"Early in my driving career one of my instructors taught me to read the tachometer at a specific point on the exit of each turn I was striving to improve."
Advanced Driver Tuning: “Take It To The Bank”
By Greg Haas
Most track rats have a home base they find themselves driving most often. I am lucky as I have three, all located at Summit Point Motorsports Park. Even with this delightful stroke of luck, Summit Point Main is the one track I have decades of laps on and therefore it defaults to primary status. Most seasoned racers understand the “take it to the bank” lap. This is the lap you can virtually do in your sleep (in fact some of us regularly imagine this lap before dozing off, as it is far more interesting than counting sheep). The baseline lap is the one that references all others and is invaluable for measuring ones’ performance, the car’s variations, and adjustments from situation to situation.
One core lap can be counted on as a savings account of sorts. When you find yourself driving like a bit of a hoodlum or perhaps end up a little rusty after a long break, the solid negotiation of your Take It To The Bank lap brings you home like a trusted friend. For me that lap should be as mundane as circulating around a fast food parking lot. If I want excitement, I can watch a soap opera. You should be able to bang out that lap over and over, hitting the numbers every time. Thus equipped, you are free to hang all the tinsel on it your heart desires and if something goes sideways you can always reset and find your way home.
Thanks to this lap seasoned racers rarely mess with the nuances of every corner in the heat of battle. In fact this stuff works best when handled by the gray matter directed magnificently by well managed ocular skills. This allows one to squirt through impossible holes in an unexpected milieu of physics gone awry for competitors in front. Focused seat time creates this lap with the accompanied discipline needed to develop it. As cars and set-ups change or the weather turns less than ideal, the baseline provides a yardstick for comparison and allows for calculated adjustments. Building a lap like this starts with solid building blocks made up of the elemental skills required to drive fast safely. With these skills it is possible to create dozens of base laps to suit all the tracks you visit.
Instructing students requires adaptation to many levels of experience and encounters with lots of different approaches to driving. In many cases seasoned drivers will display some remarkable techniques that may not qualify as traditional. A modern car provides a lot of filler putty and shiny paint in the form of technology which masks hidden technique issues. Use the baseline concept as a goal and break technique down to bare metal then build it back up with solid panels. Create a framework of the lap with known points on the circuit traditionally called entry, apex and exit. Get to know each point intimately and seek each out individually using good visual timing. I often equate this to the old time night watchman who must insert his key in each box as he makes his rounds. You just tick off your points as you lap and suddenly your lap times improve with little drama. The bonus is that if you miss a mark, you simply locate the next one that is safe to achieve and get on with business. Many tracks have a teaching line that should be universal to all instructors who have privileges there. The line works to simplify the sorting process and allows students to focus on quality technique. Consistency is crucial for a quality program as it allows everyone to be on the “same page.”
Instructors who work with students “in-car” have to know the base lap intimately. During demonstration laps the base lap allows an instructor to talk through the circuit for the student while performing the line flawlessly. Attention to the subtleties of the track surface and the characteristics of each visual point on the track allows for a clear expression of the student's goals during the initial laps. Additionallythe instructor is able to analyze the car during these familiarization laps which assures accurate guidance during track sessions. It is crucial that one understands the amount of acceleration and braking available and the characteristics of the car when cornering. If you know exactly what the base lap is supposed to look like, it's viable to establish an understanding of each car's capabilities during the limited number of guidance laps. During the sessions of the day each student will provide clues in their driving technique that may be adjusted. The instructor must be able to observe the quality of inputs and the associated results on the track. This skill requires a keen ability to use peripheral vision both inside and outside of the car. By mastering the widest field of vision possible, an instructor can recognize dramatic inputs before they come to fruition as well as surrounding traffic and accuracy of line placement. Keen knowledge of the base lap allows one to free up the mental overhead and manage the priorities that will guide a student to improved performance.
For more seasoned drivers, the consistent lap provides a valuable tool, both for discipline and personal development. Early in my driving career one of my instructors taught me to read the tachometer at a specific point on the exit of each turn I was striving to improve. By keeping the balance of the lap unchanged, you can experiment with the components of a particular corner and improve incrementally. This tends to minimize the belief that you are tearing it up when in reality you are just on the ragged edge of control. This approach has also proven to be highly useful in developing new car set ups by providing instant feedback and allowing for tuning on the fly. During competition it is often impossible to actually see the points on the track that make up a fast lap. With traffic, dust, sun, and weather, visibility is often sorely limited. By knowing where your line is you can still look through these obstacles and place the car. Most importantly you will do it out of intuition and habit rather than conscious thought. Starting on cold tires or encountering traction compromised sections of the track requires some form of adjustment in car placement. By understanding exactly where to place the car you are able to locate the next reasonable point to resume the preferred line. Here again knowing exactly where that is allows you to find it though it may be several visuals away. Long after you develop your core lap by enhancing and adjusting, it remains the bedrock you can always go back to. Instructing others gives me an invaluable opportunity to revisit that lap every time I do demos. As I hit the marks on a lap while explaining details, my revised positions pass by and I can vividly identify where the additional speed is available. The consistency exercise really settles me down and forces me to drive like a grownup.
The next time you are at the track laying down some hot laps, take the time to pay homage to your “take it to the bank” lap. Make sure it's still valid and enjoy the simplicity and flow of it. If you don't have this lap yet, begin to build it paint mark and pavement mark at a time until you can remember it when you close your eyes and imagine. If you are instructing, help your students achieve this goal by giving them good habits in their driving style, great eye control, and reference points that can be consistently called out. After they settle in and start to put together solid laps remind them to take some time after the session to imagine the lap in order to plant it firmly in the mind. Soon enough they will achieve the realization that slow is in fact fast.
“Think fast, go faster”