If you have an upcoming race at a track you’ve never been to before, it’s important to be as prepared as possible going into the event. If you have the opportunity to attend a lapping day or similar driving event prior to the race, that will give you a big advantage. But simply driving the track isn’t enough: your preparation will begin before the lapping event even starts, and includes the follow-up work afterwards as well, right up until it’s time for your race week.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a Hooked On Driving event with Ashton Harrison. Ashton will be competing in the Global MX-5 Cup Series this season, and the first race of the series is at Mazda Raceway. She had never been there before, so the Hooked On Driving weekend was the perfect opportunity for her to learn the track and get valuable seat time before the opening round of the series. Although Ashton wasn’t driving her new Global MX-5 Cup car, she was in a Spec Miata, so it was a comparable platform.
The valuable opportunity that a lapping day environment provides is a non-competitive setting for a driver to saturate themselves in seat time. You don’t have to worry about lap times or passing at the outset; it’s purely a chance to immerse yourself in learning the new track. Certainly learning a new track starts well before actually getting to the race track: things such as seat time in a simulator like iRacing and video review are key components to doing proper homework before you ever turn a wheel.
There are a variety of exercises you can work on at a lapping day, starting with building familiarity with the track. Learn which corners are most important and tackle those first. That also includes breaking the track down into segments and focusing on each, one at a time, before trying to piece it all together. Then of course, you need to find your brake points and ensure you’re in the proper gear for each corner. Hopefully by the end of the day you’ve established a rhythm that helps you have an overall understanding of the track.
If you have a second day of driving, that’s your chance to really make an effort to go faster. Utilizing in-car video and data are the perfect tools for doing this. If you’re fortunate enough to have a second car, having a lead-follow session with your coach is a great way to speed up that process.
We had a great couple of days at Mazda Raceway. Certainly the training isn’t done yet: now Ashton will get back on the simulator to cement her knowledge of the track. She also took copious notes throughout the weekend for easy referencing both during simulator practice and when she returns for the Global MX-5 Cup season opener. It’s imperative to be as prepared as possible when you show up for a race weekend so that you can focus on the racing aspects rather than worrying about relearning what you’ve forgotten about a track.