Friday, July 25, 2014

The Results - Part 1

In the last post I talked about how I had a great time at the Evo School, and how discovered that I had a serious error in the way I was thinking about looking ahead. I'm very lucky that the Evo School was immediately followed the next week by two races. School is great, epiphanies are wonderful, but the proof is in the pudding. Can I translate what I learned into actual results at a real race?

In this post I'll look at the first event with the Renegade Miata Club: Their events are scored by averaging two fastest runs, then paxing the result and dividing the fastest pax in your category by your pax and multiplying that by 100. This makes the maximum score possible 100 points, which you only get if  you have top pax across two runs for your category.

Summary of Renegade Season thus far:
  1. May 3 2014 - 96.310 points, 10th place for Non Mazdas, 13th over all. but Neither Grant Reeve, nor Steven Stephen Lefebvre were there to set the pace
  2. May 24 2014 - 88.916 points, 19th place for Non-Mazdas, 33rd over all. Only had one clean run, if I had matched my best run I would have had about 93 points. Grant had Fastest Non-Mazda with 63.854 vs my 66.902 (3 sec off grant)
  3. June 21 2014 - 94.464 points, 8th place for Non-Mazdas, 14th over all. My best, 72.2 - Ben sets a low 67 while giving me a ride in my car during fun runs. Grant had FTD with 69.987 (My best in fun runs was 71.1, 1.1 sec off Grant)
  4. July 19 2014 - 97.571 points, 8th place for Non-Mazdas, 11th over all. Grant not there, Scruffy FTD @ 64.461, I had 65.097 or about 0.6 second from Fastest Non Mazda. 
So Did Evo School help? Yes I think it did, a little bit. I was close than ever before to  FTD *within* the regular times. Grant Reeve wasn't there, but On the next day I ran 1.3 sec behind him, and if we transplant that differential here, I would have had 95.062 points.

So I was a little faster. The difference is not stunning, but I did hand my car to Ben again, and this time he got a 62.3... only 2.7 seconds faster than my best time (instead of the almost 4 seconds in the previous event). We also had some added Hot Shoes in the class, including Ben in an STS CRX, and Bob Lang, and a totally new face in an STX Acura. So if I place that 95 points into the prior event, I gain 2 places in the Non-Mazdas and would have given me a time for about to 10th overall pax. So non-mazdas, and the field in general might be slightly stronger in this event than the last.

Statistics in racing events are dodgy due to course dependency and mechanical changes/failures etc, and in events with variable attendance it's double dodgy, but I certainly didn't do worse by any measure, and better by some. Another encouraging thing is that this club requires 2 good runs to do well, and one hero run won't do it. I was able to back up my fastest time with another reasonably close time on the preceding run.

As for looking ahead without following specific cones, I think I did better about that in the stuff on the main runway, My eyes did still tend to come down for the tight turns. It's hard to break old habits. It will take some time I think, but I know what it is I'm trying to improve now.

Anyway, here's the video for my the fastest run of the day.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Doing it WRONG

Crap, I've been doing it wrong!

For a long time I've known that it was important to look ahead. Over the last few years I've gotten much better about not just looking at the next cone. I also learned that it's important to identify key cones and that the rest of the cones often don't matter. So naturally, I've been looking ahead and finding these key cones. Then having focused on said cone I've been doing my best to ensure I don't loose track of it and position myself the way I want at that cone.

As I learned to do this my driving improved. It seemed to make sense. For a while I was happy. I credit my improvements in 2012 with this technique. Then in 2013 I gained the agression I was missing and began to drive hard, And with the start of this year, I've pushed that aggression up a little further, but there's still a clear gap between the "really fast" drivers and the "moderately fast" drivers like me. I've been increasingly feeling like I don't quite know where that time can be found. Until recently I've been blaming it on the car. It doesn't have an LSD... It doesn't have as much power, I haven't done any real engine work or tuning... I haven't cut the fenders and maxed the tire sizes yet... Lots of things that take lots of money.

But then I handed the car to Ben, and he shaved 4 seconds off my time in the Renegade Miata school. That set the "car not good enough" ship listing a bit...  But it was a non-competitive day, maybe my time just wasn't as good as I thought... Then I handed it to Ben in fun runs after a "real" event and he raw timed Grant by almost THREE WHOLE SECONDS. The "car not good enough" boat had sprung a leak.

Today, at the Evolution School, I had the extreme privilege to be instructed all day by Mark Daddio. This is the autocross equivalent of a basketball player training with Michal Jordan, or a high school QB getting tips on quarterbacking by Tom Brady. Mark Daddio was the 1988 Rookie of the year, the 2000 Driver of eminence and  has won TWENTY national championships in the 35 years since his Rookie year. Check the Solo Rulebook, you'll find his name listed 22 times. That's right, when he goes to nationals, more than half the time, he comes home champion.

WOW. Holy crap. Think about that, and then think about the fact that in 35 years, it's likely that at least a few times the car probably gave him trouble. And I haven't taken the time to check if there were any years he didn't run... Basically if the car is well prepped and solid, the safe bet is on Mark Daddio.

