Speed Is Confidence And Grip Utilization

Published: June 26, 2014

What makes one driver [faster]{/faster/) than another? The car obviously plays a role, but when comparing speed of drivers, I believe there are two factors that determine how fast one is able to hustle a car around the track: confidence and grip utilization. When I am coaching intermediate drivers, I therefore target these two aspects of their driving. How fast one is willing to hustle their car is a matter of aggression.

Grip Utilization

To most drivers, neither confidence nor grip utilization are actionable items. A novice driver will likely agree that they are not using all of the available grip, but they probably will not tell you how to use more grip other than to drive more and expect to eventually figure it out.

My usual strategy is to get drivers to do the right things first and explain why these things work second. For example, a key principle behind utilizing available grip is weight transfer. Weight transfer is an abstract concept that is also not particularly actionable; a specific instance of it that is actionable is timing brake release with turn in. Most drivers who are not timing brake release get off the brakes too early; working on weight transfer thus involves staying on the brakes longer, which effectively reduces speeds. As the driver is working on a new skill, they are going slower - safety win! Once the driver figures out timing they can get their speed back and then some - the additional speed is possible because of higher grip utilization.

Other techniques that directly improve grip utilization are heel and toe downshifting, trailbraking and left foot braking.

Some techniques forego speed, or even grip outright, at one moment to gain better grip utilization over the course of the full lap. Examples of these are getting on power early and throttle steering.

Confidence

Confidence comes easy to some drivers and hard to others. Some drivers will brake when instructor tells them to brake - importantly, they will not start braking earlier. Then it is up to the instructor to set a suitable braking point. After a certain number of laps braking on instructor's command, the driver generally becomes used to the new braking point and will start to brake there on their own. Braking on their own means they increased their confidence in their car and/or their driving.

Some drivers will fall back to earlier braking points once instructor ceases setting the later braking point, and some drivers will brake before the instructor's braking point no matter what. I recommend that these drivers get more track time.

Braking is not the only aspect that instructors can influence. Getting off the brakes - thus setting corner entry speed, getting on throttle, applying full throttle are other examples where the instructor can move the driver past their existing comfort zone as long as the driver trusts the instructor.

Aggression

I believe aggression is much harder to change than confidence. There is some overlap between confidence and aggression, and a more confident driver should generally be a more aggressive driver.

The most obvious example of imparting aggression is when novice drivers are asked to follow slower cars closer in order to get a point-by. It is normal for novice drivers to follow within, say, 5 car lengths, and a more appropriate following distance for passing is 2 car lengths. If a driver is following so far that they are not getting a point-by from the car in front, the instructor would tell the driver to follow closer.

Beyond this, the only approach I have is to lead by example. I would take the driver out in my car and demonstrate how I would like them to drive. This demonstration is not designed to scare or impress, it shows nothing more and nothing less than what I expect of the driver.

Before performing such demonstrations I make sure the driver's technique and skill is appropriate for the target aggression level. I only increase a driver's aggression level when it is the only thing holding up their promotion to the next run group.