As you advance your driving skills, whether you are racing or doing track days, usually your natural progression is to upgrade to a faster car. Whether this is inspired by the race series that you’re following (especially if you’re in the Mazda Ladder System), or a personal goal, this will lead to a more challenging experience for you as your skills advance.
Driving is a lot more challenging in a faster car. Obviously your speeds are increased, which means your braking points, braking technique and shift frequency are affected. Along with that, from the mental standpoint, the speed with which you have to think must increase and your vision has to be further up the road. On the physical side, you’ll be carrying more speed, so there will be higher Gs, which is more of a strain on the body. Your physical fitness needs to be at a level to handle the higher strain of a faster car.
Now that you have that faster car, how do you go about learning those new brake and shift points? Obviously, the faster you go, the more you’re going to have to slow down heading into turns! Even if your brakes are bigger and better on the upgraded car, carrying more speed usually means you’ll have to start to slow down sooner.
Think about this from a threshold braking standpoint: you’ll want to feel and understand what that straight-line braking limit feels like, and then work your way into braking later for the corner. Your goal is that when you release the brakes for the corner entry, there is no leftover time but you’re not still going too fast for the turn-in. A good way to play with this is to start braking early but brake hard to start to understand where this threshold in brake distance lies.
Now that you’re accelerating through the gears faster, shifting is going to become more demanding and you’ll do more gear changes per lap. Case in point, a Spec Miata shifts about 15 times per lap at Road Atlanta, whereas the Mazda prototype is more than double that! This will give you less time to “relax” on the straightaways, so you’ll find that a faster car will be more mentally demanding because of that lack of “down time” during a lap.
Mentally, you have to be much further ahead of the car because you have to make a plan before you get there, and there is less time to do that when you’re going faster. That also incorporates your vision: your eyes need to be much further ahead when driving a faster car. Things approach quicker, so looking a few seconds ahead on the road is going to be a further distance than it was in your slower car.
Whichever car you decide to drive, they’re all a challenge as you try to extract that last little bit out of the car. I still find it challenging to try to get that last tenth out of a Spec Miata, just like I do in any faster car. Of course, there are more components the faster you go, which makes it more challenging, but that keeps the sport dynamic and interesting!