Take a moment to consider how most of us think about driving through a corner. We might think about nailing our braking point, getting our downshifts right, turning in at just the right moment, trail braking through the entry, carrying as much speed as possible, clipping the apex, powering out of the corner, unwinding the steering wheel, and keeping the car in balance as our speed carries us right to the edge of the track. Depending on the shape of a particular corner, some of these steps may blur together or may not even apply. But if we are trying to maximize our speed around a track, that’s still anywhere from 3-7 things we are trying to pay attention to.
Through every single corner.
Lap after lap.
At least, that’s how we talk about it, right? When we think about or discuss how we can drive faster through a corner, we conceptualize it as a sequence of steps we need to get right. We talk about making improvements such as braking later (or sooner), turning in at the right time, trail braking more, getting on the gas sooner, and so on.
This is not unlike how we learn to read.
When we were little kids learning to read, we first learned to conceptualize “words” by reading one letter at a time. As we became more adept with recognizing and reproducing the sounds of each letter, we were able to read faster. But the big jump in our reading ability happened when we built familiarity to the point where we could read words without paying attention to every letter. And as our reading skills improved further, we could even recognize entire phrases without reading each word.
We take this for granted because we have been doing it our entire lives.
The same is true for anyone that learned to play a musical instrument. At first it is challenging enough to recognize and reproduce each individual note. But over time, we are able to recognize groups of notes or chords and intervals, and eventually learn to process entire melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions with just one glance at the sheet.
From walking, to talking, to reading, to dancing, to solving an engineering or business problem… this is how we learn anything. We start by taking discrete individual steps, and work to build familiarity such that we no longer have to exert constant focus to perform each action in sequence. It is the idea of building proficiency by conceptualizing a collection of individual “things” as a singular more complex “thing”.
The same idea applies to racing
Most of us think of corner entry as sequence of braking, downshifting, turning in, trail braking, apexing, etc, and we work hard at perfecting each step in the sequence. That’s well and good at first when we are trying to get familiar with the fundamentals. But as we progress and get faster, in order to make it to the next level, we have to stop trying to finesse each letter of the alphabet; we have to learn to process entire words and phrases. Instead of fixating on each step one at a time, we need to learn to process the corner as a whole.
The fastest drivers (the aliens, if you prefer) have learned to process all of the individual “things” as a singular more complex “thing”. It no longer is a sequence of braking, downshifting, turning in, trail braking, and apexing to them… it is “corner entry”.
This isn’t just semantics. This is literally how we build proficiency.
Just as you cannot read a book fast (or well) by paying attention to every letter, if you stay focused on each step of corner entry discreetly, you simply cannot process the information fast enough to be able to drive at the absolute limit. What makes it even worse is that by continuing to process each step individually, we end up significantly impairing our ability to look ahead because our attention is always being forced to the next step in the sequence.
Remember, we are not trying to master reading the letters of the alphabet quickly, we are trying to read proficiently. We are not trying to master playing the chromatic scale up and down our instrument, we are trying to make music. We are not trying to master late braking, or trail braking, or any singular step, we are trying to drive faster through a corner.
The fact is, no matter how good we get at it, there is a limit to how fast we can read by reading one letter at a time. There is a limit to how proficient we can be on our musical instrument if we process just one note at a time. There is a limit to how fast we can drive if we keep thinking about each step individually.
We have to learn to put it all together.
OK. So, how are we to do this?
The good news is that this is not as daunting as it might seem. Most of us already do this to some degree, particularly on corner exit. Many of us have already put together the pieces to optimize our corner exits without needing to think too much about each individual step. And when things don’t go quite as we wanted, we are able to recognize mistakes on corner exit and trace it back to a root cause even though we weren’t paying attention to every step.
That last line is important. In learning to process a corner more holistically, we still need to be able to self diagnose our driving and trace down the root cause of potential problems. In his book, The Perfect Corner, Adam Brouillard calls this “The universal cue”. It is the ability to identify the optimal direction in which we must exert the forces of our car, and then provide the necessary inputs to maximize the forces in that direction.
At the end of the day, driving through a corner as quickly as possible is a matter of exerting the maximum forces of the car on the most efficient path possible. This is the skill we must hone! We have to learn to evaluate our driving through a corner by paying attention to whether we are directing the forces from our car in the optimal direction at all times.
In The Complete Autocrosser’s Manual, we show you exactly how to do this. We show you how to progress from obsessing over braking points and turn in points, to being able to evaluate your execution and keep the car on the limit all the way through corner entry, and around the entire corner. For non-autocrossers, coming soon, we will be releasing The Complete Track Driver’s Manual. I had intended on putting out The Complete Track Driver’s Manual last year, in May 2019. But real life got in the way and plans had to change. Keep a look out for this in the next couple of months!