Q: “I watched a video of Alexander Rossi closing his eyes and imagining driving a lap of the Long Beach Indy car track. It was amazing how accurate he was. My question, then, is how important is circuit visualization for a driver?”
A: It’s critical. The best drivers can visualize every inch of a circuit. If you can’t, then you’re leaving something on the table, and you’ll get beaten by others who have developed this skill. When I think of the best drivers whom I’ve coached – drivers of all levels, but the ones who win the most at whatever level and form of racing they’re involved in – they are all better at visualization than the drivers they beat most often.
And here’s an important point: visualization, or what should be called mental imagery, is a learned skill. You can get better at it, and you will improve with practice. I’ll point out the difference between visualization and mental imagery, too. The first is simply imagining what you see, whereas with mental imagery, you also imagine the sound and feel of driving, and actually move your body. I’ve had drivers tell me that they have a hard time imagining an entire lap, and in most cases that’s because they’re not including the sound and feel/movement. As you do mental imagery, make it as real as possible by including your kinesthetic and auditory senses, along with your vision.