Published: May 25, 2018
It is the instructor's responsibility to maintain control of the car, and the student, at all times. This is necessary for safety as well as educational reasons: instructor's life is in the student's hands when the student is driving, and if the instructor is attempting to teach something they need to have the student's full attention as well as trust.
Successful control of the driver and the car begins way before the instructor gets in the right seat - it starts from the moment the instructor meets their student and continues through the entire event.
The foundation for the instructor's control of the student is laid in the morning interview.
The instructor establishes their authority by performing a (brief) technical inspection of the student's car, establishing the meeting location and procedure for on track sessions, setting goals for the first on track session and communicating any rules, procedures and expectations applicable to the event overall.
At the same time the instructor engages with the student, establishes rapport and builds trust by asking the student about their car, their track experience, their recent events, their goals for the current event and listening to - and then acting on - the information that the student provides about themselves and their car.
The instructor continues to build their authority by setting goals for each session. If a driver is going on track with an instructor in the right seat, they should have goals - otherwise what is the purpose of the instructor? Adjust the goals based on the student's capabilities and achievement potential during the event. Students tend to value and respect instructors who continue to feed them information and challenge them throughout the event mroe compared to instructors that stop doing so part way through the event (and especially early in the event, for example after the first session).
While out on track, a number of techniques are available to the instructor to maintain control of the vehicle and healthy driving margins.
- Line first: the student needs to know, understand and execute their line consistently from lap to lap prior to building speed. Talking about the line in the pre-session goal conversation helps focus the student when they are on track.
- Margin consistency: the student should drive the entire track with a similar aggression level and margin of safety. Driving one segment of the track too hard, even if not immediately problematic, creates potential for an incident later in the event if the student increases their pace across the board.
- Address minor issues: correct small mistakes before they become big ones. This also helps the student feel that the instructor is engaged and present which improves trust and respect.
- Have a progression: most drivers can change something in their driving, be that technique, vision, precision or even understanding of what they are doing behind the wheel. A student who is receiving these insights from their instructor throughout the event is less likely to simply try to "drive fast".
- Reward accomplishments: being signed off solo toward the end of the event, after going through a progression of some kind, incentivizes the student to continue practicing what they learned which, hopefully, is correct and safe technique.
Post Session Debrief
Debriefing the student after every on track session continues to build rapport and trust. The debrief can start simply by complimenting the student on things they did well and asking them their opinion of the session. Most people are happy to talk about themselves, or their driving in this case, for some time. Transition to setting goals for the next session after the completed session has been adequately discussed.
When Things Go South
Both the student and the instructor are responsible for a successful track event. Instructing is a learned skill for most of us and like all other skills it takes time to build. Sometimes instructors, especially the less experienced ones, find that the driver is not listening and responding to them despite their best efforts.
There is only one appropriate course of action in these cases - the student needs to come off the track immediately. Sometimes this is achievable simply by telling the driver to pit, and sometimes the instructor must steer the car into the pits from the right seat. It is not worth the risk of a serious crash to try to work out the situation while the car is moving (and nearly always the situation cannot be resolved while the driver on track, as they are consumed by their adrenaline).