To begin the new year, James Colborn has written a 2-part article about coaching yourself, primarily through the use of data. It's been really fun to watch James progress as a driver, from his first experience at ProFormance Racing School and track days at Pacific Raceway, to competing in PRO3 club racing in the Northwest, and then to racing in the Continental Tire Series. A common trait everyone reading Speed Secrets Weekly shares is what James has in spades: a desire to learn and improve. And fortunately for us all, he also enjoys sharing what he's learned. -Ross
Coaching is, without doubt, the fastest and probably the most successful way to get faster in a racecar. Regardless of the tools being used (from right-seat driving through to data analysis), coaching brings out the best in a driver and, in turn, their on-track performance. I am the biggest proponent of coaching and, as someone with amazing friends who are coaches, I utilize them as often as I can.
For the purposes of this article (and next week’s, as the topic is so lengthy that we’re breaking it up into two), let’s take a look at that last sentence a little more, in particular the last few words “… as often as I can.” The challenge with coaching is that despite being worth every single penny, it’s expensive - something very few can do often, a number can do every now and again and, for many, something that may never be available to them.
This article looks at a possible way of breaking down your on-track experiences when you don’t have coaching that weekend, or in-between sessions with a coach, all the way up to those who may never have a coach themselves.
Do you need to be a coach to help yourself find improvement?
If you can’t have a coach with you, the question is: what can you do? I’d argue that every racer has at their disposal all of the tools to become their own coach. The question is how to use those tools to improve your driving and finding continual improvement.
I am a huge fan of the most modern equipment available to racers to improve their driving. Data acquisition and video analysis are the most available self-serve tools you can get to determine how you are driving. Having raced the spectrum from ChumpCar to the Continental Tire Series, I can tell you that these two tools are by far the most commonly-used. The other beautiful thing is the cost of entry is now minimal and requires absolutely no mechanical know-how to install.
How do you use these tools to coach yourself to improvement?
I like to look at things in a simple way. When I study data, there is so much information available, it could arguably be confusing. However, what I’m looking for is as simple as it gets; am I faster or slower than [blank]? Now, I leave that blank for a reason. Many racers would fill in that blank with ‘my fellow competitors,’ but even if you didn’t get your hands on their data or information, you could just as easily say ‘my fastest lap.’
Let me put that into context with some questions. Have you ever done a single lap time that’s much faster than anything else you are turning, but for the life of you, you can’t figure out why? Have you ever slowed up in a corner more than you thought you needed to because of lapped traffic, but when you cross Start/Finish, you’ve put in a faster lap time? Have you ever noticed that on your cool-down, you are not that much slower than you were when you were giving it as much as you had?
One of the biggest challenges that racers face is consistency and repeating their fastest times on a track. Often it’s not the outright fastest driver who wins a race, but the most consistent. In an endurance race, if you get a collection of drivers who can do this together, then you are in a great place for a good finish. As drivers (and I generalize), we oftentimes don’t focus on our own driving, but fixate on what our competitors are doing. To overcome this, we must figure out how to coach ourselves to our best performance. Does this mean you can’t learn from faster drivers? Heck no, but if you can’t find your own consistency, you won’t be able to take advantage of their data, anyway.
Image #1: The What, Why and How Visualized in Data
What are you learning from your driving, why is it happening and how is it happening?
I have a personal format or view when looking at data. Call it a formula, if you wish. When I look at my own driving or my data vs. someone else's, I first look at what has happened in a single lap or series of laps. A time/distance graph is perfect for this (see Image 1 above). Where am I losing time which is, as a result, killing my lap time? In this example, the red line (or lap) is the fastest and the constant line (or straight line). If the blue line (the comparison lap) is below, then it’s faster at that point in the lap; if it’s above, it’s slower. In this example, the lines are close until one corner in particular, where the blue line gets a great deal slower.
Once I’ve identified where I’m losing time, I look at a speed trace. The number one chart for telling you why you are losing time in one lap vs. another is looking at a speed trace. At any particular point in a lap was I faster or slower? It might be a corner or at the end of a straightaway.
These first two (what and why) are pretty straightforward and are the primers for the most important aspect which is: how is this happening? What are you doing as a driver to be faster or slower and how are you doing it? The how relates to your driving inputs (braking, steering, accelerating, rolling speed etc.); this is where a coach would focus their expertise and where you have to look if you are self-coaching.
What are the main pointers for self-improvement? How do I address the how aspect?
This is where the conversation can get very long and complex and why this Speed Secrets Weekly newsletter is so valuable: this is the art, skill, and craft of racing. Each and every one of us require different areas of improvement. Data provides you with so many possible questions, but to help, here are three areas to provoke thought:
1.Throttle Application: not being consistently to 100% throttle in the exit of a corner is a very common challenge. More often, throttle application happens too quickly, and as a result, the driver lifts, then commits to throttle again. While this could be caused by car setup, if you’ve done it once correctly on-track with the setup you have, then why aren’t you doing it correctly time and time again? Is it your feet, is it your vision, or your placement on-track?
2.Brake Application: when are you braking and is it too soon or too late? If it’s too soon, is there a period of coasting into the corner? Is there braking, then a dab of throttle, then braking again? If it’s too late, do you miss the apex, is the car in the wrong place on the track, and are you struggling to get on throttle early enough to get maximum speed at the end of the following straight?
3.The Racing Line: are you racing the correct line for that corner or that section of the track? Sounds like an odd thing to say. Many of us have driven certain tracks on so many occasions, that we know every bump, rough patch, reference point, etc. The truth is that different cars, different driving styles, different track conditions all require different lines. Are you sure the line you are driving is the fastest, or are you driving the line taught in racing school?
These are all great questions. However, how do modern technologies allow me to address these areas?
Well, that’s something we’ll explore more next week.