It’s your first professional race – The competition is fierce and the pressure is on. First and Tenth are separated by mere tenths and you must perform. To add to the challenge, you’ve never driven the track and you only have 5 laps to practice before qualifying…
Whether you’re an aspiring pro or just looking to be safe and fast at your next track day, strategies for learning the track quickly are essential. Although there are many ways to get started, I’ve always found onboard video to be the most effective for learning the real track.
If you go on YouTube and type “TRACK NAME onboard track record” in the search bar, you’re likely to find dozens of videos from drivers of varying skills doing their best to set a fast lap around the track. Some are excellent, most are not so good.
Fortunately, with a few easy strategies, you can down select your options then take great notes that will help you learn faster and quickly master the track at your next event.
Selecting Good Videos
Start by scrolling through the results and looking for titles and screenshots that show promise.
Pick a video of good quality that shows the driver’s hands as well as the outside. A good position is between the seats in the middle of the car. This provides a good stable platform for you to analyze the video. Helmet mounted cams are another increasingly popular option, and are also cool to watch.
Here’s an example of a search done for Road Atlanta (My comments in red)
Next, you want to make sure you have a good driver. It’s easy to spend too much time watching videos that look sweet, but won’t add much value to your learning.
A quick way to do this is to skip to the middle of the video and watch a few corners, looking for the following:
- How close to the outside of the track are they driving when they start the corner? Good drivers will use every available inch of the track at turn in (provided there’s no traffic). Depending on the corner, the best ones will even use any outside curbing that’s there.
- How smooth is the driver. A fast driver will move the wheel once into the corner and once out of the corner. There may be high speed corrections when near the limit. But those corrections will be precise and intentional.
- How is the driver accelerating out of the corner? Do they get on the throttle early and hard? Or do they wait until the straight? Look for how they return the steering wheel to center at the end. Are they being smooth and intentional?
- How hard are they braking? If the video has telemetry overlay, or a view of the pedals, you’ll be able to see if the driver is trailing the brakes into the corner. It shows they understand how to maximize braking performance and how to drive the car at the limit.
- If it’s a standard gearbox. Are they rev matching on downshifts? Are they using heel and toe?
- If you can, pick a car that has similar performance as yours. This can be helpful as you’ll get a better idea of the proper timing between corners. Think Spec Miata vs. a Prototype or a Formula Car.
Here are some examples:
Josh Hurley at Road Atlanta:
Jim Hall at Sebring:
Learning the Racing Line
Before you dive into the video, download and print a track map. This will be a great tool to have at the track and will help you as a reference and a note sheet as you watch each video. You can also laminate it and use a dry erase marker to take notes between track sessions.
If you can, choose one that allows you to draw the racing line within the track surface (not shaded black). Make sure the map is to scale. Many are not. If in doubt, use an online map program and look at a satellite view of the track. Here’s one we made for Sebring.
With your map in hand, watch the video start to finish as many times as necessary to learn the sequence of corners.
Observe where the driver uses the whole track and where they don’t. Pay special attention to corners that are close together and where compromise will be necessary. As you watch the video, take notes on the racing line directly on the track map.
Picking Good References
Good references are essential to help you maintain consistency and track your progress as you get faster.
Breakdown your analysis of each corner into an entry, mid and exit phase. Pause at each spot and pick out references that will help you consistently hit your braking point, turn-in, apex and track out.
Pick references located within your field of view. These can be in your area of focus; such as a bridge marker, or your periphery; such as a braking distance marker or a sign.
Some common items you can look for:
- Walls, Fences, Light Poles
- Cones – less beneficial since they have a tendency to move over the session or between events
- Location on inside/outside curbing – beginning, middle or end
- Trees, Buildings, Bridges or any other external references within your normal field of view
- Painted markings on the track, walls, bridges
- Track surface transitions or markings – concrete, asphalt patches or painted lines
Put It All Together
Now comes the best part. Putting everything you’ve learned into practice; at the track.
If you can, mount a video camera in your car so you can record video from your session. This will help you tremendously after the event, as you’ll be able to review your own video for the good driver cues we spoke about in the first part of this article.
The night before, go over your notes and remember the references you wrote down so they’re fresh on your mind. You can take this further by closing your eyes and running through a few laps as you go to sleep. If you want to be super ambitious use a stop watch and time your mental laps. You can then compare your time with an actual lap after the weekend.
With practice, and on a familiar track you should be able to consistently run mental laps within a second of your actual time. It’s pretty amazing what your brain can do.
Review your track map before your session then go slow on your first few laps to pick out each visible reference you remember. Some may not be as visible as they were on the videos. That’s ok. If you can’t find one, just take a mental note and update your map after the session.
During the weekend, focus on developing your skills in the following order. Don’t skip ahead until you’ve mastered the previous step.
- Drive the line, be smooth and work on your vision
- Maximize speed on your corner exits (slow in, fast out)
- Work on your braking points and corner entries
- Improve mid-corner speed
If you see yourself being sloppy as you start pushing the limits at the corner exit (not smooth or off line), go back to step 1.
Keep practicing, and most importantly HAVE FUN!
What’s your favorite takeaway from the article? What other tricks or insights have you learned watching OnBoard video? I can’t wait to read your comments below.