Q: “While I feel I have a good awareness of cars around me, I’m struggling with wheel-to-wheel racing. The problem is, I’m new to the type of car I’m racing – touring cars. I feel totally blind when I’m competing with other cars. I used to race open-wheel cars, and I could sense where other cars were around me, and then confirming it with very good convex mirrors. With the touring cars, every time someone dives inside me in the brake zone, I have no idea if I should turn in on the corner or not because I have no idea where the other car is. I don’t want to turn in if they’re already there, so I just get passed easily. I feel intimidated. I want to get better at racecraft. Any suggestions?”
A: First, do you have your side mirrors adjusted properly? If you can see the side of your own car in the side mirrors, they’re not tilted out far enough. Many drivers adjust the side mirrors (seeing the side of their own car) so they can be used to see behind them, but think about this… when do you have more time to look in the mirrors, when a car is behind, or when it’s beside you? Having the mirrors set so you can see cars beside you in a flash is way more important than what’s behind you (when you have more time). I don’t know if your car has a rear view mirror, but if so, use it to see behind you. Then tilt the side mirrors out to the side so you can’t see the side of your own car, even if you lean your head over to that side. Now you’ll be better able to see a car diving down the inside of you.
You mentioned using convex mirrors in the past, and that’s a good idea, especially if adjusting your side mirrors far enough out is difficult.
Something I keep in mind is that if a car was behind me, and it’s not now, it didn’t disappear. If I can’t see it, I assume it’s beside me. Because a driver would have to be a magician to make their car disappear! 🙂 If I can’t see the other car, then I’ll leave a car’s width – barely – as I turn in. But I’m also not going to just give the corner away. If the other driver hasn’t placed their car where I can see it, that means I don’t have to just back off and let the “assumed” car have the corner.
You mention being aware, and that’s super-important. It’s also a skill that can be developed. When driving on the road, practice being more aware of everything around you. You developed the ability to sense other cars around you in open-wheel cars, so you can do it in closed-wheel cars. Practicing this while driving on the street will help. In fact, even when you’re walking, practice being more aware of everything around you. Stretch your peripheral vision. This is something you improve with practice, just as stretching a leg muscle will make it more flexible over time.
Something you’ve probably already done, but maybe you want to do more of is watching as many past races as possible. If they televise the races, watch every single one you can, and pay attention to how passes are set up and made. Watch in slow motion and stop the video. Make note of how far back a car is when they typically begin to make the pass, then think about what that would look like to you in the car. In fact, imagine yourself in the cars you’re watching. The more of this you do, the better you’ll get at racecraft. You can learn a lot by watching the way others race.
Of course, with a little more experience, and the things I just mentioned, you’ll feel more confident in your racecraft, too. And that builds on itself – you feel more confident, race better, confidence will build, you’ll be more aware of cars around you, make better decisions in traffic, build confidence… and so on. Because, which comes first, the ability to do something (have good racecraft, in this case), or having the belief that you can do something? Your belief in your racecraft abilities is critical.
Finally, I have a webinar all about developing your racecraft skills. Check it out at https://speedsecrets.com/product/improve-your-racecraft-webinar/. Also, check out a couple of other questions I’ve answered about racecraft here, and here.
Hi Ross: One thing that we are going to try in our GT car is using cameras. Of course, the rear views are projected on one or more screens, which means they can cover more area than just using mirrors, and if there is room, a larger screen can give a larger view of the areas in question.
While this might be a good idea, there is a not-so-subtle difference between focusing on a mirror and focusing on a video screen. When you focus on a mirror you are not actually focusing on the surface of the mirror but on the far distant object in the mirror. Therefore, changing your sight from straight ahead to the mirror does not require a change of focus with your eye muscles. However, that is not the case with a video screen: you focus on the screen, which requires near-focus eye muscle adaptation.
This may not be much of a problem for most people IMSA drivers use rear facing cameras to good effect. It’s just something to consider.