Aggression And Driving Effort
Published: June 8, 2013
Today we are going to look at one of the prerequisites for going fast - the desire to do so.
A common term describing this is "aggression". However, "aggression" has negative connotations, and in the context of HPDE especially it is not a word that most organizers want to hear.
"Driving effort" is a more neutral term covering some, but not all, of what is typically meant by "aggression". This is the effort that the driver puts in to not just drive the car, but (in the context of HPDE and time trials) achieve low lap times.
The other part of "aggression" is setting an acceptable risk threshold. In other words, deciding how much vehicle wear and outright damage is acceptable if it results in the driver achieving their goals on the track.
Owners of street driven vehicles, and many HPDE programs, typically have as their target absolutely zero damage. Drivers on limited budgets may desire low wear. Very broadly speaking, time trialers have a higher tolerance of wear than HPDE drivers, and racers have a higher tolerance of both wear and damage than either.
Novice drivers typically rely on their instructor to tell them where to place the car on the track, when to brake and turn, and how fast to drive. Lacking an instructor, novice drivers usually do not attempt to push the car.
Novice drivers also, for the most part, are not trying to drive faster than someone else, be that their friends at the track or someone driving similar cars to theirs.
Novice drivers, more often than not, want their car to be in the same shape at the end of the event as it was at the beginning. Most drivers will not try anything they think will jeopardize this.
Therefore, most novice drivers operate with very low aggression. Some novice drivers have no aggression at all (an example of such a driver would be someone who is perfectly content driving at 60 mph on the main straight).
There is nothing inherently wrong with having little or no aggression. In fact, many HPDE programs explicitly discourage aggression. However, a certain amount of aggression is required to run low lap times.
At the intermediate level the driver is making some effort to "go fast". This starts simply by having goals for the day beyond "finish the day with the car in one piece". Then, the driver would actively attempt to achieve these goals. For example, intermediate level drivers would try different lines in a corner they think they can do better, for no other reason that they believe there must be a quicker way through that corner.
On the other hand, intermediate drivers accept that to achieve their goals they need to have appropriate equipment such as high performance brake pads and tires, suspension modifications, track alignment and so on. Intermediate drivers recognize that driving at intermediate level wears parts quicker than driving at novice level.
At intermediate level drivers typically still leave runoff margins everywhere on the track. They are unlikely to experiment with lines or corner approaches that leave them with no runoff, and therefore a high likelihood of driving off track.
Intermediate drivers tend to drive within their comfort level, and tend to only venture outside their comfort level when there is an instructor in the car (in which case they trust the instructor).
Advanced level drivers put in even more effort to drive the car as fast as it can physically be driven. A big difference between an advanced driver and an intermediate driver is concentration - advanced drivers can drive every corner in a lap hard, whereas intermediate drivers usually concentrate on a couple of corners at a time.
An important part of advanced level is making full use of the track, including curbs and paved extensions. In doing so, the driver consciously reduces the available margin of error, sometimes to zero. Advanced drivers do not drive with zero margins all the time, but they can trade margins for lap time when they know they are on a flying lap.
Advanced level drivers recognize the importance of car setup, and the fact that driving hard requires different setup than driving at intermediate level (this is most visible in tire selection and alignment settings).
At advanced level the driver recognizes that car components can be sacrificed for quicker lap times, and is making conscious decisions to do so. Tires are the most obvious example, but consciously taking the engine to its redline and driving fast over bumpy track sections are other examples of trading wear on the car for lap time.
At advanced level the drivers are actively searching for the grip limit by progressively taking corners faster and faster, which inevitably leads to overdriving the car. Advanced drivers are comfortable with overdriving and, through practice, are able to recover the car much quicker than intermediate drivers.