Racecraft 101: Learning Your First Track

It’s time to start Learning Your First Track! First, What is racecraft? Well, I’m glad you asked! Racecraft is the art of racing and includes several concepts, such as cornering, passing, pitting, and general track etiquette. Many people assume that when you get on the track, the object is to go as fast as you can, brake as hard as possible, and block all those trying to pass. While that may be how some drivers do things, it’s certainly not the most optimal. There is a lot of science behind racecraft. While this blog will cover the science in later blogs, you can actually check out a great book called Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving, link here. The book, a Skip Barber textbook by Danny Sullivan, covers real-world driving science and includes formulas, diagrams, and real-world advice that can all be applied in a simulation.

Lesson 1: Learning Your First Track

While it may seem counter-intuitive to jump into a car you don’t know and drive on a track you do not know, we all have to start somewhere. What I have found is that you can learn a track and a car at the same time. The important thing to note is racecraft because the technique is universal. The line you take, how you overtake, and your ability to push a car to its limits will transfer to all tracks and all cars. Ah, the racing line. That brings us to our first topic of line, braking, and corner exit speed is everything.

Understand the Optimal Line

The racing line refers to the most optimal path you take around the track. Many beginners assume that the quickest way around the track is the shortest distance, which can be achieved by driving close to the inside of a turn. Think about an oval track; the distance is less when you drive closer to the apron than the wall. It’s true it is a shorter distance, but it is not the quickest way around, except for Daytona and Talladega. What about road courses? Well, technically, driving on the side of the road closest to the apex is a shorter distance; it’s certainly not the quickest; why?

The reason is due to the limited grip available on the tires and the need to turn. Imagine a 90-degree corner that you are approaching at 120 mph. Turning at full speed will result in the tires losing traction, the car pushing to the outside, and the need to turn the wheel a significant number of times. There’s another way, and it has to do with maximizing the arc into the corner. The more optimal the arc, the less wheel turning is needed, and the higher the corner entry/exit speed. The short story of this is, to drive as close to the edge of the road opposite the upcoming turn. If the turn is a left-hander, get furthest to the right as possible. For a more in-depth breakdown, check out my “Common cornering mistakes” post.

Use Visual References

Once you understand the best way around the track, the next step is finding how to maximize speed both into and out of the corner. One of the hardest things to do in any race is to be consistent. One thing to be consistent in is how you enter the corner. Most corners require you to brake. If you find the magic spot where you can brake and achieve optimal speed, you’ll want to hit that every time. One way to do this is to find a visual reference on the track that denotes your braking point. This reference could be a distance marker, bumper, or even coloration changes in the asphalt.

Try Things and Take Notes

I’m often told that there is no substitute for seat time. I think that’s true. We try things, and we see what the result is, and we learn from it. There are some track maps that you can find on the internet that have each turn and a label next to it for general notes. You can simply open a word document or write in a notepad for easy reference. The most important thing here is you find a system that works for you. If you are on Monza, where turn 1 is a chicane, you can simply write down “Turn 1, brake at 150m board, blip throttle, coast until exit.” You can then take this one step further and try to brake deeper into the corner and write down the result. This is important because you can reference this later during race prep, especially if this is a less visited track. Personally, I keep my notes in a word doc so I can use ctrl+f to find specific corners. I don’t often run tracks such as COTA or Silverstone that often so I often forget where my braking points are. If I try new things, that’s fine; I simply update my word doc.

Utilize YouTube! I’m not ashamed to say this. I have learned many tracks simply by watching other sim racers’ posts on YouTube. Why start from scratch when you can learn from the mistakes of others? Your note-taking could start by watching a video, writing down what the other racer did, and trying to apply it in your own style. You don’t need to match their brake pressure or brake at the same pixel as them, but you should understand the general line they are taking. It may seem strange to hear, but you can do everything the same as another racer and have different results. You cannot force a technique to work. We all have our own ways of doing things. That’s why experimenting is so important.

Race the Track, Not the Person

As a new driver, you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself by trying to match everyone else’s lap times. As you learn a track, drive it the way you learned it. The most important thing in a race for a newcomer is to be predictable. Let the other cars figure out how they want to pass you, but you need to be predictable so they can make an informed decision. Drive the optimal line, try new things, and take notes! Your new track awaits. Get out there and start Learning Your First Track!

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