Q: “I’ve been experimenting with different techniques, different lines, trail braking, rotating, controlled-over or understeer where needed, and on and on, and my lap times are no longer improving. How do I know if I’ve reached the limit of the vehicle, or my skill limit? Is it safe to say that some cars will never achieve “insert-super-fast-lap-time-here,” no matter what you do to them, within reason? I can only go so wide of a tire, or reduce weight so much, or tune suspension so much, before there isn’t much left to tinker on the car. I see cars with half the power, similar weight, running similar or faster lap times than I do.”
A: First, you’re right in saying there is a limit somewhere. The laws of physics eventually come into play when we’re driving. However, my experience says that very few drivers in the world are bumping up against those laws and the limits on a consistent basis. So, my mindset is “There’s always more.” But how do you know when you’re at the limit, or whether there’s more to be found in terms of lap time?
The easiest way to know whether you’re driving your car at its limit is to have another driver, someone you know for sure is very fast, drive your car. If they go faster, then you know you have more work to do on your driving; if they don’t, then you have a pretty good idea that you’re getting the most out of your car. Of course, that still doesn’t mean that you’re getting everything out of your car, but you should be very close. Again, there’s always more.
If another driver is faster than you are in your car, then you need to figure out how to improve your driving, and that can be a big and fun project in itself (and beyond the scope of this post – it’s the topic of just about everything I teach!).
No matter if the other driver is faster or not, you will learn something from the experience, both about your driving and your car’s performance. Ideally, you’d have data and video set up, so you can record the other driver and compare to your driving. But getting feedback from someone else about your car’s performance is also critical – again, whether they are faster or not. Then you take that feedback and compare it to your own, and begin tuning your car’s setup.
You can do most of this without another driver driving your car, but this is the quickest way.
Finally, selecting the right person to drive your car is not a simple thing. You want someone you can trust to be safe with your car, not be in a super-ego contest with you, be knowledgeable about car setup so you can learn from them, and of course, they have to be a known fast driver.
Having said that, there is a benefit to not having someone drive your car. Think about it. If you copy what another driver has done, what have you really learned? You’ve learned how to copy that other driver. If, on the other hand, you can figure out how to go faster on your own, then what you’ve learned from doing so will apply to just about everywhere else you drive, and in other cars. I think of it as the difference between learning from the outside-in (someone telling/showing you how to do something) and learning from the inside-out (you discovering what works, and the lesson sticking with you forever). A good coach should be able to help you learn from the inside-out, guiding you through the process of learning where the limits are. So, seriously consider hiring a good coach.