I was also once a beginner in the Touring car racing scene. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by great drivers such as Teemu Leino and other top Finnish stars. As I learned the basics of racing there were two things more important than any others in the making of a better racer – no matter at which level you are.
This mistake is made at every racing level. People just neglect to maintain their cars or to learn the basics of upkeeping and basic setups. When I started out racing Touring cars ball diffs were still the norm. During the first three months of my racing career, each time I had a problem it was repaired by making the diff. Luckily, today balls diffs aren’t used anymore and gear diffs don’t need that much of maintenance. But people still neglect basic maintenance as to make sure all the parts are moving freely and to keep the car clean.
The list above is not a full checklist, but should be a good starting point for any driver who wants to learn the basics of upkeeping.
Don’t just go there and do laps. Try to figure out where your are loosing time. I’m pretty sure chicanes and large bowls are your biggest losing points. For large bowls you need to make sure you hug the really inside of the track. Don’t focus on your speed, only your racing line. You can easily lose 0.2-0.3s per lap in a larger bowl by driving 1/2 car lengths from the most inner racing line. For chicanes you really need to time it right: make sure you enter it correctly. And hug the first corner, this will make your racing line as straight as possible and maximize your corner exit speed.
The red racing line is obviously the wrong one, but it’s the one that most racers take. They simply don’t brake and turn in early enough to hit the first clipping point.
Well, how do you know where you are losing time? It’s not easy if there is no-one more experienced around. If there aren’t many people on the track you can place cones on the track. Place them so that you form small gates at the entry and exit of the corner. If you are able to drive the correct racing line fast, you aren’t losing time. If you really need to slow down and take your time to hit the gates you know where to improve. Keep slowing down until you can hit the gates clean and then slowly build your pace. You’ll get slower lap times at first but once you start hitting those gates without extra moves you’ll see a reduction in your lap times. An evening of practice will for sure teach you one corner of the track.
Another great way is to ask your buddy to video your driving. Two to three laps when you get the rhythm going is enough. Then watch the video and you’ll be amazed how much information you get from the video. If you can’t find anything to improve, show it to other racers.
The above video was filmed during DHI cup where I was still learning the track. Especially the chicane after the main straight was a big losing point. Seldom could I hit it properly and mostly ended up a little sideways. Hitting it properly usually gained me 2-3 meters nearer the car ahead of me. The bowl in the middle was also troublesome: I had troubles getting the car to settle and to stay on the same radius so I was always way off the inner line. The corner on the right lower corner was also a place where I drifted all over the place, but managed to improve on that. The tight chicane after that was a place where a great improvement could be made, as getting a nice and tight exit also affected the next two corners.
Okay. You’ve been driving the same layout for a month and you feel it’s not possible to improve any more. What is next? There are just two things to do. The first is to let a better driver drive your car. You can then see the difference in the 5 minute heat result and how much you actually still can improve. If the difference is really small let’s say you are a hobbyist and the other guy is Marc Rheinhard or any other pro-driver and the difference is just 0.2-0.3s per lap. You have probably hit your limit. If it’s 0.5 or 1s per second you’ve still got a lot improving to do. If you have hit your limit you should ask the track people to change the layout so you can learn a new profile. If changing the layout is not possible you can then proceed to fine tune your car to make it even faster.
The second great exercise is to try to run at a certain pace. Let’s say your best laps are 12.3s and your average is around 12.7s. For example, try to run every lap in 12.9s. It will teach you that you have to do exactly the same thing during each lap. Later on, when you go all out this will improve your results.
Drivers who have a large difference between the best and average lap, let’s say 0.7s or greater. Focus on your five slowest laps of the heat. Don’t bother with the fast laps, just make sure you keep on improving your five slowest laps. 3-4 evenings of this will improve your results a lot. This way, instead of making your fastest lap faster you will actually make all your laps faster.