Working With Aggressive Drivers
Published: March 19, 2017
In my experience, the vast majority of students at HPDE events have an aggression level somewhere between timid and moderate. Overly aggressive students are rare.
Occasionally though you will find yourself in the right seat with such a driver. I've had good results with the following three-prong approach:
- Acknowledge the driver's aggression.
- Explain the silliness of what they are doing.
- Give the driver different objectives, taking their attention away from aggressive driving.
Often times driver aggression is a manifestation of their personality or their understanding of track driving rather than something they directly set as a goal. With that said, usually aggressive drivers do have a particular goal in mind - driving as quickly as they possibly can, for instance.
The first step that I take as an instructor, then, is communicating to the driver that I understand what they are doing and, potentially, why they are doing it. This takes some narrative; simply saying "you are being too aggressive" is insufficiently specific. Pointing out that the driver is late on the brakes in every single braking zone, is missing apexes, is wrestling the car at each turn in point - whatever the case may be - gives the driver enough material to conclude that you are on the same page as they are as far as their driving is concerned. This establishes rapport and sets the stage for step two: chiding.
Excessive driver aggression generally manifests in poor driving, and the more excessive the aggression the worse the driving is. For novices who are overly aggressive this often mmeans that they are missing brake points, turn in points, are off apexes, are late on throttle, etc. etc. In this second step I point out that the way the driver is piloting the car around the course requires barely any skill.
For example, how hard is it to slam the brake pedal or the throttle pedal into the floor in the middle of a straight? Not hard at all, anybody can do that. Now how hard is it to pick a braking point that slows the car to the appropriate speed for the turn in, without blowing the turn in, and braking at maximum force, and hitting the brakes at that point every lap? Quite a bit. Same with applying throttle while still in the corner rather than long past when the car has finished tracking out.
Depending on what the driver is doing I can point out that the car drives itself as much as the driver is driving it (traction control), or that the driver is roasting their tires going into most corners, etc. The goal here is to adjust the driver's mental model of right and wrong, good and bad: instead of believing that going "flat out" is normal to drive quickly, hopefully the driver comes to understand that skill is what makes the car go around the course quickly and to work on improving their skill.
At this point the driver, hopefully, is receptive to suggestions on how to improve their overall performance by raising their skill level. Now I as an instructor can actually get to coaching the driver. We can work on reference points, consistent brake or throttle application, hitting apexes, whatever the driver will most benefit from. As we work on these things the driver's pace will naturally increase, and this should reinforce the idea that the pace is a function of driver skill more than it is a function of driver aggression.
I think the success rate of the whole turnaround process depends on when it is started, the closer to the beginning of the event the better. If a driver has spent a whole day driving a certain way they would be reluctant to accept that their technique is wrong and start from scratch.
One corollary here applies to warm-up sessions that some organizations have. It is very risky to let an instructed driver out on the track by themselves in this session. Even at lower speeds the driver can settle into incorrect technique which can easily include overly aggressive driving, and the instructor will have to spend time in the subsequent sessions undoing the damage.
How would an instructed driver get out on the track by themselves? If you have two students and a car with one passenger seat, usually you would take the less experienced driver out with you. You may consider letting the other driver sit the warmup session out rather than having them drive unsupervised, if you have doubts about their driving ability. If your student wants to take a friend out for the warmup session, this is a bad idea - say no.
Some drivers will not be convinced by your arguments and will continue driving the way the want to be driving. What do you do?
Refer to the event rules and get the opinion of the chief instructor if in doubt. Is the driver safe on track, especially around other cars? Most wrecks at HPDE events are single-car incidents, hence a driver who insists on overdriving their car but only does it away from other cars may be left to natural selection to sort them out. Some organizations have a minimalistic approach to instruction and will let the drivers drive on their own once they demonstrate that they know the basics. Other organizations have an extensive instructional process and demand high driving skill before allowing drivers out on track on their own. Understand the rules and work within them.
If a driver does something unsafe, and refuses to adjust their driving or on track behavior, usually the issue should be brought to the attention of either the chief instructor or the track chair/event manager who will then decide on an appropriate course of action.