Vision: Looking At Apexes
Published: March 16, 2013
The topic of vision is extensive. "Looking ahead" is part of vision, with vision also covering things like noticing cars in your rear view mirror. Apparently there are entire racing schools that only teach looking ahead. Today we are going to talk about a specific case of vision at the track: looking at apexes.
Novice and intermediate drivers frequently miss apexes, especially in more difficult corners. The cause of missed apexes is typically the driver looking somewhere other than the apex as they turn the car toward the apex. For example:
A slow turn following a reasonably long straight, not unlike NJMP Lightning turn 6. It is common for drivers to concentrate on braking up until the point when braking is done and turn in begins. However, at that point they are still thinking about braking and not about the apex. As a result, they begin looking for the apex as they turn the steering wheel. By the time they find the apex the car is already in the turn, and usually pointed several feet past the apex.
A high speed turn, not unlike VIR turn 10. Everyone starts by braking for it, even in cars that need very little braking or none at all. As a result drivers become conditioned to braking, and thinking about braking, when they really should be thinking about the turn itself.
Still at VIR turn 10, some drivers are concerned with running too wide which in that turn is not a good idea. While this is a legitimate concern, when taken to the extreme the driver spends all of the time thinking about the negatives (going off track) and no time thinking about the positives (taking the turn faster).
The apex is invisible from turn in, for example at Shenandoah turn X. Without reference points the driver is essentially blind, and waits to commit to the turn until they are substantially in the turn.
It is a frequently repeated adage that hands take the car where the driver is looking. Look at the apex and you will hit it. Look elsewhere and you will be off. All missed apexes are fixable by looking at them, before turning the car toward them.
How do you transition from looking elsewhere to looking at apexes? If the apex is visible but you are not looking at it, the solution is eliminating distractions. If the apex is invisible, you need reference points that can act as a proxy for the apex.
This is when you spend all of your brain bandwidth thinking about the preceding braking zone. You need to spend less bandwidth on the braking in order to have some left for the turn itself. This is accomplished by driving slower.
If you are experiencing this problem, you are essentially driving (at least through the corner) in reactive mode: you are reacting to a corner being immediately in front of you rather than having a plan for it before you get to it. It is possible that you are reacting to the braking zone in the same fashion. By driving slower, you decrease the amount of effort that you need to put into slowing down the car enough to make the turn, and you can finish thinking about the braking zone earlier, hopefully while you are still braking. Then you can start looking for the apex before you need to start turning the car.
When you have the discipline to drive slower and look in the right place, the alternative and arguably more effective solution is to plan further ahead. Meaning, before you enter the braking zone you should know both when you are going to start and stop braking, and also when you are going to start turning, where the apex is, when you are going to start looking for it. This way while you are in the braking zone you are already thinking about the apex.
If you are worried about going off track to the point where you have no mental bandwidth left to think about the track itself, you need to similarly reduce your speed to eliminate the worrying. Then you can work on going through the corner faster. As you actually go through the corner faster you will gain confidence in your own driving ability and no longer need to worry about going off - you will know what will cause you to go off, and what will not.
If the apex is blind, you need to have something acting in its stead, as that is where you will be aiming your car. This can be a mark on pavement, a billboard, trees, etc. Using certain reference points requires the car to take a consistent approach to the corner - pay attention to whether entering the turn off line will make the reference point useless or wrong.
Because I do a lot of towing and spend a lot of time estimating my width and precise position on the road, I tend to use the track itself a lot for reference. This is inferior to having more conventional reference points in some aspects and superior in others. For example, if I can consistently place the car at "1/4 off track left" coming into a certian turn, it does not matter that I am off line prior to that turn - I look at the pavement which is always in the same place, rather than requiring on line of sight angles. On the other side, it is debatable how consistently one can position a car "1/4 off track left" from one lap to the next.
Especially at intermediate level drivers need to learn discipline, and hitting apexes is a very good example of discipline. Intermediate drivers have good pace and good skills already, but progressing to advanced level requires consistency and for many drivers consistency is an acquired skill which follows discipline.