Published: May 21, 2015
Much of the material in this essay comes from Pat Sullivan. Thanks Pat!
The morning interview is crucial for the success of the instructor-student team. Especially for cases where the student and the instructor may not have meshed otherwise, a friendly and productive morning interview can set the rest of the day on the right track.
The first goal of the morning interview is to establish rapport between the student and the instructor. To do this, ask the student about their car, what they have done to it, and compliment something about the car. Ask the student what other events they have done, give them an opportunity to talk about themselves for a bit.
While the student is talking about their car, walk around the vehicle and inspect it. Check that the tires are in good shape, brake pads have plenty of material left, all lug nuts are present, seat belts work and tension properly, harnesses are installed correctly, seats are not moving excessively. In this process important information may be revealed like "I just installed these brake pads yesterday and they are track pads that need to be bedded".
Experience, Goals, Personality And Aggression
Once the student is done talking about their car, let them talk about themselves. Have they been to a track day before? When and where was their last track day? Did they have an instructor? Were they driving solo? What were they working on at the last event? What are their goals for this event?
Most people start out by saying something along the lines of "I just want to have fun". Sometimes people will say something that will put you on guard though, like "I just replaced the engine and I want to shake down the car", with the car in question being a Dodge Viper. Many drivers who have done several track events will have some goals for themselves, typically reflecting skills they lack in general such as heel-toe or late braking. Less experienced drivers may be focused on the line.
Procedures And Authority
The morning interview is a good time to start establishing your authority as the instructor by setting the meeting location for the day/event. Pat tells his students that they are to meet him at his parking space prior to every session, and they are not to move their car until he is in the right seat. This precludes drivers waiting at the grid without an instructor and potentially getting another instructor in the car if you are held up for whatever reason. Naturally, in order for the student to be happy you must be at your parking spot when it is time for the student to go to grid, normally 10 minutes before their session begins.
When you have back to back student sessions, Pat still wants his students to wait for him in his parking spot. This creates consistency but costs the following driver some track time. I historically have tried to swap the cars in hot/cold pit, but there is definitely value in having the student pick up the instructor in the paddock.
An important aside here is what happens when the student receives conflicting directions from other staff members, such as "go to the pit lane and your instructor will meet you there". The student is to disregard all instructions that conflict with what you told them, be that gridding or how to drive on track. Communicating this early in the morning and being explicit about it helps set the proper tone for the entire event.
First Lap On Track
Now is also a good time to discuss what would happen on the first lap or two in the very first on track session. Usually these laps are completed under full course caution. Pat makes his students wave to each corner worker with left hand over the roof of the car while driving the car with one hand. I like this idea a lot because it accomplishes several objectives:
- The student is forced to drive the car with one hand for a large portion of the lap, often through several corners. This gives them confidence that they can take one hand off the steering wheel on straights when it comes time to point people by later.
- The student is forced to drive at a reduced pace. It is mentally hard to attack the course while one is waving to corner workers and driving with one hand on the steering wheel.
- This is often the only opportunity for the student to clearly see all corner workers at the event.
In order for the student to wave to corner workers rather than attack the course in these first laps, the whole deal needs to be explained before the session starts, i.e., during the morning interview. You may tell the student to not worry about their line on these laps - they will begin working on the line when the course goes green.
The result of the morning interview, hopefully, is all of the following:
- You consider the car you are getting into safe to drive on the track.
- You have an approach in mind for instructing your student.
- Your student starts the day listening to you and following your instructions.
- Your student starts their first on track session at a relaxed page which gives you the ability to provide positive instruction from the get go as opposed to starting with having to slow down the driver.