Autocrosser Teaching Sequence
Published: July 29, 2014
I had a student who had some autocross experience and rode motorcycles but has never been on a race track. This student absorbed knowledge extremely rapidly but needed direction in terms of things to learn and practice.
As usual I started with the line. The student was already cognizant of the concepts of entry outside, apex and tracking out. When the student was drifting into the track prior to turn in, it was sufficient for me to point this out - no lengthy explanations needed - and the student would work on correcting their driving.
A big difference between autocross and track driving is smoothness of steering inputs. Whereas autocrossing calls for quick steering, and abrupt steering inputs often work due to low speeds involved, track driving requires slow and smooth steering inputs.
Once the student was on the right line, the next point we worked on were smooth steering inputs.
By now the student was driving the right line, and with smooth inputs they were going quite fast. However, the student was using reference points that I gave them for braking and turning. The next step was to make the student aware of the reference point concept and make them set their own reference points.
I emphasized the importance of being able to pick reference points without instructor's assistance, and using reference points that the student is able to see (as opposed to those the instructor is able to see).
The student should have braking, if necessary, and turn in reference points in each corner.
A good exercise is to ask the student to vocalize the reference points as the student is looking at each of them. This is also an opportunity for the instructor to assess whether the student is looking sufficiently far ahead.
I often do the vision exercise immediately after working on reference points. I would point to where the student should be looking as soon as that point or object comes into view. For example, while the student is still in the braking zone I would point at the apex of the turn.
Students often start to turn when I point at the apex. I remind them that I point where they should be looking, and not give them a signal to turn. The student should turn at their normal turn in point.
A variation of the vision exercise has the instructor saying "look at track out" instead of pointing to track out.
An important goal of the vision exercise is getting students to look at track out points early in the turn, for this defines when they can commit to throttle.
Now my student was driving consistent laps at good speed and started to run out of tire grip, especially at turn in. The student was on generic street tires; the importance of weight transfer to make a street tired car turn is probably a big reason why students are encouraged to spend time driving on street tires.
I offered weight transfer exercises, particularly timing braking and turn in and purposefully lifting before turn in. The student was easily able to feel the difference in grip produced by weight transfer.
For the remaining sessions the student continued working on reference points and weight transfer.
The above sequence covered a two day weekend. I did not spend much time on flags; this was an oversight on my part and I should have done a flag quiz at some point between sessions.