Would you be interested in being able to get three or four more practice laps than everyone else? What if I told you that during these laps, you would have the opportunity to closely examine areas of the track that no one else will be able to see for the entire weekend.
All you need to do is arrive at the track early and walk it.
In my opinion, trackwalking is the first step to a successful race weekend. For competitive racers, walking the track should be a mandatory part of your pre-race preparation routine. For new racers, walking the track will help you get more acclimated to the track environment quickly.
At most events, there are opportunities for drivers to walk the track if they choose to prior to the first sessions. Regrettably, very few people take advantage of it. (That’s good for you though, because you know that trackwalking is very important.)
How to Properly “Walk the Track”
A tralkwalking session is the first opportunity that a driver has to practice getting into the proper mental rhythm that can guide him throughout the entire weekend. It is important that you are focused and paying full attention to the track during your walk.
Focus on finding the proper racing line and looking for any track abnormalities that might make things unsafe, rather than just walking around and talking with your friends.
Here are some track walking tips:
- Make sure to give yourself ample time to properly walk the track before the first race session. In the best case scenario, give yourself at least an hour. You may not need an entire hour, but it’s better to have it and not feel rushed.
- Walk the track slowly, and put your feet right on top of where you feel like the racing line should be.
- Keep your head up and look through all the corners, just like you will when you are traveling at speed. Not only is looking ahead always good practice, but it will help you start to identify where you are naturally wanting to turn in and apex each corner.
- Take time to physically stand on the corner entrance, right on the apex and at the exit in order to visualize where the vehicles racing line should be on every corner.
- On the exit of each corner, take a moment to turn around and look at the corner in reverse. Visualize yourself approaching the corner’s entrance. What might seem like a good driving line approaching the corner may seem off when visualizing it from a different perspective.
- Run the soles of your shoes over the track surface and curbs as you walk. This helps to get a general idea of the grip level. Most shoe soles are rubber, and so are your tires. So it helps to get a general idea of where places might be slippery. Keep a mental note of any places that you may need to be cautious on your opening laps.
More is more
It’s important to get as many walking laps of the track as possible. Just like each lap of the track when you drive it, you’ll get a better feel for the track each time you walk it. Trackwalking is much about helping to develop proper visualization of the track environment, as much as anything else.
Personally, I always try walking at least three laps for a quality track walking session.
- Lap 1: Understand the basic direction of the track, just so corners don’t catch the driver by surprise.
- Lap 2: Critically look at the driving line, and piecing together where you assume you should be on the entrance, middle, and exit of each corner. Start asking questions such as: “Is the corner cambered in or out?”
- Lap 3: A final parade lap. Visualize myself taking each corner at full race speed. This is more for fun, than anything else.
Walking the track as a support team member
Trackwalking is not just an important opportunity for a driver. It’s also important if you’re a support team member. Having team members on the track walk isn’t about telling the driver how to race their vehicle. It’s about providing a second set of eyes for things that could be overlooked. It is also an opportunity to ask the driver questions that can help improve the driving strategy for the weekend ahead.
Give the driver the opportunity properly visualize what he has to do in the moment, through most of the walk. When the timing is right, ask questions that can help shape the driver’s thinking. Here are some questions that are always helpful:
- What do you think is the ideal line through this corner?
- Do you think that you can fit two competitors side by side here?
- Can you defend your line safely here?
The more you walk with your driver, the better you will be at understanding what questions to ask them and when. At the very least, you can make sure that the driver actually does his track walk.
An important reason for walking the track is to understand the safety conditions of the track before you race on it. Even if you have been at the same track several times before, the grip levels on the surface can change for a number of reasons. For example:
- The amount of rubber left from other racers can change the grip level in places.
- If it rains, condensation or pooling water on the track surface can make the track slippery.
- Vehicle fluids that have been dropped from a previous track session can change where you need to approach the corner and the racing line to take through the corner.
- Wear on the track can cause places of the surface to have broken up and cause new bumps and divots.
Make trackwalking a regular part of your race routine. If the track is too big to walk the entire lap, try and see if you can walk on some of the nearby corners, just to get a general impression of the track surface. Walking some of the track is always better than not doing it at all.
If you’ve taken the time to walk the track prior to your first session, you will have had the opportunity to develop your approach when you first start driving on it. You will have more confidence over other competitors who won’t know what they are racing into. By walking the track, you have an opportunity to learn more about the track and gain several extra key laps over the competition.
Take them, even if they happen to be on foot.
* (Note: I will be defining the driver in the masculine tense throughout these articles, only because it makes it easier for me to write. (He, him, etc.) In reality, racing drivers are both male and female. I actually encourage more women to get on the racetrack and start mixing it up!)