So what happened when he took the wheel of my car? He ran a 46.3.... What does that mean? Hard to say, but today he also drove the in the B Modifed sports racer that took 3rd place at nationals, and today he got a 42.4... 3.9 second gap. Which on a Nationals sized course represents about a 5.2 second gap. Or 10.4 seconds across 2 days. So if we add 10.6 seconds to B Modified times at the 2013 solo nationals, They come out *slightly* (0.6 sec) faster  than corresponding Super Street Modified times. Now the B Mod car he drove today only placed 4th, so if we make the unlikely assumption that Will Shambach is as fast as mark Daddio and the entire difference between Will Shambach and the first place in B Mod is the car, we figure that Mark could get just under 125 seconds at nationals in my car. 125sec is 2.5 seconds off the pace. Incidentally, it works out to almost exactly the time that Matt Glagola ran in his super charged SSM Elise, and Matt took home a Trophy. So out of 120 seconds of racing, my car appears 2.5 seconds slow, less whatever skill Mark has over Will. If the above logic is anything like reality, the car *could* take home a trophy, maybe even a podium level trophy.

So... on a 60 second NER course, it's really stretching it thin to claim that the prep of my car is giving up more than a second. And after pax, it gets hard to justify more than .8 seconds... The "car not good enough" ship is nose down and sinking fast. So clearly, as I've said above I've been doing something wrong!

I am assuming that he drove my car and the B Mod at similar pace... and he admitted that he felt he probably could get another .3 out of my car if he tried harder and maybe .6 or .7 on a really crazy "run to win nationals" type run) If he sandbagged the B-Mod more than my car the above is of course not so valid. But I'm guessing that he probably put in a similar effort.

Today, I found out what I've been doing wrong: Looking ahead. Looking ahead is not wrong, but the way I've been doing it is. When I "look ahead", I pick up a key cone in the distance and then focus on that cone. All the other cones don't matter so I tune them out. This is WRONG. Tuning out the irrelevant cones is not wrong, but the focus on a single cone is.

One needs to look ahead and obtain a defocused awareness of all the upcoming cones. Focusing down on just a single cone tempts you to "look the cone in" and this brings your eyes down. Once you're satisfied that you got a good position/entry/backside etc on the "key cone" you look up... and you're lost. It takes a tiny fraction of a second to refocus to the distance and another tiny fraction of a second to pick out the cones, and yet another tiny fraction to figure out which cone is the next "key cone".  The bad news is those tiny fractions add up to a tenth or 2 tenths of a second where *you have NO CLUE where you are going*. I think we can all guess how that turns out... small errors get made and build up, you get behind and soon big errors start getting made.

The key takeaway is not only must you look ahead, but you must NEVER EVER look down. Look ahead at the full course, not ahead at a specific cone. See elements, not cones.

Another good way to think about this is when the cone is 20 feet away, there's little or nothing you can do to improve your angle or avoid the cone unless you're going way too slow. So there's really just no point in looking at anything near the car. If you aren't in the right position by the time you are that close, you can't possibly do anything useful about it. Even if you could adjust that quick, your adjustment needs to be informed by the information about the next 2-3 elements. So no more "looking the cone in".

Why did I improve in 2012 with my poor technique? Because I went from not looking ahead at all to regularly looking ahead for some of the time. Some is better than none. And the fact that I have a good memory hasn't helped either. I've tended to compensate by memorizing the course. My final runs are often cleaner and faster, because I've finally memorized enough of the course, that I know where I'm supposed to be going during that clueless tenth or two of second. Impossible to be fast from the start that way. Difficult to be refining other aspects of the course at the same time.

The other key problem I seem to fight with is not wanting to go slow in the slow stuff. But several people have told me that. It's a known problem and I'm working on that too.

Oh and how did I do? My fast time on my last run was 47.1, 0.8 seconds behind Mark Daddio on a 45-50 sec course... which might be more like 1.1 to 1.5 if he were really trying. That tends to look like a run that would put me 1-2 seconds off of top pax at an NER event. I've never done better than 3 seconds from top pax... Next weekend we see if I can do it in 6 runs instead of the dozen or so I got today.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Studying Evoloution

This weekend, I will out among the cones again, but not for a competitive event. I will be attending an Evolution Performance Driving School (popularly known as "Evo School", though it has nothing to do with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, also referred to as an "Evo"). Over the last few races, It has become clear that, while I am driving at a higher level than last year, there is still room for improvement. Twice I've had a top driver get in my car and shave seconds off my time. Both times the car proved it could have taken FTD in "fun runs".

One might think that after 5+ years at this I would be beyond schools, but if you think that, then there's two things to consider (at least). First off, this school is run by folks who are National trophy winners, many of them national champions. That is a level I have not attained yet. Mostly I know the basics, and I am significantly above average at the local level, but these people go faster. They can spot my errors and they clearly know things I don't.

Secondly, the great thing about schools, is seat time. One gets many many runs on which to find the speed. One thing I sorely need is to elevate my expectations. I need to get to a higher speed and practice being there. I need to make faster feel normal. Regular events, one just gets the course figured out and then the day ends.

The ride along on with Ben at the last Renegade Miata event (when he shaved 3-4 sec off my time and would have set FTD by over 2 seconds but for a couple cones) totally emphasizes that I simply don't have the right expectation of how the car should feel. It's also entirely clear that although Leafy's car may be somewhat faster than mine, proper driving could still get me a win. Hope is not lost.

I will be attending the Challenge School, where the instructor will set a time and then I will attempt to match it. I did this several years ago and there will also be ride alongs with the instructor, and my goal is to try to capture that feel of being right on the edge but still in control. Without an example of a top driver to compare with, it's really easy to think you are on the edge when you're still quite some distance from it.

So my #1 goal is to absorb the feel of "being on the edge" like a sponge and learn to live there without falling off. I need to keep pushing myself. But I'm also aware that pushing is not everything.

At the last event, I set my best time by pushing hard and repeatedly telling myself "Do it with the line, not with the brakes" as I drove through the course. So the other key is to continue refining my line. The "edge" on the good line is a lot faster than the "edge" on a sloppy line.

Oh yeah, and have fun too!