How To Improve Your Driving

Aspiring to “improve your driving” is a great goal. Once you start looking into it however, it might start to feel like a big task – maybe even too big! Where should you start?

In this article I want to share with you a way to simplify how to improve your driving by looking at just two main areas: your core skills, and the track you’re driving on. 

First take some comfort. At all levels of driving experience, there are too many things to tackle! But by breaking the overall big task of improvement down into more manageable steps you will see a step change in your driving. 

And lest you think you’re alone with this challenge, even the greats of our sport never stop learning:

Help race drivers improve - Lewis Hamilton quote. Even the best never stop learning

Besides my work in motorsport, I’ve worked extensively with various Olympic athletes and sporting organisations, primarily on improving the process for improvement! Breaking the big tasks down into many small gains is a core approach to their success, and yet my experience is that drivers do not do this enough. I hope these suggestions help you too, like they’ve helped me.

Start With Your Priorities 

When people talk about helping drivers improve, you often hear phrases like “quick wins,” “low hanging fruit,” and “only focus on one thing at a time.”

Great advice! But, practically, how do you prioritize the opportunities in front of you?

What you want is to drive out of the pits with complete certainty of what to do around the lap – of what the goals are for your session, and to know you can accomplish them on track.

Ultimately you want to become a better, faster driver. But sometimes it can feel a bit of “a voyage of discovery” every time out. There can be just so much to focus on that you’re not focusing on anything! 😊

Rather than throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks, how can you be more deliberate, strategic, and effective in developing your next session plan?

What Does Good Look Like?

Your first priority is to start by clarifying your definition of success.

“Faster lap time” is the usual barometer of driver progress, but when it comes to driver development, is it the best?

Yes, it is all about going faster, but lap time is a crude and messy measure. Around a lap, you have multiple chances to make mistakes, get held up by traffic, or otherwise compromise what would have been a great performance. You may have made a big improvement in one section of the track, but the overall lap time didn’t show it.

Consider that while a faster lap time is your ultimate goal, it need not be your only measure of success.

Success Is Change In Behaviour… On Track

Analysis is only part of the story, too. You can sit around looking at the data and video, and get opinions from instructors, coaches, friends, fellow drivers… and collectively agree on all the areas you should focus on for improvement. One person might lead your conversation; collectively you’ll get lots of nods, grunts, signs of approval … “Yeah that makes sense.”

While this might feel like useful work, it is not until you translate this into actions on track that you can call your analysis session a success. Successful driver analysis should result in you doing different actions on track. A change in actual behavior is needed.

Sometimes, you might go back out on track and, for any number of valid and understandable reasons – e.g. fear, forgetfulness, disagreement – you don’t enact your “agreed” plan.

That can be frustrating! So what can you do about it?

One Size Does NOT Fit All … Experience Matters

First, you need to truly believe in your plan for your next session. You really need to “own” this plan, and for that, you need to be comfortable that it’s right for you.

Obviously, inexperienced drivers have different challenges than seasoned professional racing drivers. Know where you stack up.

In fact, you might argue that if you’re a brand new driver, it really doesn’t matter what track you’re on. The act of track driving is so far removed from street driving that you’re really starting from zero. Just being on track at all for your first time is overwhelming enough, and focusing on developing the core skills for performance driving is the priority. The details of the specific track you’re on is of relative little importance.

I have this great podcast you might enjoy that discusses the process of taking “The man in the street, and turning them into a racing driver … in just one week” with John Kirkpatrick, of Jim Russell Racing School fame. Their process started by simply (re-)learning to change gear!

At the other end of the driving experience scale, is the seasoned pro racing driver. Like Lewis Hamilton, you have your driving challenges too, but yours are different. The ultimate pro racing driver has all their core driving skills mastered. Your challenge instead becomes about mastering the track.

“What is the fastest way to drive around this racetrack?”

Both newbie and pro are trying to answer this same question. The difference – whether you realize it or not – is that you are really trying to answer two different parts of it.

The new driver is primarily focused on: “What is the fastest way to drive around any track?”

The seasoned pro is focused on: “What is the fastest way to drive around this racetrack?”

Clearly there is some overlap in practice. A track will have certain types of corners. These will enable any driver to develop their specific skills on those types of corners (for example, a hairpin), but not necessarily on others.

The aim here is to be clear in your mind about what is most appropriate for your driving in terms of a development focus.

I recommend keeping the following image in mind, decide where you are on the scale, and what you should be working on for each session:

How to improve your driving with the core verses track driver development continuum
Know which end of the scale you are working on for each session.

Core vs Track Continuum

By using this simple mental continuum of driver development between core driving skills or track specific knowledge, you’ll be clearer on what you are, or should be, prioritizing. You can’t do everything, but being clear on what you are aiming for makes your track time ten times more effective.

Is it to use the next session to try and improve heel-and-toe downshifting? Or is it to determine whether two equally-feasible-yet-different lines would be faster through turn 4?

Once again, measuring success is important. Success in core skill development could be consistently smooth longitudinal acceleration traces. Success when focusing on the track might be a fast delta-t time though a certain part of the track.

Components Of Lap Time Potential

Clearly, they both contribute to better “lap time potential” as they make up the components of your lap. By using this continuum and thinking in terms of what success looks like for each action you desire, you will see bigger improvement.

Next time you’re considering how to put a plan together for the next session, be clear in your mind about what you want to focus on or emphasize more. Is it core skills or something track specific?

Then be clear on what would make a good measure of success for that, remembering that you can sometimes experience one step back to take three forward.

Ultimately, success of the analysis session is evidenced by a change in behavior on track. Did you enact your plan? If so, was it a success? Did your change in behavior lead to the result you wanted, with either your core driving skills, or a track-specific action?

Good luck!

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