Q: “I’ve been autocrossing for about 20 years. I’m not a national champion, but I generally run slightly behind the national champs that run with our club and I usually finish in the top 10%. Last season I took on a co-driver of national caliber and ran data (SoloStorm) the whole season. Initially what I learned from the data was that we did many things in a similar fashion, but he made much more use of the throttle than I did. Trying to force myself into using more throttle closed the gap with him a little, but also resulted in a lot of spins. After looking at things more closely, I realized that he was putting the car in better positions to be able to use the throttle more, but the distinction is subtle enough that I cannot usually tell much of a difference in our line from the data. So, my question is… what is the best way I can learn more about car position and how to know if I am positioning the car in the most efficient way?”
A: Well, that’s a really interesting question! Usually when someone sends me a question I can answer it fairly easily… but not this one. And that’s a good thing. I’ve read your question a few times now, and I keep having different thoughts and ideas pop into my head (there’s a lot of empty space up there!).
For sure, data doesn’t do a great job of pointing out exactly where your car is positioned in relationship to another. GPS data is not super accurate – at least not compared to the subtle differences two drivers/cars can have through a course.
One thought that immediately comes to mind is this: Too many drivers drive the line they do because they’re following what someone else either told them, the data told them, or it’s what they saw someone else use. To use data (or even another driver) to tell you where to position the car might be short-term thinking.
Turn things around and focus on spending more time at full throttle – and what it takes to do that. I’ve used this approach when coaching drivers, and they find a better line by focusing on doing what it takes to be at full throttle more. Does that make sense? I bet the way your co-driver found the line he drives is just this – he found that if the car was positioned “here,” he could get to full throttle sooner. So, by experimenting with what it takes to spend more time at full throttle, the positioning/line comes to you.
What I’m trying to emphasize is me, your co-driver, or anyone else telling you what line to drive will probably not result in you getting to full throttle sooner – at least not on a consistent basis. We tend to think the line comes first, and that dictates everything else we do. That’s one way of looking at it, but another way is to look at why you drive the line you do? It’s because it results in more time spent at full throttle. So, if you focus on spending just 2 or 3 percent more of run, or lap, at full throttle, the line usually comes to you.
You said that when you forced yourself to use more throttle, it resulted in some spins. So, when focused on more throttle, what must come with it is unwinding/straightening the steering more/sooner. Perhaps that’s the last piece you’re missing? Think about how you can begin accelerating sooner while unwinding the steering. To do that, your line might have to change, and that could be what you’re looking for.