Driving on a road course is all about just that--driving. Regardless of the car you're using, you can learn and hone the skills of race driving. It takes time to perfect the skills, and they can't all be learned at the same time. However, if you diligently practice the basic skills, you'll be able to outdrive those with better cars.
For many first-time racers, there's a great temptation to go all-out and drive around the track as fast as possible. Hammering the gas pedal, and slamming on the brakes, you'll figure that when you've got the back of the car sliding through the corners, you're definitely hauling. Not so.
If you really want to learn to drive, and to be really fast around the track, you're going to have to concentrate on basic skills first, then concentrate on putting them together to go faster. Driving is no different than mastering any other sport or art -- you must have a solid foundation of basic skills, and it takes time to learn them.
Below, we've identified a number of the basic skills, and given them an order to practice them in. Each of these is described and illustrated in greater detail in the Driving Techniques tabbed section of technical articles.
- Heel / toe downshift -- practice this one on the track and on the street until it is second nature. Get this one down as soon as possible. Good braking and cornering begins with the heel/toe downshift
- Reference points and visual field -- if you're not looking where you want to go, you probably won't be there when you need to be. On the track and on the street, practice selecting fixed reference points for braking and turning, and practice keeping your visual field as far forward as possible.
- Limit-braking and corner turn-in -- limit-braking is braking on the edge of locking up the wheels. It allows you to approach the corner with maximum speed until as late as possible before turning. However, it can be overdone, which will slow your corner entry speed. Super-short braking zones by themselves don't reduce lap times much relative to sustained speeds in corners. Effective limit-braking includes a smooth and fast corner turn-in. They must be practiced together, but don't do this one in traffic on the street.
- Limit-accelerating -- this is acceleration at the limit of traction before the powered wheels spin. This technique is applied at the corner exit. To gain the highest possible speed on the straight, you'll need to get as much power as possible to the road as early as possible. Spinning the tires reduces power transfer, can potentially overheat them which reduces grip, and with soft race tires it will wear them out prematurely.
- Cornering -- in the end, road racing is all about cornering. You'll probably want to study and experiment with lines through the corners right away, but until you're comfortable with the above four skills, you won't be able put it all together for maximum cornering performance. Study anything and everything written about cornering, and re-read it periodically.
There are many more techniques and skills to learn, but these are the major ones to focus on early. The main issue with learning any set of skills is that you often have to practice them slowly, and gradually build speed as they become second nature. Don't be concerned about showing the club what you can do and trying to set some new club record on your first visit to the track. It will take several visits to the track to really get comfortable, and another several to get to the point where you're truly optimizing your performance in each session.
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