Q: “Big fan of you and have read the Speed Secrets book with much joy. But I haven’t found anything about how you practice your starts in racing. I do suck at race starts, having everyone pass me like a tsunami wave from behind. And I’m struggling finding the right lines, and getting me boxed in. The racing I do is historic with different classes in the same race. So, a lot of different horses there. I’m driving a 1965 Lotus Elan. Hope for some advice.”
A: I’m going to write some rambling thoughts here as I think about race starts, because you had me at “Lotus Elan 1965.” I have a ’69 Elan, and have been a Lotus fan most of my life. I suspect your Elan is more race prepped than mine, though (I just drive mine on the road).
Practicing race starts can be done three ways: First, by actually doing more of them (this is limited by the number of races you can enter); Second, on a simulator (the number of race starts you can practice on a sim is almost limitless); And third, in your mind by visualizing, or what’s really mental imagery (there is almost no limit to the number of times you can practice a race start in your mind).
You do what you do because of your mental programming (you could call this a “habit”); you sometimes don’t do what you want because you don’t have the right mental programming yet (i.e., you may not have the same mental programming as Max Verstappen does! Yet!). You develop your mental programming by doing repetition. Again, you can do this by experiencing real race starts, using a simulator, or with mental imagery/visualization. (I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I have an eBook called Mental Imagery for Drivers; it’s available for the huge price of $2.99 at https://speedsecrets.com/product/mental-imagery-guide-for-drivers/.) If you don’t start races the way you want, maybe you don’t have the right mental programming yet.
Your mindset, attitude, and state of mind will have more impact on how well you start races than practically any physical skill. If your mindset is one of “I hope I don’t lose any places at the start,” you’re more likely to lose positions than if your mindset is one of “I’m going to front of the pack,” or “I’m staying here at the front of the pack.” What do you think the mindset of drivers like Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Charles Leclerc is at the start of a race? Do you think any one of them is thinking, “I hope I don’t lose positions?” Absolutely not! Have the same kind of mindset that you think they have.
For most drivers, it’s not a lack of skill or technique that hold them back from having good race starts. It’s what’s going on in the mind.
This is related to your belief system. If you believe that you’re not good at race starts, guess what? You won’t be. But if you believe you can be good at races starts, you will do better. As the saying goes, “if you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” What happens is a product of what you believe. Of course, I can’t just tell you to believe you’re good at race starts, and that fixes everything. You have to believe it, deep down inside. But where do your beliefs come from? From doing things. So, if you’ve never had a good race start, how can you ever believe you’re good at them? That’s where mental imagery/programming comes into play. You have to see, feel and hear yourself in your mind having the “I’m going to the front/staying at the front” mindset, making good decisions, and things working out for you. If you do that enough, you will begin to believe that it’s possible to be good at race starts; then in real life you’ll do a little better; then you do more mental imagery; then you do another real race and get even better… and it builds, over time, until you believe you’re good at race starts, and you are.
Right now, stop reading this, close your eyes, and imagine the start of a race. No matter where you lined up as the green flag was thrown or lights came on (or red lights went out), where are you going into Turn 1? Play that through in your mind for a few minutes.
I’ll wait until you do this. It’s okay, I’m waiting…
Okay, now that you’ve done that, where were you when you went into Turn 1? If, in this “mini-movie of the mind,” you saw yourself losing positions, then that’s what you believe will happen. That’s what your belief system says is going to happen. And it’s unlikely that you’ll do much different from what you imagined, from what your belief system said would happen. So, you need to change your belief system. Mental imagery is where you need to start with this process. And it is a process. It’s not something you do once for 10 minutes and all is good! No, it takes time. Again, my eBook can help you be as efficient as possible with this.
One thing you have to accept is that some cars are harder to have good race starts in than others. If you turn the same lap time as, let’s say, a high-horsepower Cobra, and you’re starting side-by-side, that Cobra is going to out-accelerate you into the first corner. So, you have to accept that and learn how to use your car’s advantages to help you. Fortunately, that Cobra (again, just using this as an example) doesn’t handle the way your Elan does, so you carry more speed through the first corner, and use that momentum to gain on it on the next section of track – and pass it. Can you imagine doing that?
One of my strengths as a race driver has always been starts. But, I don’t think I have any extra “fast race start” genes in my DNA! I just think I got a bit lucky one time, then believed I was good, adopted the mindset of I’m staying in front or going to the front, and I’ve built on that over time. Still, every now and then things just don’t work out the way I want – a driver moved across the track and blocked where I wanted to go, for example – and I have to accept that I didn’t gain or even hold my position on the start. It’s okay, because now I’ll chase them down and pass them all – and that will be fun!
I strongly recommend practicing awareness when driving on the road. One of the things you need for good starts is being aware of everyone and everything around you; you need to see what is almost unseeable. As you drive on the road, practice looking further ahead, predicting what other drivers/cars are going to do, and being aware of cars behind and beside you. Make it a game to never be surprised by what other drivers do, and imagine what you would do if this was a race start – where would you go, what would you do. This is a bit like doing mental imagery, but in action, in the real world. To be good at race starts, you need to have “big eyes,” aware of every move from every other car, looking for gaps, looking for opportunities, and being hyper-aware. You can build this mental programming of being more aware when driving on the road.
One technique thing to keep in mind is that your speed when you arrive at Turn 1, whether you’re doing standing or rolling starts, will be slower than usual. Many drivers brake at the same place they always do, even though they could brake later because they’re traveling some fairly significant amount slower than usual. In practice – while always checking to see that it’s safe to do so – slow down on the front straight and then accelerate to Turn 1 at what you think will be the speed you’re at on the race start lap. See where you need to brake when going that much slower. If you’re the only driver who does this, you’ll have an advantage over everyone else.
Something that helps your mindset and belief/confidence on starts is doing a better job of building heat in your brakes and tires than everyone else. I like to think that the first competition you need to win is the race to see who gets the most heat into the brakes and tires. Many drivers weave back and forth on pace laps, but that puts very little heat into the tires. What works better is lots of acceleration and braking. You want to build as much heat into the brakes as possible – this heat transfers from the brake rotors and pads to the hub, to the wheel, and to the inside of the tire. You’re building heat in the tires from the inside-out, and that works a lot better than the little heat you build on the surface of the tire by weaving back and forth. Also, on the pace lap, hang back and then drive quickly through corners to catch up to the pack again. The cornering load on the tires will do more than any amount of quick back and forth with the steering wheel on the straightaway will (I’m not saying you can’t do that, too, but that should be more for you to warm your body than building heat in the tires).
Okay, that’s a good start (no pun intended) for you. Oh, and have fun on race starts. Imagine that, too.