I once heard a simple tip from Jack Nicklaus that forever changed my golf skill and made the game a hell of a lot easier to play. He was talking about his technique of performing so well under pressure for so many years, and how, when he really needed a clutch shot or a big drive, he would keep only one thought in his head.
“Slow down to speed up,” he’s quoted as saying. “If you try too hard or swing too fast, you often don’t hit the ball as well nor does your body feel perfectly in rhythm. Some of my longest drives and best shots I’ve hit in my life were from trying to hit the ball well instead of hard.”
Thanks, Jack. That one tip on the back page of a Golf Digest magazine dropped my handicap from a 15 to a 5, and created a few Sportscenter-worthy highlight reels in my memory.
It’s often that over a long green-flag run drivers will push their car to the limit and abuse their equipment to catch that next car in front of them. After all, isn’t that’s the essence of racing? No one can argue against that point, that is until they’re ten laps into a run and suddenly the drivers that they’ve worked so hard to pass have since caught them and are now riding off into the distance. To compound the issue, they now drive deeper into the corners in hopes of finding time, only to find that time is steadily slipping away and everyone ahead is getting smaller and smaller.
Once or twice I’ve heard Darrell Waltrip use a metaphor that’s popular with old veterans. “New tires are just like a bank. With a bank, you can take out the money whenever you want. You can take out a lot now, or you can take out a little now and a little later. Just remember that when it’s out, it’s gone.”
The three-time NASCAR champion and short-track legend is trying to say that drivers that abuse their tires cannot, and will not, be able to sustain competitive lap times over a long session. Words such as consistency, balance, management and rhythm all come together to describe what top drivers are trying to achieve. So how can you tell if you’re in need of some rhythm, and if so, where can you get it?
In iRacing, I feel that time trials work best for instant feedback of how well you’re managing a car’s resources. Furthermore, time trials hold a driver accountable for incident-free laps, which mean that you’re going to take extra care not to push the car to the wall another foot and you’ll not want to lose control throughout the corners. Not only does a time trial average your ten-lap session, but as an added bonus, you have that ten-lap run to gauge falloff and handling.
To illustrate my point, below I’ve included a time trial session that I ran at Dover in the Impala. In the first session, I “hot-lapped” the car, pushing as hard as I could possibly go every corner. Next, I ran another session in which I established a “rhythm.” pacing the car with patience and balance, focusing more on “center-off” driving.
After the first session, the car felt tight throughout the center with a snap-loose exit. Although I was faster throughout the first five laps, it was the steady, consistent pacing that allowed me to hit the fast time of the session (purple) and for the lap times to level off sooner and at a more even pace earlier in the run. Oh, and guess what? Over a ten-lap run, I was 0.4 seconds faster, which if you do the math is about 88 feet, or about four car-lengths. Oh, I almost forgot: the car felt only slightly snug-tight in the center of the corner.
As you can see, developing rhythm is the key to consistent lap times. It’s easy to drive faster and faster into a corner to gain time in entry, but as Jackie Stewart will tell you, the exit of the corner is far more important than the entry. A good exit will allow your car to attain forward bite and therefore maximum speed down the next straight.[“His way…my way. I was six seconds faster.” (Over his 50 lap run, that’s an average of a 0.12 sec per lap.]
In other words, racing is just like golf. As pro golfers say, you should learn the sport backwards. It also makes sense to “drive backwards” around a racetrack, because each section of the track directly affects the very next section. In fact, it can be argued that it takes 1.5 laps to make a quality lap. Plan your laps for the future! How can I set myself up to be as fast as possible through the next section?
1. How can I achieve maximum speed at the end of this straight? By having a good exit of the last corner.
2. How can I have a good exit on this corner? By allowing the car to set properly in the center.
3. How can I set the car properly in the center of this corner? By not overdriving the entry.
4. How can I not overdrive the entry? By realizing I can only lose time by trying to go faster here.
In the end, everything points back to the root of all slow times: overdriving a corner entry. Regardless of your car’s setup or handling characteristics, if you’re not able to effectively drive the car off the corner, you’re trying too hard. Consistent car control and balance throughout the center of the corner is the true key to fast lap times.
Racers are a competitive bunch. It’s the nature of the sport. Therefore, it’s understandable that racers often make their mistakes by trying too hard. However, very, very rarely in the sport of racing do drivers not try hard enough. Get faster by taking it slower, and I promise you’ll be more consistent in your driving abilities.