work on his driving. I say work because he clearly had that mentality. It’s much easier for me to coach someone who is serious about learning. We did the no-brakes drill again, but also worked on braking technique. Not that it matters much, but he uses his left foot to brake. As I was doing my own office work, I didn’t actually spend that much time observing or coaching. I would just comment a little about this or that and then he would go drive some more. In the end, he drove 90 laps and was in my office for almost 2 hours. Students are supposed to sign up for 30 minutes at a time, but there was nobody signed up after him, so he just kept training. At the end of the day, he improved his lap times by about 4 seconds.
The panels from top to bottom in the image below are speed, brake pressure, steering angle, throttle position, and time delta. These are my favorite channels in general because they show the driver inputs and the results of those inputs. As usual, in the answer to the question “where is he faster?” the answer is “pretty much everywhere”.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the data. There’s a big difference in the brake pressure graphs. Instead of treating the brake pedal like an on-off switch, he’s learning to modulate it. There’s still some work to do in T2, but overall the braking is earlier and softer. By braking earlier, he’s able to turn and accelerate earlier. This isn’t the advanced form of backing up the corner yet, but it’s on the way there.
I don’t think every student can drop 4 seconds between sessions. At least not when they start at 1:07.X. He’s now at the pace of some of the very experienced students who have their own sim rigs. How did this happen?
- Take your training seriously. I think if he came in thinking “I’m just going to have some fun”, the session wouldn’t have been nearly as productive.
- A little coaching can go a long way. I don’t think he would have made this much progress without someone looking in on him every once in a while saying “try this”.
- No bad habits. Some experienced drivers have accumulated a lot of bad habits.
- Examining data helps. He was very interested in the data as well as the driving.
- It takes time. In addition to the driving time, there needs to be some contemplative time too. I don’t think he would have improved as much if his second session was the next day. Having a week between driving sessions is useful at the beginning. Later, you need train regularly to maintain your edge, but at the start, I think you need more time to reflect than to perfect.