Q: “I’m off to a local track for an open lapping day soon in a new GT Mustang. Being my first time, what should I focus on above everything else? I know some just want to go as fast as they can, but I’m more into learning a little each time I go to the track so that over time my speed and technique come naturally.”
A: Two things that separate the best drivers from the rest is the detail knowledge they have of a track, and their ability to sense the limits of their car. Both can be developed if you focus on them. Take a few sessions on track to simply take in more references – what you see, feel and hear from the track. Then, after each session, make notes on a track map of what you took in. The more references you have – and can recall – the better you will drive. You’ll also become more sensitive to what your car is doing if you focus on just that – sensing the car’s movements. Many drivers get too caught up in lap times, the cornering line, or late braking – but if you zero in on sensing what the car is doing, and taking in more track references, you’ll improve faster.
So, focus on collecting as many references as you can from the track, and storing them in your mental database by writing them down. Then focus on the feeling your car is giving to you through its weight transfer, feedback from the steering wheel and pedals, and how the g-forces build up (and possibly ease off if you go over the limit). I’ll guarantee that if you take this approach, you’ll learn more in less time – and you will be fast without trying.
When you first start driving on a track, there is just so much information your mind is trying to take in. The more you can break it down into small, manageable bites, the easier it is to learn, and the more fun you’ll have. Sure, you have to learn the very basics of which way the track goes, how to use all the track width, the cornering line, when to begin and end braking, and when and how to accelerate out of corners. But once you have the general cornering line mostly in mind, and the timing of most braking and acceleration zones, focus on what I said above – taking in more references and the feel of what your car is doing.
By the way, I co-authored an eBook with Ryan Staub all about how to prepare and approach your first HPDE event. It’s called The HPDE 1st-Timer Guide, and it’s available to download for free at https://hpde-1st-timer.com.