Q: “Why am I faster when I’m chasing another car in a race than I am by myself?”
A: Certainly, one of the reasons for being faster when chasing another car is that you have a reference. When you’re driving by yourself, and you approach a corner, what tells you when to brake, how much to slow down to, and what speed to carry through the corner? It’s a combination of your senses and your memory – what you’ve done on previous laps.
But when you’re following another driver, you can view it and react to what they’re doing.
For some drivers, it’s a competitive thing. Chasing another driver means you’re on the hunt, whereas driving by yourself is relatively pointless. And leading? Well, here’s pressure that comes with that, and for many drivers, that leads to tensing up, resulting in less feeling of what the car needs to drive fast.
The best drivers focus on themselves and their own driving, rather than what others are doing. In other words, they focus on their own references, how to apply and release the brakes, their own line, their own acceleration. And they do this whether there is another car in front of them or not. That makes them consistent.
A follow up question could be, how can I be fast even when I’m not chasing another car? Pretend you’re chasing another car, even when you’re not! You do what you do because you’re mentally programmed to do so, and in this case that means you have the programming – the ability – to be that fast. If you don’t drive as fast when not chasing another car, that just means that you’re not accessing and using the right mental program – the one that is fast when chasing another car. If you “trigger” that program by imagining you’re chasing another car, you’ll be consistently faster.
The more you trigger and use your “chase” program, the better you’ll get at using it. It builds momentum.
Of course, your belief in yourself also plays a role in this. If you believe you don’t drive fast unless you’re chasing another car, then that’s like to be true. If you believe that you’re fast whether there’s another car in front of you or not, you’re more likely to be fast.
Oh, I almost forgot the most important reason you may be faster when following another car: The leading car is magnetic so it’s drawing you closer and closer to it! 🙂
Generally though at least in HPDE, if you come up behind somebody it’s because you are faster, so they would slow you down? I would think racing is similar? Of course there are situations when this is not true (maybe they are temporarily slow because they have just left the pits or made a mistake?).
But the notion is counter intuitive in my mind.
that was such rock solid, obvious and clear concise answer taking every part of the big picture into account. Thanks so much for this Ross ! Its a priviledge and fun to watch you improve in your coaching. Sure appreciate you sharing what you know with us ! More power to you ! Sterling
My thoughts: Beginning racers are faster when following another car. They have a frame of reference (line, braking, etc) that they haven’t developed on their own. More advanced racers are slower when following because they get sucked into the trap of following and repeating errors of the lead car. Pros are fast regardless because the lead car doesn’t change their approach. They look through the lead car and stick to their own line, brake points, end of braking, throttle application, etc., only adjusting once ready to make a pass that they may have been setting up 12 corners in advance.