Stepping into the world of the Tire Rack SCCA® Time Trials National Tour Powered by Hagerty – or any kind of track event – can be a daunting task with lots to ponder. Is my car up to speed? Am I up to speed? What experience level group am I in? What happens if I spin and screw it up for everyone else? Also, how did I take Turn 3 so quickly last time? Was it a fluke? Can I do it again?
There are a million thoughts running through your head, and for that, experienced instructor, coach, driver, and SCCA Time Trials event lead Justin Barbry has advice to make your track experience less daunting, regardless of whether it’s your first or 50th go-round.
Start With Tech
Most events begin with event check-in and technical inspection, and any hang ups at the beginning of the event can lead to you feeling like you’re on the back foot the whole time. So what can you pay extra attention to ahead of time?
“The most consistent issue we see is improperly installed harnesses,” Barbry says. “The first problem we see a lot of is improper strap routing through the three-bar slides. The other issue we see that can really be a big time labor suck is unsafe mounting of the harnesses to the car, particularly the lap belt attachments. Remember that the harnesses are only as strong as their weakest point, and they are designed to be attached using specific hardware. Finding that hardware or having to remount your harnesses the morning of an event is a surefire way to struggle at an event right from the start.”
Doublecheck that safety gear before arriving. There is a great diagram of the proper routing on TimeTrials.SCCA.com under Safety Level 2 > Vehicle Equipment > Driver Restraints. The most frequently seen issue is forgetting the final loop through the slide (shown in Figure 4), so take a close look and compare yours to this.
Get Your Mind Right
To paraphrase a famous quote attributed to Yogi Berra about baseball: motorsports is 90 percent mental, and only half physical. In other words, it’s important to be in the right headspace both before and after that helmet covers your noggin.
“You have the best chance for success when your brain is calm and ready to take on whatever challenge is in front of you,” Barbry says. “The best way to manifest this into existence? Get to grid early and fully prepared.”
Once on grid, what do you do?
“There are two mental strategies you’ll need full use of to be successful,” Barbry explains. “Those are being proactive and reactive. Getting to grid early and prepared is the best way to take advantage of the proactive strategies. You should assess your surroundings, make a plan for the session, go through your mental checklist of what you want to accomplish. Being proactive about a plan will leave much more mental bandwidth on tap for all the reactive choices you’ll need to make at speed in the car.”
Mind The Gap
It’s now time to get your car in the right space. Proper spacing and track position will allow both you and your fellow competitors to make the most of the sessions. The hardest part is sometimes realizing that it’s quicker not to drive at the limit for every single lap of each session.
“Finding sufficient space on track to set your best laps can sometimes be tricky,” Barbry admits. “There are moments where you might have figured something out that now has you at a pace faster than the car in front of you. You could wait for a point-by, but that car in front might be on a flyer of their own and unwilling to sacrifice that lap. You might find all the space you need behind you, in which case it would be worth taking a lap off to create a new gap in front of you and try again.”
There are certainly situations where you’re just too close to both the cars in front and behind you. While ideally they would realize the same, sometimes it’s best to take matters into your own hands and let some cars by in order to create space.
“If you need to move your place in line, you’ll need to make some very important decisions about what’s going on in your rearview mirror as you look for space,” Barbry says. “The goal here is to not impede any other drivers who are trying to set their best lap. The only way to accomplish that is to keep your pace up in the corners and manage as much traffic as safely as possible on the straightaways. Managing traffic in the corners, if it’s even allowed by the rules, is almost always going to involve the passing car slowing down. It’s much better to adjust what you’re doing as the ‘off-pace’ car to get that point-by done on a straightaway.”
One popular strategy is to wait until cars pull in later in the session to try to put down your best lap. Barbry advises against this for several reasons, but the biggest is simply that there’s a reason fewer cars are on track late in a session. The longer you’re on track, the less likely it is that your car and tires are at their best. This is not just a fact about your car, it also applies to the drivers around you. Barbry suggests getting a fast lap in early, then utilizing the rest of the session preparing for the next time out when the tires and brakes are cool again.
“Spend that time later in the session working on the sections of track that you’re struggling with while not pushing the car 100 percent in the other parts of the track,” he suggests. “That allows you to try different approaches to a section of track with a more consistent car in the hope you can nail it in a later session when you have the best chance of putting a whole lap together.”
Let’s Taco Bout It
You may not think of the relationship you have with the other drivers in your run group in the same way as you do a relationship with a friend or a significant other, but it’s a relationship in its own way, and the best way to make the most of it is communication.
It’s why, especially with new drivers, coaches are asking about what went on during the on-track session, and advancing that knowledge to the next session – this way everyone works toward a similar goal and not just burning up fuel and rubber.
“We expect good communication between drivers when on track,” Barbry says. “Clear signals for point-bys or pitting-in all lead to better, safer outcomes in the moment.”
While that’s a given, it’s interesting to note that the communication actually begins off the track.
“Continue that good communication to the debriefs and the paddock,” he says. “Drivers should be communicating with their track mates, especially those they’re gridded near. The goals are usually very similar, but the approach might be different between drivers. Understanding each other’s approach to the goal before you’re on track helps guide the on-track decisions that lead to successful sessions.”
Remember The Goal
It’s a cliché, but it’s one for a reason: The real point of all of this is fun with cars. So long as everyone works together, every driver can accomplish their goals within this framework.
“Everything gets better when everyone is rowing in the same direction,” Barbry concludes. “Even if the approaches are slightly different and the goals are personal, when all the drivers on track are performing towards the same task and have the chance to communicate as a group off track, individual success is much easier to achieve.”
With that in mind, it’s time (pun intended) to sign up for that Tire Rack SCCA Time Trials National Tour Powered by Hagerty event near you.
Photo by Jon Krolewicz / Staff