How do I improve my driving skills is a question faced by all racers. How do I better my lap times? What can I do to be quicker?
Of course, there isn’t just one thing to think about when it comes to improving your driving skills. There are many techniques and tips to consider. Remember, each driver is unique like a snowflake – we all drive differently!
Racing Edge teamed up with Canadian professional race car driver and IndyPro star Parker Thompson to bring you some exclusive tips on how to improve your driving skills on the racetrack!
Improving Your Driving Skills
Before we dig in, a word from Parker Thompson: “I would never teach people something I wouldn’t be comfortable trying myself. Sometimes, in order to get a foundation of driving skills, it might actually worsen your lap times to start. You have to roll things back.”
“This is what the professionals use too. We’re not super-human, we’re just perfecting an art. Whether you are beginner or very advanced, these are skills I look at every time I get to the track. And it goes back to your car setup: if you’re not comfortable driving a car in a certain way, you’re never going to get the most out of it.”
Improve Your Driving Skills: Know Your Reference Points
This first tip to improving your driving skills is really important. It sounds as generic as knowing your track or knowing your race car. But if you can’t tell your coach every brake marker you use, or every gear you should be in at every corner then you don’t know your marks well enough! You should be able to rattle them off without missing a beat.
People often forget this is a useful driving skill. You constantly use markers to reference how you’re driving the car or how the car is handling. If you don’t start building reference points, you’ll never get better. Use the braking board markers or rocks on the side of the track – but reference something.
Parker Thompson said: “If you don’t think F1 drivers or IndyCar drivers or any professional for that matter uses reference points, you are lying to yourself. It’s all we use, everything we do. How can we analyze anything we are doing behind the wheel if we don’t have a reference point?”
“I’ve seen people spend years and years of time and money into trying to improve their track driving skills. But because they didn’t start with reference points, they’re never getting better. They don’t know where they’re at.”
No matter who you are or how good you are, reference points are something you need to use.
Improve Your Driving Skills: Hitting The Apex
Every driving coach and their dog has said this before – but for good reason. Hit your marks. It doesn’t matter how fast you are driving because if you’re not hitting your apexes, you’re not getting the most out of the car.
Doing less is more – you want to be using the least amount of track the in the most efficient way. That is how you maximize performance.
Parker Thompson said: “If there is anything about my driving style, I would be the king of ‘look slow, but be fast’. When you watch me driving it’s never exciting, or on the edge – then you look at the lap times!”
Improve Your Driving Skills: Braking
Braking is arguably the most important fundamental when it comes to improving driving skills in a race car. A lot of people think you drive with your hands – but actually, you’re driving with your feet.
Your throttle is obviously important, but your brakes are a huge part of being quick. What differentiates the best in the world to other professional drivers is how they brake.
Braking is the essential driving skill. You need to maximize braking, which usually entails trail braking the car. Trail braking is where you brake heavily in a straight line when approaching a corner at high speed, then ease off the brake pedal as you turn the steering wheel.
The reason you have to trail brake is because if the car is very heavy, it doesn’t want to turn when the weight is not at the front of the car. So you need to get the weight to the front of the car.
Parker Thompson said: “If you’re hitting your apexes, and you’ve got your references but you’re still losing time - I would say there is a 90% chance it’s in the brake zone. Working on your braking and trail braking to improve your performance is a huge gain. It’s worth your investment time and time again.”
“But if you’re not using reference points and you’re not hitting your apexes, it doesn’t matter how much you trail brake your car. You won’t get the results.”
Be Open Minded In Racing
Being humble is as important as any physical driving skill. Some people just don’t listen to advice, because they are so set in their ways when driving a car.
The two main variables to driving a race car are your hands and feet. Yet there are so many ways to get around or do the same things differently to get the same lap times.
Once you’ve nailed the first three driving skills above, it’s open to interpretation as to what works best for you. Be open-minded and try new things – don’t get stuck in your ways. Compile your own knowledge in how you like to drive.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone drive a car the complete opposite to me, and we’re within hundredths of a second of each other,” Parker Thompson said. “Listen to advice – don’t disregard anything and don’t leave any stone unturned.”
The Data Never Lies
This is one of the advanced driving skills. Once you think you’ve reached a ceiling, it’s time to invest in a data system. These are cool devices that tap into your car’s ECU – it knows when you are on the brakes and on the gas. It’s a pretty cost-efficient system.
You’re nailing reference points, hitting apexes, maximising braking and happy with the way you’re driving. Now you have to look at the data. This is what bridges the gap between amateur and wanting to be as good as you can be.
Parker Thompson said: “I would say before you invest in trying to make your car faster, invest in a simple data system so that you can be honest with yourself about how you’re driving.”
Fancy your chances in the new Racing Edge SimRacing Series? Register your interest on our SimRacing page!