2010-11-23

Working my way up


Seeing as my blog is turning into some sort of a travel journal on my way to becoming a better driver, I'll share with you some of the newest discoveries I have made on my journey.

One really interesting thing I am discovering is that martial arts, racing, and yoga have almost more in common than they have differences. For starters, I have learned the importance of mindfulness, which is a fancy word for living in the present, focusing on the task at hand, be it sweeping of the temple floor or hitting every apex just so.

Another big discovery was how crucial proper breathing technique is for any challenging activity, on the track or off. Balance and integration of your body also come to mind.

All in all, I have made more progress in my driving working from within, than I could have done doggedly chasing apexes.

I have had a great season and am already looking forward to the next.

This month was quite eventful, with two track weekends at two different tracks. I have already covered Thunderhill in an earlier post, so let's talk about Infineon now.

That weekend was remarkable for a number of reasons. My friend was there for his first track event, I was running my first Time Trials and also attending the instructor seminar on Saturday afternoon. Yepp, I am aiming to become an instructor next season!

I was really excited about having a friend come out and play with us at the track, and he was doing great in HPDE1 in the morning. I could see that he was catching the "going-fast" bug. Then after lunch, I popped out from the instructor seminar only to find out that his car broke down on track. It had to be towed back home later that night, and I lost my track buddy for the weekend.

The instructor seminar was really good. The guys leading the program have tons of driving and coaching experience, and they make it available to all instructors, so we can continuously improve our skill. We had a few good discussions and did a mental exercise in which you close your eyes and drive the track in your imagination, visualizing everything.

It is a great way to train your brain to execute the line and all the inputs perfectly each time, and certainly much cheaper than driving laps in a real car. I have been practicing the technique since, and my improved lap times are in large part a result of doing this.

Over the weekend, I was able to shave off two full seconds off my time.

The magical moment was when the imaginary laps I have driven and the reality on-track merged into one, augmented reality. The track was unrolling in front of me, familiar and inviting, and I could see the line I was going to take as a dotted red line connecting the apexes of each turn and stringing them together into one. If there was a blind turn, I would see the dotted line through the side of the hill or whatever happened to be obscuring the view. It was almost like playing back a video, that's how predictable and clear the whole experience was.

Source: NASA TT

I started out on Saturday being last, and finished on Sunday two positions higher. It's not much, but it is a tangible improvement.

What also helped was that Sunday started wet, and we had to stay off the line, because that's where Infineon is the most slippery in the rain. The first two sessions I spent gingerly navigating my way around the course, spinning out once at a very low speed, and trying my best to visualize the line so I could work my way around it.

HPDE4 lead, Albert, said that the best way to cross the slippery line is to try and hit it at 90 degrees. In order to do that, you have to a) know where the proper line is, and b) plot your rain line in such a way that you can still go fast and cross the "dry" line at a right angle.

I think spending two sessions doing nothing but that has finally seared the line into my brain because when the rain stopped and the track dried up in the afternoon, I suddenly went two seconds faster without trying any harder.

Still, Albert drove only 2.5 seconds slower in the wet than my best ever time in the dry. I got ways to go.