For any of you who are looking for good race craft content during this off-season, don’t forget that you can check out my archives of coaching articles! Here is one that we originally posted back in 2013, but it’s still as relevant as ever. If you’ll be visiting a new track this year, these tips will help you learn the new circuit more effectively.
When you’re preparing to drive a track that’s new to you, absorb all of the information you can. It can come from data and video from other drivers, driving the track in simulators or games, driving the track in a street car or riding it on a bicycle before practice starts, and, of course, studying the track map.
Looking at the track map can help determine which corners will be the most important. Divide the track into 3 sections, grouping those sections based on connected turns, where what you do in one will have a big effect on the other. Instead of trying to absorb everything at once, you can break it down and focus on one section per session. By the fourth session, you’re putting it all together.
Let’s take Circuit of the Americas in Austin as an example. There are 20 corners over four miles. There is a whole section from turns 2-8 that is nothing but esses, each building on the next. Getting the setup dialed in for that section will be important so you get a good segment time there, and as a driver you have to know how to run through there with traffic.
Looking at the next section, there are a lot of straights and big braking zones, so you also want the car dialed in for that so you get the best runs through hairpins that lead onto straights. Coming onto the back straight, you need effective braking and have to get a good run off the corner because it leads onto the longest straight. You come off a 40mph corner into a 155mph straight, so it’s a pretty long run!
The last bit of the track is another section to focus on because it’s so technical. Corners lead into one another, so getting the car and the driver optimized for multiple-radius turns is important. Vision and proper lines will be critical for segment times because each section builds on the next.
Give feedback to your crew chief or engineers (yes, you might just be talking to yourself) about what sections of the track are most important to not only give you the most confidence in the car, but also to get the best lap time. At Austin, the first section is all handling. The second is a lot of straights and heavy straight-line braking, and the third is slow and technical. You’re dealing with three types of variables, and you have to figure out the best balance for your car. Remember, focus on one section in each practice session, and that will help you learn the track and get the right set-up without getting overwhelmed.
After studying the map of the Circuit of the Americas, I got to do a slow lap in a rental car. Check out my turn-by-turn guide here: http://youtu.be/c__LwR7-IwE