Five Critical Questions For Drivers

By Ross Bentley

July 03, 2014

We all do the same things: brake, turn, and accelerate. It seems simple. But, we don't all do them the same. How someone puts them together is the only real difference that separates the best drivers from the rest.
You can argue all day long about how to brake, where to turn in, where the apex is, when to pick up the power. Distill it all. What is left is where, precisely, the driver does what he does to create the difference between fast and faster.
That is timing - where the driver matches what he does with the car to the track conditions. Even with changing conditions like lapped or lapping traffic, weather, or any other variable that may come along, a faster driver can still go faster.
Smoothness and Timing
Smoothness and timing are one and the same.
Time is a thought process in which events can be ordered [1][2][3][4][5][6]. The sequence of events [3][5][7], for example, and the intervals between them can be influenced ([3]... [5][6]... [7][8][9]). Sequences (series of events) and intervals (how time is allocated between events) change outcomes based on current and preceding events. These sequences and their intervals are fundamental aspects of what a driver can change.
Think of timing as anticipating motion - a sequence of motion. Controlling the motion sequence is what keeps everything from happening at once. It allows you not to rush, but lets you have occasion to choose when to rush. Often just focusing on finishing the skill at hand, (e.g. braking, turning, accelerating), is enough to change an outcome; it is a few more fractions of seconds in time, if you have self-confidence enough to take it.
The intervals between each motion of car control make a huge difference in how well you get around a course. A little more or less throttle, brake, or steering action will affect the immediate part of a corner, and the upcoming one.
A good description of smooth is starting actions at the right place for current conditions. Good timing is allowing continued throttle application all the way through the turn to the next corner. Some actions are more critical than others. It may very well be necessary to back off your speed to properly control time the sequences and get them just right.
More interesting is what controlling a time sequence within a task does for performance. Different techniques or portions of skills within a time sequence can be moved with highly masterful results. Anticipation slows time to allow for confidence; it is the ultimate tool for getting control of a time sequence.
Individuals use intuition to adapt to the order of sequence. It permits us to anticipate sequences of events in their environment so that we can prepare to cope appropriately with what is yet to happen.
Imagine dialing in some throttle in the middle of a medium-speed turn. You are trying to feel where, when, and how much more power can be applied. The question is, "What difference does it make if you do, or do not, roll into the throttle a few inches earlier, or later?"
Changes Required by Current Conditions Affect Expected Outcome
  • Do you roll into the throttle later and exit a bit slower?
  • Do you push the throttle on sooner and potentially have to roll off a little on exit? OR
  • Do you simply rely on what has worked in this turn in the past?
Based on speed, there isn't time for the mind to process a logical response. In other words, there isn't time to think about it. Your deeper subconscious response is emotional and based on those perceptions; you make decisions in the moment, sometimes in milliseconds.
Does Your Decision Feel Good?
The answer is not logical. It is emotional. Just like answering "What is your favorite color?", the answer is a feel-good, emotional response. This is a form of intuition, and we use intuition in all decisions. Logic is used only sometimes.
Most learning triggers are feel-good responses and, most commonly, the reason why one path is chosen over another. We must feel good about our decision first. Then, later, we apply logic or rationalize our actions through logic.
If the answer does not trigger an alarm, ("NO. NO. Don't do that!"), we think it is a good solution. It may, or may not be. It is a question of timing. We often arrange motion sequences in chronological order, frequently with time/motion causality. Yes, bad timing has consequences.
Decisions ripple out, changing timing, adjusting events that would interfere with completion of other events. Better decisions have less ripple effect. Correcting these time sequences is equivalent, in terms of lap time, to finding extra horsepower. Learning how to rely on our emotional or "gut response" controls the distance of the ripples.
Acquired patterns of behavior occur automatically. One event becomes the signal for another. Routines of behavior repeated regularly (and which tend to occur below conscious, rational thinking), become habit. Habits are more or less a fixed way of thinking in a consistent pattern.
Incremental Change
Fixed thinking is the root cause of resistance to change. Incremental change is the language of high-performance driving. Do not try to change everything at once. Make small incremental changes within combined motions, and recognize the ripples. Everything works differently in the real world. Success can only be measured in context.
This is why there is a big difference between going fast - which many can do - and winning races, which few can do.
To sum up, here are some critical questions:
  • Are you waiting in some places, and rushed in others?
  • Have you adjusted your timing of control actions to start earlier as speeds increase?
  • Are you entering the turn more quickly, but still waiting the same amount of time as before to start accelerating?
  • Did you go in deeper and not make the steering quicker?
  • Have you taken a slower lap to get your control timing correct?
Take stock and see how the time perspective can help you.
- E. Paul Dickinson


Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing, click here to subscribe 
Also be sure to check out Ross Bentley's book, Ultimate Speed Secrets: The Complete Guide to High-Performance and Race Driving.
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