Q: “I heard a comment that professional racers often remark that VIR is one of the most technical tracks they drive. Thinking about this remark my mind came to this question: What defines a ‘technical track’? I really don’t have an answer and I’m curious what makes one track more technical than another, and then perhaps you could address how one prepares for a more and a less technical track.”
A: That’s a great question! Funny, but it’s one of those things that “I know it when I see it”! And you’re right, it’s hard to define.
After putting a lot of thought into this, and asking a few other drivers, here are some factors that make one track more technical than others:
- Corners that connect to others. A track that have corners in isolation are not as technical as others. The Esses at VIR, most of Sonoma Raceway, turns 12 through 20 at COTA, and turns 11 through 15 at Barber are great examples of technical sections of technical tracks.
- Elevation changes, as well as corners with camber/banking (negative and positive). Many tracks have corners that you can’t see through – they’re visually challenging – and the elevation and camber changes the grip levels. Think Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen.
- Corners that have more than one way to drive them, such as many of the corners at Sebring (due to the surface challenges). The line, and how you time the braking, steering and throttle are not necessarily the same. In fact, they all change more than a little, based on the speed of your car.
- Fast, scary corners that require big you-know-whats. Turn 1, 2, 4 and 8 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) are perfect examples.
Tracks that have one or more of these factors are the ones that drivers refer to as being technical ones – the more of them, the more technical they are.
Having said all that, take a track like NOLA. Most drivers would agree that it isn’t a very technical track – it’s flat; there are not a lot of surface changes; there are not a lot of fast, scary corners; there are not many corners that lead from one to the other (there are some, but not many); finally, I’d have to say that the corners are not that difficult and challenging. I’m not saying it’s a bad track, but I would say it’s not a very technical track. Of course, it’s relative, as it’s more technical and challenging that a drag strip!
Okay, how to prepare for technical tracks? It all comes down to your homework. I spent hours talking about how to learn a track in a webinar called “How to Learn a Track… Fast!” a few months ago (and will do it again next year). It starts with studying a track map, spending time actually drawing or tracing the track map, studying many videos (looking for different ways to drive the same corner) as well as collecting as many references as you can, doing mental imagery, using a simulator, walking or cycling it, reviewing data, more mental imagery… and on and on. Look for how one corner connects with another, the elevation and camber changes, and building the mental programming to relax as you drive the fast, scary corners. The more you prepare, the better you’ll be… unless you’re driving a non-technical track (which you can see through the corners because they’re flat, the line is the line, and there aren’t a lot of scary corners).
It’s no surprise that the favorite tracks of drivers are the technical ones!