Most drivers are looking to improve how they drive. Well, at least the ones reading this! They're trying to raise their one hundred percent - their best performance, their outright speed. But should that be their focus, what they're working on? Or should they first be focused on performing at their one hundred percent more often?
I completely agree with this week's guest contributor, Dev Clough, and his focus on improving one's consistency before working on being faster. Dev comes to his conclusion from tons of experience as a kart racer, club racer, long-time coach and Hooked on Driving's Coaching Coordinator.
Enjoy! - Ross
Being “consistent” sounds boring. Being “fast” sounds sexy and cool, and isn’t being fast what we want on the racetrack? Why would anyone be more interested in being consistent than wanting to be fast?
Because, if you ever want to be fast and safe, you need to be consistent, first!
Let me make my case.
To start with, let’s agree what being consistent is about. For me, it means driving the identical line around the track, lap after lap. Imagine if your tires were paintbrushes and after ten laps, the lines you painted were no wider than the first lap. But consistency means more than just the line; it also includes where you start and finish braking, how the brakes are applied, and how they are released. Same with throttle. Consistency encompasses when you shift and how you release the clutch. You get the picture - every piece of the puzzle involved with getting the car around the track, including your speed at every point on the track, is part of it. So, if you could be perfectly consistent (okay, it’s not likely you’ll ever be perfectly consistent!) your lap times would also be identical every lap. While racing karts years ago, I once put in my two qualifying laps at identical times to the thousandth of a second…but I am sure if you broke down those two laps, there were many variations in how I got there. I got lucky and all my variations averaged out to the same lap time. My point is, consistency is the overall picture of your performance and cannot be fully defined by any single component.
Okay, if we agree on what consistency means, why is it so important? First and foremost, and especially for track day drivers, it is about safety. Think of a driver who wants to be safe, but also as fast as possible within that constraint. So, they attempt to drive at 10% below their personal limit. Everything goes well, but since they are not consistent, they are 20% from the limit sometimes and maybe just 2% from the limit at other times. Since it seems to be working, they decide to up their pace. I think you see where this is going…if they up their pace by 5% on average, they are about to have some exciting and potentially dangerous moments. The solution is simple: Do not up your pace until you have achieved consistency at the pace you’re running! And, keep in mind, when you do up your pace you will likely give up some consistency, so the magnitude of your inconsistencies will likely increase.
And that’s just the beginning. If you are inconsistent, it's much harder to identify what you can change to improve. If you turn in or brake or shift differently for the same corner, lap after lap, what will you change to improve? It’s already changing every lap. As in algebra, it is not possible to solve an equation with more than one variable. So, if you intentionally change your turn-in point, but unintentionally also change your braking or throttle or apex point and you get a great result, what was the cause? Maybe it was the turn-in, but maybe the turn-in hurt and the throttle change helped. Have you learned anything, or have you just developed a bad habit? The problem is you just do not know.
If we agree that consistency is the path to safe, fast laps, how can we implement it? First you must be aware of how consistent you are, and identify the places you can improve. Some great tools for this include video and data, and these days these are inexpensive (smartphone app!) and easy to use. Use your own senses to see, hear, and feel how consistent you are. Choose consistent points on track to check things like engine RPM or speed.
Once you find that you are being consistent, what’s next? Don’t try to “drive a little faster.” Look for the low-hanging fruit and make subtle changes to maybe two areas on the track, using a specific plan. Maybe you have observed that a little earlier throttle might help on a specific corner, so try it. If all else remained the same and your exit speed was up, that’s real progress. Do this in small increments and do not move on until you have achieved consistency with the change.
The sport we enjoy is challenging and does have risk. Most of us want to improve without experiencing the risks. Whether your objective is to set a track record or just enjoy your car safely on track, the challenge to improve is there for all of us. Can focusing on consistency be helpful? I think so, and I hope you agree!