Setting Expectations (And Racecar Data’s True Value)

One of the big questions in racing is how well can you really expect to do? What does success reasonably look like for you? And what is racecar data’s true value to you anyway?

Your track time is limited, with maybe only a few test or track days per year. Many of you get a lot of practice in the sim but it isn’t really the same thing. Age is also a factor – certainly in Pro racing – but how much it affects you at club level is unknown.

Honestly, it is tough for you to know what expectations to set.

For example, is it reasonable for you to aim for within 1%, 5% or 10% of the best? What if you had more track time or more sim time, what should you expect then? What if you feel you’ve plateaued and do not know what to do or try next? What if the weather is different for you than for those reference times so that making a fair comparison becomes impossible?

It quickly becomes clear you need a better way to measure your racing performance. A method over and above race results and comparisons to absolute lap times of the front runners.

How well did you really do?

What you are after is to maximise every minute of track time you have. After all, SO much goes into just getting yourself on the grid. You, therefore, want better evidence of your own progress and, hopefully, of your own improvement. Ultimately this means you want to know how well you did with what was in your control. In racing, this means knowing (for certain) how much lap time you left on the track, where and what you could do about it.

That way you can not only improve next time you drive that track but, given that there are similar types of corners everywhere, you can start to improve how well you drive at ANY track.

How do you drive fast anyway?

Personally I see driving as an experiential puzzle (if that makes any sense?) You try things and sometimes they “work” and sometimes they do not. But how do you really know which is which?

The result is that there can be a certain mystery to driving fast. You feel you’re flat out on a track (and by far a better driver than anyone you know outside of racing) but then the “quick guys” go and completely smash your times! Happens to us all – and thankfully even to the Pro’s if you listened to Matt Neal on the podcast recently (from approx 13mins)

It is about how you approach what you do next that (I feel) is your key to success.

Interestingly, to go faster doesn’t necessarily mean to be braver or more heroic – with many of my show guests saying similar things:

Often, driving faster is the result of you being more deliberate, more precise and actually less heroic.

Sometimes, what feels fast isn’t always fast – if that makes any sense?

So your challenge becomes not only what can you do about that, but what can you do about that compounded by your relative lack of track time.

Why Racecar Data

Whilst preparing the Beginners Data Analysis Course I asked myself, on your behalf to be honest, “what value does racecar data really offer?”

After all, your track session is over by the time you get the information, right? It is not like you can go back in time and change what happened. Therefore what is the point of you spending any time to learn about data to discover what you could have done? You have no way to do anything about it – so it is pointless, right?

But then on the flip side, if using performance data for driver development was pointless, then why does every professional racing team on the planet use data? Why do all the best Pro drivers increasingly rely on performance data to get the most from their car?

There are several reasons why performance data is useful, for example, it “remembers” what happened much better than you do. As a result, if you do have another session at the same track you can use data from a previous session to explicitly inform you of where you could braking later, turning in better, or where you could get on the throttle earlier, in order to find your lost lap time at that track.

Racecar Data’s True Value – Certainty of Assessment

Perhaps by far the more interesting aspect though (in my humble opinion) is really in data’s ability to provide you with a level of certainty of assessment.

Certainty to know what did and what did not work. Certainty to quantify that in a meaningful way (lap time). And therefore, certainty to help you to determine what risk level is required in order to achieve the lap times you desire.

With the certainty of assessment comes the opposite of confusion and misinformation. Certainty gives you the opportunity to improve what my Olympic coaching colleagues would call, your intrinsic abilities. In other words your ability to self-assess and self-improve your own driving much much faster.

The reason the Pro’s are using data is to shortcut their learning times, as well as the ability to then self-score themselves, in granular detail, to know how well they actually performed. Precisely then what would help you to set and monitor your own driving expectations.