I took this picture the other day while following a big truck on an interstate highway, going about 60 mph (about 100 kph). Imagine yourself in this situation, driving the car. Where in the picture do you look?
Fig. 1. A very common sight while driving. Where are you looking right now?
Assuming that you’re not text-messaging, dialing the radio, swatting the kids in the backseat, or admiring road signs and trees, most street drivers predominately look in one of several places: checking the dashboard gauges, looking at the road directly ahead, or reading the words on the back of the truck. By focusing on the truck, you are reacting to the truck, instead of what is beyond the truck. As easy as it is to be lulled into a false sense of security in the comforts of a modern vehicle, keeping your eyes in this road lane is extremely dangerous because it develops “tunnel vision” which, in turn lowers, your situational awareness and increases the likelihood of an accident.
So, how can you be a more proactive driver? Use your peripheral (indirect) vision! Think about it: it is a natural instinct for humans to look directly at the object that is on their mind. The converse is also true: if you look at the truck, your mind will naturally wander toward the truck. When this happens, you instantly become a reactive driver. Instead, if you put the truck in your peripheral vision, your perception will actually be faster to any change in distance to the truck. Sound strange? It’s not: the human eye is extremely attuned to detecting motion, especially when out of the direct line of sight (it has to do with how the rods and cones in your eye work together). This makes you react to situations beyond the truck, increases your field of vision, and allows your brain to process more information without requiring more power.
What’s that, you say? You can’t see beyond the truck? That’s right, you can’t. Instead, look around the truck. If you’re in traffic similar to this scenario, your direct line of sight should be to the road far ahead of the truck.
So how does this mentality translate to sim-racing? There are two different approaches: “clean air” laps, and racing in traffic.
Let’s focus on solo lapping first. Here, there are little or no distractions from other cars, and you have your preferred line around the track. In this setting, you are simply trying to “hit your marks.” Your eyes should always be looking ahead for your next target. When you look all the way down the straightaway, your mind will naturally focus on what you’re going to do when you get there, and you should be constantly asking yourself, “how am I going to approach this corner? What line am I going to take? Am I going to try something different?” Once you’re entering the corner, your eyes should be looking at where you want to put the left front tire. As soon as it’s there, pick out a point on the outside wall where you want to drive the car next. Keep your direct field of vision a few seconds ahead, and things will stop jumping at you so quickly. After a while, you’ll start to notice that you can feel the car respond differently to the same input that you give. This is because you are no longer overreacting to the movement of the car in relation a narrower field of view.
In traffic, you are still trying to hit those marks, except your view or reference points may be obstructed by the car(s) in front of you. Focusing your line of sight ahead of these cars allows you to maintain your enhanced field of view while still using your peripheral vision to safely race others. Many times, emerging street and racing drivers focus upon the rear bumper of the car directly in front of them, brake erratically and miss their marks, resulting in slower lap times that make it nearly impossible to pass that next car without incident.
Below I’ve put a sequence of pictures outlining how I see out the cockpit of my car during a practice session at Bristol Motor Speedway. This track is notorious for how quickly situations unfold, often in a matter of less than two seconds. Here, successful drivers know how to keep their eyes focused as far down the track as possible to avoid the inevitable calamity.
To develop racing vision, stick a long piece of masking tape (I like painter’s tape because it’s translucent blue) on your windshield or monitor that blocks out a few feet in front of your car. This tape will force you to look out the top half of your windshield and pay closer attention to where you’re going.
On a closing note, when it comes to iRacing, you can access many tempting tidbits of information in all sorts of flavors by pressing various function buttons (F1, F2, etc.). Stop using them!! Real-life racers don’t have a HUD built into their helmet visors (yet). Besides, the worst thing a race driver can have is curiosity.
Are you worried about where the leaders are? Who cares? Out of sight, out of mind.
Do you want to know if anyone’s catching you? Check your rear-view mirror (do this on a straight).
Curious about your lap times? Have your spotter call them out every time you cross the line.
What’s happening with your gauges? They’ll blink or change color if they require your attention.
Keep your eyes up and far down the track. Focus on hitting your next mark on the track, and nothing else. I can assure you that it will help drop your lap times over the course of a run.