I was at Watkins Glen last week, which is one of my favorite tracks. Not only is it a favorite circuit of mine, but the surrounding area makes you feel like you’re on vacation, so it’s always a fun time there. I was there to support three of my coaching clients, who were all making their first visit to Watkins Glen. I knew they were in for both a real treat as well as a tall task. It’s a fun track, but it’s also high-speed and a little intimidating!
One of the most daunting things at Watkins Glen are the “blue bushes”: the baby-blue guardrail that lines the entire circuit. Those along with the dramatic elevation changes add to the challenges of the track. Beyond simply learning the rhythm and flow of the circuit, one of the main tasks is to overcome any feelings of intimidation for the guardrail and high speeds with elevation changes. When you’re on unfamiliar territory, these things can really present a challenge to your confidence and, ultimately, your speed.
Of course the main focus for my clients was to get familiar with the rhythm of the track, but they also had to gain confidence with those intimidating factors that the track presents. One of the strategies to conquer those feelings of intimidation is to pay attention to where you’re focusing your eyes. You should be focused on the track, not its distractions. This might sound obvious, but it can be difficult when you have distractions lining the circuit, especially when they inhibit your line of sight and minimize your margin of error at the exit of a corner. It helps to look through the corner as far as possible, working as well as you can with the limited sightlines presented by the guardrails.
You should also utilize the width of the track to maximize your radius and speed through the corners, even though it means driving so close to the guardrails. In reality, you can ask yourself, “How often do I go off-track by a car width or more at the exit of a corner?” Obviously, the answer is, “Not often!” So if you typically stay within the limits of the track on a grass-lined surface, then there’s really no difference what’s lining the track. After a successful practice day, the intimidation factor lessens as you get more used to the situation, and you can turn your attention more to gaining speed through Watkins Glen’s high-speed banked corners.
As for my coaching clients, their lap times continued to improve throughout the event as they got more comfortable with Watkins Glen. They all had competitive times and they had a lot of fun, successfully completing a challenging week at a new circuit with plenty of track time and great results.