How to Learn a Race Track: A Step-by-Step Guide
How quickly you learn a race track is a crucial part of being a successful track driver. Whether you’re an amateur racer or a professional, knowing a track well can help you to be faster, more confident, and more competitive. However, learning a race track takes time – time you may not have for extra testing days or extended simulator sessions.
In this article, I share a step-by-step guide to help you learn a race track quickly and effectively. By using deliberate practice and a combination of mental and physical exercises, you’ll soon be able to drive out of pits and be straight on the pace. Know each sequence of corners, all the key reference markers. You know which kerbs to cut, and which not too. Where to push, and where not too.
Sound too good to be true? Read on my friend…
What is Deliberate Practice?
Deliberate practice is a scientific theory and a focused approach to learning that emphasises purposeful and systematic practice. Unlike regular practice, which may involve mindless repetition or random exploration, deliberate practice requires specific goals, focused attention, and continuous feedback.
The concept of deliberate practice has been popularised by authors such as Anders Ericsson and Malcolm Gladwell, who argue that deliberate practice is the key to achieving excellence in any field, from music to sports to business.
Deliberate practice involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller components, practicing each component separately, and then integrating them back together. It also involves receiving feedback from experts, analysing performance data, and adjusting your practice accordingly.
How Can Deliberate Practice Help You Learn a Race Track?
Deliberate practice can be particularly effective for learning a race track because it allows you to create your own mental model of the track, train your muscle memory, and reduce the time required for “discovery” learning.
By using deliberate practice, you can:
- Develop a deep understanding of the track layout, corners, straights, and elevation changes.
- Identify the key reference points, braking zones, turn-in points, apexes, and exit points for each corner.
- Memorise the sequence of corners and the best racing line.
- Train your muscle memory to respond to the visual and even the auditory cues of the track.
All these factors can help you reduce your lap times, increase your consistency, and improve your confidence on the track.
How to Use Deliberate Practice to Learn a Race Track?
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use deliberate practice to learn a race track – even if you’re short in preparation time before your event:
Step 1: Find a Good In-Car Video
The first step in learning a race track is to find a good in-car video. YouTube is an excellent resource for finding videos of drivers racing on various tracks. Look for videos that are shot from the driver’s point of view and show a complete lap of the track.
Good ones are not always easy to find. If it helps your search, most people include the circuit name in the title. Sometimes they don’t which can make finding good videos harder. Don’t forget to use the suggested videos on the right too.
Look for videos shot in dry conditions, with a representative car to yours, and a fast lap time – check class lap records to get a feel for this. Pay attention to the camera angle, video quality, and sound quality of the video, as these factors can affect how well you’re able to see and hear what’s happening on the track.
The good news is you only need 1 decent lap of the track, not a whole session.
This is a good example I used ahead of a race meeting to learn the long, and rarely accessible, Brands Hatch Grand Prix layout.
We were only going to get 7 or so laps per session, and would be straight out into qualifying with no practise so this really helped.
Step 2: Be Your Own Guide
Once you’ve found a good in-car video, it’s time to create YOUR OWN track guide to the circuit.
This is about stimulating your brain into active, rather than passive, action so that it remembers and learns more effectively. To do this try following this process:
Watch the video several times at HALF SPEED and start to draw a sketch of the track as you go round. Take note of the following key elements of the track:
- Full throttle until… points: Identify the key braking zones and at what point on the track the driver comes off full throttle. What can you see at those points? Where are they relative to marker boards, changes in tarmac, or Armco barriers.
- Positioning: Where has the driver put the car? Where would you put your car? What would you be aiming for?
- Kerbs: Note how much kerb the driver takes at apex and exit and whether there are sensors for track limits…
- Acceleration: Listen to when the driver gets back on the power and note how early they’re able to do this. At what point are they at full throttle?
By drawing your own guide to the track, you’ll be more likely to remember it when you’re out on the track for real. You’ll also be creating your own mental model of what you expect to see and happen around the lap.
Your track map drawing might even end up back where you started! It doesn’t matter. The real value in this stage is in the action of your hand drawing and your eye observing.
Step 3: Train Your Muscle Memory
The next step is to train your muscle memory to respond to the visual and auditory cues of the track. Now this might seem a bit odd but go with me because, personally, I find this is the bit that will really elevate this learning process for you…
Play the in-car video back at full speed and try to brake and accelerate along with the video. Use the correct foot movements for your type of car (e.g. brake with your left foot in a kart or operate the clutch in a fully manual car).
If you make a mistake, start the lap again and repeat until you can “drive” the whole lap matching the video. Focus only on training your feet and don’t worry about your hands. By drilling your feet to react to what you’re seeing and hearing in the video, you’ll be preparing yourself to respond quickly and accurately when you’re on the track for real.
Incidentally, compared to doing this on the sim (here is a guide to getting started with a sim if you’ve not already been bitten by that bug too…) or even for real, this has an added benefit of you being able to consistently practise a fast lap time, knowing you’ll definitely make it round the lap every time.
It is actually hard to do this at first but that is the point. You are more deliberately learning how to learn a race track.
Step 4: Test on the Track
The final step in learning a race track is to test your skills on the track itself. By now, you should have a good understanding of the track layout, the line and some key reference points.
When you first get on the track drive at 8/10ths pace and focus on building up your speed gradually. Use the first few laps to get a feel for the track surface, the grip levels, and the handling characteristics of your car in this new environment. Make sure to pay attention to your braking points and reference markers – hit them consistently as if you were at full pace, again to deliberately calibrate your vision to what you have seen in the video(s) and practised before.
As you build up your speed, start to push yourself more and experiment with different approaches to corners and braking points. Use the mental model you created in step two to guide your driving and focus on hitting your marks as accurately as possible.
How To Learn A Race Track: Conclusion
Everyone knows, learning a race track takes time and practice. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can develop a good understanding of the track – without even having to be there.
You can accelerate the learning process and improve your chances of being on the pace sooner. By using deliberate practice, you can develop your own mental model of the track, train your muscle memory, and reduce the time required for discovery learning.
Good luck and whether you’re an amateur driver or a professional, this step-by-step guide can help you to improve your overall performance and more quickly become a faster, more confident driver on any track.
Sign up below to never miss the latest, then check out these other articles:
- What do the Pro’s say? Learn the best skill development approaches to driving fast. https://www.yourdatadriven.com/learning-to-drive-fast-on-track-the-best-skill-development-approaches/
- Wondering what the tyres are actually doing? This article should help your visualisation: https://www.yourdatadriven.com/tyre-slip-angle-explained/
- Want my perspective on how to drive fast? You might like this article: https://www.yourdatadriven.com/how-to-drive-fast/
- Want to take the guess work out of setting your tyre pressures? Try this article including a free calculator: https://www.yourdatadriven.com/how-to-set-your-racing-car-tyre-pressures-perfectly-every-time/