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.

No comments: