Getting back in the saddle

» Posted by on Apr 3, 2012 in Current projects and Tech Notes, RB6 Formula Ford | 1 comment

Getting back in the saddle

Here are my thoughts after a 2 day SCCA road racing driver school that ended a 16 year gap in my competition driving. Hopefully this will help others who are considering getting back into racing.

1. Be humble, and be patient with yourself. You will have to accept the fact that your early days back in competition driving will be really embarrassing, and that grinding the rust off your skills will take serious effort and focus. The alternative to this is major frustration, because you will remember how good you used to be, but you won’t be able to do anything like picking up where you left off. You are starting almost from scratch. Honing your driving skills back to where they were will take many, many months, so don’t think that a one day recovery is possible. Re-learning how to drive will not be fun, even if you fully embrace your status as a rookie.

2. Start with autocross. You will make some giant mistakes, and their consequences will be much less serious there. The next logical steps are open track days, competition schools, then club races. Of course I didn’t do that. In this case, do as I say, not as I did.

3. Keep running autocrosses. All of the skills and much of the car development that you can do there will transfer directly to road course running.

4. If you drove a formula car or sports racer before, start back in another one. FA, FB, and FC cars are not meant to be training wheels, so start in something less demanding. Formula cars and sports racers are precision instruments, so there is no hiding any flaw in your technique. That makes them excellent platforms for re-learning how to drive because the car will instantly tell you when you got everything exactly right, and when there is any weakness at all in your technique. I really hope that this will shorten my learning curve.

5. Over-drive, then under-drive. You need to briefly get a feel for the full spectrum of car responses, including beyond the limits. Slide recovery should be very high on your priority list of skills to re-develop, and you need to choose a safe place and time to hang it over the edge. I didn’t do this either, and it could have been disastrously expensive and painful. I got lucky. Again, don’t do what I did.

6. The under-driving part of the process is where the real skill development begins. Keep the car stuck down and drive at 7 or 8 tenths. That should free up your brain enough to put the car on something close to the right line and drive consistently. If you look at your lap times at all, which I don’t reccomend, only examine them for consistency, and don’t compare them to anyone else’s.

If you can’t drive consistently, back down your level of aggression another notch. If you are getting complements for your consistency, take it up a half-step and work on improving your line and your speed profile toward the optimum. You will know where you are leaving speed on the table.

7. Run an event every other weekend, carefully evaluate your performance after each event, and go to the next event with a clear development plan for yourself. I started with two school days consecutively, and that was too much, too fast. I got a LOT of track time, but the quality of the track time wasn’t as good as it could have been because the schedule was so compressed that I didn’t have time to fully process what happened.

For me, the skill that I miss the most is the ability to read the track and visualize the right line. If I had started with autocrosses, this issue might not have been the biggest one.


1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the great post (April 2012) I’m gettin’ back into racing after 16 years myself. Going from Production car to racer. Gotta love the mid life crisis (race) car! Can’t wait for your book to arrive. All the best. aj