One of the most difficult parts of learning to race cars is the lack of opportunity to consistently practice the craft. Drivers of all levels do not have the opportunity to drive and practice as much as they need. When the opportunities are rare to get on the racetrack, it makes every situation where we can work on our skills that much more valuable. Blayze professional race car driver Dion von Moltke will walk you through a few ways you can learn to drive like a professional driver off the racetrack.
Are there ways for race car drivers to practice certain on-track skills elsewhere? Yes! There are certain skills that we can practice on the streets and on sim racing. Before we get into that I want to make one thing clear. We do not condone street racing. When we talk about certain skills that we can practice on the streets none of these skills need high speeds.
The great thing here is working on certain skills for racing can make anyone a better and safer driver on the streets as well!
Now that we have that out of the way let’s talk about skills we can practice while driving on the streets! The very first thing I talk to race car drivers about working on while they are driving on the streets is using their eyes.
Vision On The Street
Building good habits is a process and something we have to consciously work on. “Eyes Up” is a phrase you hear at every driving school, at every high-performance driving track day, and at every racetrack across the world. Yet it is not a natural skill for any race car driver. One of the very first things, in my opinion, that should be taught at any high-performance driver education day should be all the ways we can continually work on this skill.
We often see the discipline of looking far forward go away as drivers mentally and physically fatigue. We also see the eyes immediately drop in any high anxiety situation, yet these are the situations that are most important for race car drivers to have their eyes up.
The area I focus on with how to continue working on building the “eyes up” habit while driving on the streets is by focusing on driving on the highway. It is far too easy to just lock in on the car directly in front of us with our eyes while we spend dull hours driving 60 mph on the highway. But this is a fantastic opportunity for us to practice looking through cars down the road.
I am constantly checking in on myself and where my eyes are looking. If I am driving in traffic, I want to be looking through the windows of the car in front of me to see as far forward as possible. A small game I play in traffic is to be looking for brake lights with 5 or more cars in front of me. The goal is to see those brake lights before the car in front of me does.
I guarantee if this was taught to more drivers, we would see far fewer crashes on our highways today! The ability to look further down the road allows drivers to see potential risks earlier and to adjust accordingly. “Eye movements allow drivers to both find and fixate on visual information in the environment, helping them avoid potential hazards,” says Psychological Science.
We know perfecting this technique will help race car drivers find lap time, but why and how else may it help?
No driver is going to start on the front row every single race. So, if you are starting mid-pack or further back where should you be looking? We know the majority of drivers focus directly on the back of the car in front of them or focus on the green flag. The issue is we are all racers… and we know racers don’t always follow the exact rules. That means we can’t expect the front row to wait for the green flag to fly before accelerating. So, when the drivers we work with at Blayze are starting from farther back on the grid we teach them to look through the window of the car in front as many rows forward as they can see. That way they can see the acceleration of the leaders as early as possible and be on the throttle earlier than the competition around them!
High-speed corners are typically where we see the anxiety in a driver be at its highest point. Without a very ingrained good habit of keeping our eyes looking far forward, we see drivers’ eyes drop down low when anxiety rises. Right at the most important moment to have our eyes up drivers tend to let them drop! Keeping your eyes up will not all of a sudden make a fast corner seem slow, but it will help you feel more comfortable with the relatively higher speed. If a driver comes to me and is asking how they can become more confident in the high-speed corners this is the very first thing I talk to them about.
Understanding where a driver is looking simply by using video can be damn hard to do. We have started to notice trends of drivers that do struggle with low vision not using all of the road on the exit of the corner or only getting all the way out to an exit curb too late. This has become a big signal to the race car coaches at Blayze that a driver needs to work on their vision. The following is my goal for most corners: As I am working on releasing the brakes after the turn-in and I want the focal part of my vision to start shifting away from the apex and towards the exit curb. I pick up my apex with my peripheral vision. I am trying to ask myself; how early can I start to unwind the steering wheel? This will maximize the exit I can get and allow me to fight less for traction by not pinching the corner exit.
Trail Braking On The Streets
I was having an interesting conversation with a driver we coach at Blayze who was learning to delay their initial throttle application spot and trail brake deeper into corners.
An interesting thought that came out of this conversation was that after a weekend of driving trail braking would start to feel natural. But when he showed up to his next track day event, he was starting from square one again. What we realized is that on the streets he was reverting to his normal driving technique of picking up a small amount of throttle through a corner.
Why can’t we work on trail braking consistently on the streets? We don’t need to be on a racetrack or high-speed corners to work on this. If I am turning the corner onto another street that requires me to brake, I will naturally trail brake a tiny bit down to the “apex” of that corner. I do this when I have no one in front of me and I can absolutely do this on low-speed turns.
Getting the feel of having our feet very slowly ease off the brakes is something that takes patience and a lot of repetition. Working on it anytime you can, will be beneficial! A small hint for anyone wanting to learn how to left-foot brake, this is a great way to learn. Although you may want to start on your own before you do this with passengers.
Click Here to learn more about left-foot braking!
Want to know how you can use sim racing to improve your real-life driving skills as well as your mental endurance and mental intensity? Here is our article on how to use sim racing as a tool to improve racing skills.
We Hope to See You on the Racetrack
We hope we can be a part of your racing journey from helping you start to then help you learn how to become a race car driver! Once you start racing, let our expert coaches help you develop your racing skills by clicking here for a custom-developed feedback session and start winning more races!