When I was racing back in the dark ages (Did you win the Horse and Cart race at Donington?. . Ed) there were fewer ways of getting circuit knowledge than there are now. If you wanted to know about a circuit at the other end of the country, you had to up sticks and go there to see for yourself. If you could find an experienced racer that was willing to share his knowledge, then you were in clover. (for you young ‘uns here’s a definition of ‘in clover’. Ed) These were the days before you could go and do a track day or get out the PS4 with Circuit Master 6 or whatever console game you prefer.
But, back to the second decade of the 21st Century we go. Let’s have a look at some tried and tested methods to shave the seconds off your lap time with some serious circuit knowledge!
1. Hit the Books – Yes, Really!
In circuit racing, whether you have driven a particular circuit before or not, there is always something new to learn every time you head out on track. But with limited chances to run some laps, how do you make the most of the time that you do get behind the wheel? The first option is to pick up a copy of the comprehensive UK Circuit Guide. Demon Tweeks have it in stock NOW.
Reviewed annually, this guide is indispensable as it will update with things like resurfacing or bumps that have grown from nowhere. If you add the notes from this to some in-car videos from YouTube you are as close as you can be to driving on the actual track. This relatively new way of immersive learning will allow you to get up to speed earlier in the meeting without the traditional loss of time whilst learning. More full speed laps gives you more chance of shaving the tenths off.
2. Get the Inside Track – Literally!
Every circuit is someone’s home circuit and the local star may well be prepared to talk to you or even do a track walk with you. Don’t underestimate the local knowledge. For example, Snetterton, way back in the 20th century had the famous Bombhole. It still has the Bombhole but it has changed in a big way. Back then, without a local helping you, there was a fair chance of leaving parts of the car on the track if you put your wheels in the wrong place.
As you walk the circuit, visualise driving it, feel the gear change, feel the change in camber and commit it to your memory so that the moment you get in the car it already feels familiar.
You could of course move the learning up a notch; you have already invested considerable funds to be racing at this new circuit or even one that you are familiar with, but are you getting the best out of yourself and the car? Remember the ARDS; they have professional instructors and for the relatively small cost will provide you with extra tips and real hands on experience of the circuit. I have never come across anyone that has not shaved a solid chunk of time off their lap having had help from an instructor.
I want to pass you over to a racer that needs no introduction; Guy Minshaw, who has competed in Ford Fiesta XR2s (along with many other classic race cars throughout his career) about his experiences of driver coaching.
This is just one example from the many people who have had driver coaching from a qualified instructor over the years. Having that one-on-one tuition will, almost certainly, find you an improvement in lap time.
3. Fake it Even When You Make It
Then of course there is the latest technology that us golden oldies didn’t have in the early years – SIM racing. Sim racing has grown in recognition as a genuine training tool for drivers seeking to learn new skills or simply keep themselves sharp between races.
Today’s modern simulator software and hardware has developed to the point of being the most accurate that we have ever seen. With incredibly detailed force feedback, laser scanning technology and industry standard physics engines, even motion systems simulating traction loss – you really can’t get much closer to the real thing…
However, this technology is not just restricted to the top teams and specialist businesses. With the advent of simulation software such as iRacing, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa along with ever improving hardware including steering wheel systems, pedals, shifters and more, this means that you can get achieve an in-depth and realistic driving experience in the comfort of your own home! It is a huge area and one which we’ll come back to in our next instalment – ‘How SIM Racing Can Make You a Faster Driver’.
A Side Note for Motorsport Engineers in the Making
Knowing your race circuits isn’t just important for drivers. It’s also important for teams. This video shows exactly how much responsibility lies on the shoulders of the motorsport engineers in charge in the upper echelons of the sport. Without the latest software, engineers can set up the car the best they can mechanically, but without track data and the latest circuit knowledge they may as well be taking a leak in a gale.
Here, Mercedes-AMG Petronas’ Performance Team talk about the importance of software engineering which supports F1 teams when it comes to in-depth circuit knowledge. Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes-AMG Trackside Engineering Director explains how TIBCO’s Spotfire software gives them the edge. Unsurprisingly, Andrew harks back to the dark ages when a lot of motorsport was guess-work and gut instinct. I remember these days well and that’s one of the eye openers about working with the NMA. Motorsport engineering means so much more now than race set-up.
When they’re a student with the National Motorsport Academy, engineers are provided with access to the latest and greatest tools that a motorsport engineer could wish for. Modules include using software for aero simulations, circuit knowledge and suspension design and geometry. The non-physical tools available to shave lap time truly are remarkable and to stay ahead of the competition, our students have to have every advantage we can possibly give them. That’s what it’s like there out in the real-world. It’s all about simulations. The irony of that isn’t lost on me….