Q: “I have progressed through HPDE and I’m now competing in Time Trials. Competition license should be soon. As I’ve gotten quicker, I’ve been able to hone my technique and get tangible results. One area that I just can’t seem to get comfortable with is braking.
“I’m starting to chase tenths, and I feel like I’m leaving a few tenths out there because of sloppy braking. Specifically, my transition from throttle to brake pedal seems to take too long into hard braking zones (for example, going into Horseshoe at VIR, into Turns 6 and 10a at Road Atlanta). I can’t left-foot-brake because I need to heel-toe for a 4-3 downshift.
“I understand part of this is an enhanced situational awareness… I can feel tenths slipping away, so it “feels” longer to get my foot off the throttle and into the brake pedal… but I also know there’s more in it.
“The problem is now I’m compressing my braking point to knock off tenths… I’m running out of room should I make an error…and I’m still making errors every now and then. There’s no real consistency. Sometimes I even miss the brake pedal and that’s a terrifying half-second as I then frantically get my full foot on the pedal into threshold braking, and blow the rev-match for the downshift because my foot is not in position. And of course, the lap is now gone…
“What gives? I feel reasonably confident in all the other aspects of car control. Is this something that will get better with experience? Do I need to get it sorted out before going wheel-to-wheel, or can I work on it after I get a comp license and start racing?”
A: I’ve been thinking about your question, and the main thought that comes to mind is practice… But a lot of that practice doesn’t have to happen on the track:
- Sit in your car with the engine off, sitting still, and just practice your footwork. This is no different from football players, tennis players, etc., when they practice footwork.
- Mentally practice your footwork, but while visualizing driving the track, actually move your feet. You’re programing your footwork, and the more you do, the better.
- You could practice on a simulator, too.
- Practice when driving on the street – at legal speeds. Just be very aware and deliberate about your footwork. Doing it at slow speed, deliberately, is something that all great athletes do at times – it’s a practice strategy. If you drive a different vehicle on the street, it doesn’t matter – you’re programming the movement, especially the speed of movement. Combined with engine-off/sitting still practice and mental practice, this will make a big difference.
You’re not alone, as you’re not the only driver to have ever felt challenged by footwork. But it just takes the right kind of practice to make improvements. And I’m sure you’ll see small, incremental improvements if you do the practice I suggested – and those will all add up to big gains in lap times. I think footwork is the key to speed…