Even more better

» Posted by on Nov 4, 2013 in Current projects and Tech Notes | 1 comment

Even more better

The momentum is building, and it feels absolutely spectangular.

I’m finally taking my own advice. In my book Think Fast, I wrote “There is always more performance to be had from the driver than from the car.” Through the last two autocross practice days, I have focused on improving myself, and the results have shown very clearly that the zone between my ears is a very productive place to focus. This autocross practice day was very much a continuation of the process that I started during my last practice day, and it felt like it. I have now made 24 consecutive autocross runs without a major goof. Those of you who shagged all of the cones that I whomped a year ago will agree that I have stepped up to the next rung on the driver skill ladder. There are a lot of rungs left, and that’s OK with me. I have more progress to look forward to.

One of the biggest and earliest milestones to achieve during the process of improving your driving skill, oddly enough, is learning to ignore what your hands and feet are doing. It takes a lot of seat time, and absolute confidence in your car control abilities, your car, and the interfaces between man and machine to be able to tune out the fundamental mechanical actions of driving the car. The reason that this is important is that it frees a big chunk of your mental bandwidth so that you can direct it towards the next higher level of activity.

Now that I have stepped over that threshold, I have realized that my driving a year ago was most definitely below it. I can remember expending mental effort in planning out how far and how fast I would move the steering wheel, the shifter, and the pedals. Now I have absolutely no idea. My subconscious is handling the basic mechanics of driving.

I’m probably not all the way across that threshold because I’m very aware of every shift and I get consciously involved in catching slides, but I can tell a big difference in where my focus is while I’m in motion. Here is what that change in focus did for my performance:

That’s a cone-o-graph of my run times from the November 2, 2013 autocross practice day at Auto Club Speedway. Pretty, ain’t it? My one error is very obvious, but aside from that, this progression of run times is as good as I have ever done. My one error happened because I didn’t have the course fully memorized, and my line got behind the course entering a slalom. One area of my skill set that needs additional refinement is memorizing the whole course while I’m walking it. I was able to identify exactly where the problem was and correct it on the next run, and it stayed with me through the rest. For this event, my goal was to drive better every run, all the way through the finish of my last run. Here’s the video of that run. With that one exception, the cone-o-graph shows that I can claim Mission Accomplished.

So what is the “next higher level of activity” that I was able to focus on? Optimizing my line and speed to use all of the car’s grip limits for minimum run time. Balancing the combination of those variables, and optimizing that combination, is supremely difficult. Achieving some level of success in that endeavor is very satisfying. It’s the primary means of enjoyment that I’m able to get from a good day of competition driving. It has nothing to do with how my run times compare to anyone else’s, whether they are in my class or not. I realized long ago that the only person that I’m really ever competing with is myself. Having said that, I can now say that my level of driving performance, and the setup of the car, have both improved to the point that a new set of Hoosier R25B tires would not be a total waste of money.

Those of you who road race should also autocross. Autocrossing lets you develop all of those skills in a safe environment, to the point that line, speed, and grip also become subconscious activities. You absolutely need to develop that level of proficiency so that you can focus your brain power on risk management and traffic strategery. You will also learn how to get with the program on cold tires. The pack always spreads out pretty quickly after the start, so if you are going to do any passing, your best shot is during the start and the first lap, when you are in a tight pack and everyone’s tires are cold. You will also develop the ability to learn new tracks very quickly, as in a handful of laps instead of a handful of events at that track. Only after you have all of that fully under your control should you consider a radio system.

But wait, there’s more! I got to play starter for my work assignment, and I had a ball jumping around, waving the green flag with gusto, using creative gestures to guide each car to stop exactly at the start line, making eye contact and smiling with every driver, and generally making a fool of myself. Why not?

1 Comment

  1. Neil-Good show!
    I wish I could improve my driving as you did.
    Thanks again for your help with my race car.