Advanced Driver Traits
Published: January 19, 2018
What makes one driver better than another? What are faster drivers doing that I am not doing, that makes them faster? On the agenda today is a high level overview of skills and abilities that advanced drivers possess. Competent drivers, regardless of how good they are, are always working on improving these skills; the more of them a driver exhibits, and the more developed these skills are, the faster the respective driver is.
An advanced driver is able to adjust their line anywhere within track limits. There are two broad categories of such adjustments:
- Running an earlier or a later apex in a corner;
- Placing the car at a specific point (location) on the track.
Line variability is a requirement for figuring out one's lines at a track. While less experienced drivers rely on an instructor to tell them what the line should be, or copy what the car in front of them is doing, more experienced drivers try different lines and settle on the one that works the best.
Once an advanced driver decides where they want their car to be, they are able to get the car to within inches of its desired track postion. For example, in case of a curb, the car's tire might be just touching the curb lap to lap, neither going on the curb nor missing the curb.
Advanced drivers not only drive with precision, they drive with precision at pace, meaning as they are attacking at 9.5/10ths they are still able to place the car within inches of intended track features.
When a car is accelerating, weight is shifted from the front tires to the rear tires, creating the feeling of a light front end. Advanced drivers - through practice - are comfortable driving a car with a light front end, and are able to maintain throttle input as they are steering the car through corners. Some of this is covered in Intentionally plowing and sliding driving technique page.
In wet conditions advanced drivers are comfortable with the inevitable loss of grip that occurs when driving over water, be that at the front or rear tires. They are able to maintain throttle input at small yaw angles when the car will self-recover once it is off the puddle/slippery patch of pavement.
A hallmark of an advanced driver is quick transitions from one driver input to another - from throttle to brakes, from brakes to throttle, from straight line driving to steering. This requires certain driving techniques as well as knowing how the car responds to various inputs and trusting the car.
"Eliminating coasting" is related to quick transitions but not quite the same thing, as sometimes coasting is inevitable and sometimes partial braking or throttle, while not technically being "coasting", are also not utilizing the car's capabilities fully.
Specific driving techniques that improve transition speed are:
- Left foot braking
- Concurrent brake and throttle usage
- Gear selection in corners for maximum throttle usage
Driver Input Combinations
An advanced driver is able to apply multiple inputs at the same time, and in general do several things concurrently. Some examples are:
- Upshifting in corners
- Downshifting in corners
- Aggressive trailbraking (keeping the weight on the nose of the car until the rear loses grip and the car goes into oversteer)
- Intentionally plowing while on throttle
- Off line driving at pace - making line adjustments while evaluating the car's behavior on a new line
Advanced drivers are able to recover from errors very quickly.
There are two broad categories of errors. Small errors are cases of the car not being on the ideal line or the line desired by the driver. As advanced drivers experiment with lines, as well as try to add speed on whatever line they select, all the time, they experience these small errors constantly. An advanced driver is generally able to correct such errors while still in the corner, thus obtaining a close to optimal exit out of a corner given whatever entry actually occurred.
Large errors happen when the car is significantly overdriven, has a mechanical or handling issue or otherwise does something very different from what the driver intended. Spins, off track excursions and extended mid corner drifts are examples of large errors. An advanced driver is able to analyze the timeline of the loss of control event, determine the cause of the error and make a corrective plan of action while continuing to drive the car. Usually this entire process takes only several seconds, and is often completed by the time the car arrives at the next corner. An advanced driver botching one corner will often be able to perfectly execute the next corner they come to.
Advanced drivers are always experimenting with cars, car setups or their driving. They are always looking for lines that work best for their particular car and driving style, not just basic theoretical lines that are an average of lines driven by typical cars. Advanced drivers analyze how their car handles, learn about possible adjustments like alignment, sway bar and shock settings, spring rates, brake pad compounds, tire compounds, and make those adjustments to make their car faster, easier to drive consistently or less taxing on consumables.
Advanced drivers can figure out driving lines by looking at the track, rather than be told what those lines are. This is largely done through an existing library of track elements that the driver knows how to drive, and matching new track features to familiar ones.
Additionally advanced drivers see and utilize the third dimension of road courses which is the vertical one - camber and elevation changes primarily. Advanced drivers take advantage of compression points, correctly crest hills, and may be driving lines that appear suboptimal when considering only two dimensions but which are in reality faster due to camber in track surface.
Track Learning Time
Advanced drivers learn new tracks quickly. By "learn" I mean identifying the line that is optimal for their car given the present weather conditions, and executing it at pace.
Advanced drivers accomplish this by way of having a large database of track elements they have already driven at a multitude of tracks, ability to change their line on demand and immediately evaluate the new line vs the previous line they attempted, and ability to correct small errors (when they do overdrive) quickly.
Advanced drivers need minimal time to get up to speed on a track they have already driven. This applies to the warmup laps throughout the weekend, which advanced drivers often times do not need at all, as well as initial laps in the first session of an event on a track that the driver already knows.
Unlike quick track learning, quick warmup relies mainly on memorization and reference points with a healthy dose of aggression to push on those initial laps.
Advanced drivers take advantage of existing, inevitable weight transfers such as using weight transfer to the front during braking to rotate the car more at the turn in point.
Advanced drivers also recognize when moving weight in their car will allow the car to do what they want it to do, and are able to create weight transfers where otherwise there wouldn't be any. Examples of forced weight transfers are aggressive trailbraking, mid-corner lifts to obtain additional car rotation, applying throttle in a sweeper to give grip to the rear tires, tapping the brake to settle the nose in chicanes/transitions.
Advanced drivers are aware of how performance of tires changes with temperatures, and are able to control the tire temperature, and thus tire performance, through smart driver inputs.
Advanced drivers recognize when a tire is not warmed up and when it is, and can actively warm up a tire which involves putting maximum loads, and thus heat, into the tire without exceeding the tire's reduced capabilities due to it being cold and (most commonly) flat spotting it in braking zones.
Advanced drivers know when a tire has warmed up but is still "cool", i.e., is not overheated, and use this window to set their best times for time trial events.
Advanced drivers running sprint and especially endurance races know how hard they can attack the corners without overheating the tires. If the tires do overheat for whatever reason, advanced drivers can notice this and reduce their demands of the car to allow the tires to cool down and regain some of their ultimate performance.