Q: “I recently discovered your podcast/website, etc., and I am hooked. I am a professional keyboard player, and have had the privilege of working with some of rock/pop/country music’s most iconic artists both live and in the studio during my 30-plus-year career. I’ve noticed while listening to a few of your podcasts that there is definitely a parallel in the importance of purposeful practice and breaking things down into smaller, more achievable goals when trying to learn something new. About two years ago I discovered iRacing and was immediately hooked. I am pretty certain that this is as close as I’ll ever get to driving a race car, and I’m okay with that. But, I still take it seriously and want to be the best I can be. I work very hard preparing for each race, and I definitely try to apply the methods and habits of practicing I’ve learned throughout my years studying music.
“I have a question regarding braking and how to practice it effectively. As a matter of fact, my very first post in the iRacing forum was a request for a way to break a track down into segments that can be practiced without having to run a complete lap in order to work on a single turn, or series of turns. When it got zero support I just figured I didn’t know enough about driving and what I was asking for was not an important feature. After listening to your podcast, that idea seems more valid to me than when I initially wrote it. Anyway, my question is this: “Can you suggest a good way to practice braking (mostly, threshold braking)? I am sure that I can brake later, harder and for less time. My problem is part confidence, and not knowing how to gauge when I’m doing it correctly, at the limit. Can you suggest any methods I can use to practice this skill?”
A: I agree 100% with you about the parallels between music and driving and practice methods.
Something I’ve done in coaching drivers is setting up a “braking exercise” on a private test day. Without any other cars on track, the driver would approach a set of cones I’d place on the edge of the track towards the end of the longest straightway – not quite at the usual brake zone, but close to it – and then slow the car as quickly as possible, to a stop. The goal is for the driver to get to maximum speed and then just brake as hard as possible when reaching the cones. Doing this over and over again for 10 or 12 times, most drivers get a much better feel for the limits of the tires and brakes. Doing this with a real car and tires, it usually results in flat spotting and destroying a set of tires, but in the sim world that isn’t a worry. So, I would suggest starting with this exercise, as you’ll learn to threshold brake more consistently.
Keep in mind that the grip level of every tire and track surface is different, so in the perfect world you’d practice this in different cars and on different tracks. Fortunately, the difference in grip levels is relatively small, so it’s not necessary to do it on every track.
As important – or maybe more important – is what you do when releasing the brakes, so practicing that is critical. For this I suggest going on track and not worrying about lap times, but experiment with the timing and rate of release as you approach corners. Again, the goal is not to be fast, or even consistent. In fact, it’s to be inconsistent, but in the process you learn what happens when you release the brakes slowly or quickly; early or late. Learn that if you release the brakes “this way,” the car does “that”; when you release the brakes “that way,” it does “this.” So when you want the car to do “that,” you know to do “this” with the brake release. Obviously, you can begin (the timing) releasing the brake early, but slowly (the rate); you can release late and slow; early and quickly; early and slow. Most drivers release the brakes the same way for almost all corners, but the best drivers deliberately change the timing and rate of release of the brakes to suit the car and corner. By deliberately practicing this, you become more adaptable.