This was a unique experience and I put a lot more thought and effort into this than I originally planned.
What does it take to learn a new race track? What about learning a track with effectively zero prep? These are two questions I was faced with recently when I had the opportunity to drive Autobahn Country Club in August of 2018, sight unseen. And as I said in the race article, this was not a track that was on my radar but it is now. Not only did I have a great time racing with NASA Great Lakes in 944 Spec, but I had to learn the track in one day (actually two sessions) and consciously implement a lot of techniques that I subconsciously use at the track. Overall, this was a great learning experience and something I want to share that is a little different from my usual content.
It has been a while since I have driven a new race track. Usually I will try and drive tracks in iRacing, study track maps, do some visualization, watch youtube videos, etc… But this time I was a last minute entry with zero prep time due to other obligations and a super hectic work schedule. I knew going into this event I would either embarrass myself or surprise myself. Fortunately the latter by relying on my previous experience and studies, especially the writings of Ross Bentley at Speed Secrets. With these tools in hand I was able to devise a plan that put me on podium at a track I have never seen or driven before in a competitive field.
Session 1: Warmup
During warmup, my mantra was ‘go slow, be smooth and observe.’ Even at new tracks, it is very easy to try and keep ‘pace’ and I knew if I had any chance of a good finish in this field, I had to approach things with a deliberate mindset. So ignoring the racer’s spirit screaming ‘go, go, go’, I went slow, slow, slow! By doing this I was able to start focusing on the layout of the track, what corners are important and generally know if a left or right turn is coming next. I end up letting a lot of traffic go by so I don’t get caught up in the ‘chase’ of drivers who are seasoned at the track. By doing this, I am able to start building track references and play with brake zones and test grip levels. After this session I also did a visualization exercise seeing if I could ‘drive’ the track in my imagination. At this point I could see a visual representation of sections but not the track as a whole.
The following video demonstrates what I mean by going slow and being deliberate.
Session 2: Qualifying
The plan for qualifying was similar to warmup with a few exceptions. One was to go out more aggressively, try and stay in contact with the pack and drive the car not the track. Then observe other’s lines and braking zones and determine if those lines benefit my setup. Finally, start linking the sections of track together to solidify a good visual image of the track layout. After this session I was able to close my eyes and drive the whole track from start to finish in my imagination. This is an important tool for learning a track as you want to have the information of what comes next fully in your subconscious. Consequently, I qualified dead last during this session but had closed the gap significantly on the field. Leaving me a little optimistic for race 1.
Session 3: Race 1
I chose a very simple race strategy for race 1. It was basically push the car and do not yield. By this time I had a good mental map of the track and knew where most passing would or could take place. Race craft, traffic management and improving lap times yielded a third place podium on a track I had not seen til that morning.
Full Segment Video
More probably goes here. I just haven’t written it yet.