Q: “Are there any substantial changes to driving technique, vision focus points, driver inputs, etc., that you would recommend when going to a street circuit rather than a “typical” racetrack? Obviously, there are walls instead of gravel traps so you don’t want to focus on them, but are there many changes you make to the actual driving?”
A: I love racing on street circuits! I love having the “Attack” mindset that a street circuit rewards. If you’ve skied moguls, it’s the same kind of thing: if you ski cautiously, you’ll probably fall, but if you attack the moguls, you’ll be successful. That’s the mindset difference.
As for technique, a few things come to mind. First, as you pointed out, your vision is critical. With the walls on the inside of most corners, it’s difficult (or impossible) to see through the corner until you’re into it. A very subtle but effective thing you can do is stretch and turn your head and neck as much as possible, to get a better view through the corners. Even moving your head an inch or so forward will make a surprising difference. When I was racing Indy cars, I noticed the best drivers doing that, and deliberately practiced doing it myself.
Often, street circuits have a crown in the road, since they’re meant to drain rain water to the sides. This means that as you go from the outside, to the inside, and back to the outside for the largest radius corner, you’re going from negative banking to positive banking and back to negative banking. Depending on how dramatic the crown in the road is, you may want to alter your line. Drive where you have the most grip. That sometimes means not driving what you would think is the ideal line.
This also applies to the track surface. Because you can experience concrete, pavement, sealer, and paint on streets, you have to search out and drive where there is the most grip. It’s a bit like driving in the rain.
In terms of your actual driving technique – braking, turning the steering wheel, and using the throttle – the differences can be huge, or not at all. It depends so much on the car and circuit. If I had to make a big generalization, I’d suggest you be prepared to brake late, trail the brakes into the corners, and focus on getting back to full throttle as soon as possible – focus on your exit speed. How is this different from any other track? Mostly just in the emphasis on entry and exit speed, and perhaps a little less on rolling speed through the middle of the corners.
Racing on street courses are a blast, and so much of how well you do is based on the mindset I mentioned at the beginning.