Q: “I’ve started doing HPDE events recently and the bug has definitely bit me. I’ve been doing tons of research between track days and generally drinking from the firehose when it comes to driving improvement. Now I find myself struggling on what to focus on between looking ahead, finding the right line, staying on line, feeling the grip of the tires, trail braking, staying smooth, car setup, etc. What would you say are the most important three things to focus on as you progress through HPDEs, and what are some of the best ways to practice them?”

A: Very good question!

I’ll start with a bit of an “easy way out” answer: listen to your instructor. The reason I say that is they can see where you are with your driving, and what should be focused on next, better than I can while sitting here typing away on my computer.

The most important three things to focus on are the three pieces of low hanging fruit. In other words, the three things that are going to help you the most, often thought of as your three biggest weaknesses.

Without having that knowledge of your driving, let me share some general thoughts.

  1. Vision: For many drivers, simply practicing looking further ahead will help, and many have developed the bad habit (from driving in traffic on the road) of not looking far enough ahead. But there’s more to using your vision properly on the track than just looking far ahead. It’s keeping your eyes moving from far ahead, back to your key references, back up ahead again, scanning back to the references, and so on. In other words, it’s keeping your eyes moving, scanning ahead and back to references, back and forth, again and again. It’s also using your peripheral vision to check on your positioning as you pass references, and making minor adjustments based on that. So, yes, vision is a priority!
  2. Braking: As far as a single skill or technique to focus on, it’s braking. Turning the steering wheel and applying the throttle are relatively easy compared to all the things you can and should do with the brakes: when and how quick and hard to initially apply brake pressure, how you modulate the pedal throughout the brake zone, and the timing and rate of release of the brakes as you approach and enter corners. As a big general suggestion, I’d recommend focusing on an initial hard application, and a smooth control easing off of the brakes. If you get those two things right, you’ll find that the rest of what you’re doing will be pretty good (until you really start focusing on the details with more experience).
  3. Feeling the car: If you pay attention to the feel of your car – its load/weight shift, the feedback through the steering wheel, the building up and relaxing of the lateral g-loads – you’ll improve faster. Your car tells you whether you’re doing things right or not. It also tells you whether you’re driving the proper line through the corners – if you’re paying attention. Now, when you first start driving on a track, there’s a LOT going on, right?! Paying attention to the line your instructor wants you to drive takes up most of your mental bandwidth. And the line is important. But as you get more and more comfortable with it, and you can drive without having to use up all your brain power just to have your car close to the right path on the track. Pay attention to how your car feels, what it’s telling you, and the feedback it’s giving you.

Again, if I was at the track with you, and observed the way you drive, I might re-prioritize these things, but these three things won’t steer you wrong (pun not intended).

Finally, the one thing that I would not prioritize is your speed. Weird, right? One of the goals of track driving is to get around the track faster and faster. But when you focus on driving fast, you don’t learn as much. When you focus on learning, you improve your driving technique, and you end up driving faster and faster. So, the mindset should be: focus on learning, knowing that speed will come as a byproduct.

Oh, and have fun!

NOTE: If you don’t want to wait for me to answer your question(s) here (which can take months, since I have so many!), you can always use my new SpeedSecrets.ai by signing up at SpeedSecrets.ai. The real beauty of using this app is that you can get out of your car after a session on track, and immediately ask it questions and get your answers, as well as what you should work on for the next on-track session. Since it’s “trained” only with my content, it really is like having me with you at the track.