I am often asked how I prepare myself for each race weekend. We have already discussed the many business, fitness and media aspects that fill a race car driver\’s day; however, there is still something to be said for preparing your actual driving for each race.
The hardest thing I come up against in this area is that the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup only receives a very small amount of track time at each race event. At each race weekend all I receive is 30 minutes of on track practice and then it\’s straight into qualifying. The half hour practice session means you really only have about 15 laps to (a) learn the track (b) shake off the rust from being out of the car for weeks (c) decide how to approach qualifying. Sometimes, should you have fresh brake pads, the first few laps are wasted trying to properly put the new pads through a heat cycle.
So there is a lot of pressure on each driver to show up and be on the limit immediately upon hitting the track for the very first laps of the practice session. Because by qualifying, you need to be ready to absolutely wring the neck of your car within the first few laps in order to make use of the new tires.
There are several things I do as a driver to prepare for each event. If I had a surplus of cash lying around I would get myself into a race car as often as possible because there is no substitute for seat time. However, there are other, less expensive, ways to prepare.
One option is to scour YouTube for onboard videos taken from other races at the track you will be going to. A simple search of the track\’s name will often provide these results and allow you to immediately gain a perspective on what the track looks like, which way to turn, elevation change, etc.
Another great option is to make use of the many computer simulation games out there. I have found a couple of games which users are able to modify and create new tracks. Through the magic of the internet I am able to download most of the actual tracks we will be competing on and drive them on the computer simulation. The tracks on these computer games are so realistic and detailed that the same 2×2 foot concrete patch on the track will show up in the game! This way when I arrive at a race weekend, I already have the track 100% memorized.
There are a few tracks we are racing on this year that I was able to race at during last year\’s championship. This gives the returning drivers a great advantage as we already have all of the data collected from our cars over the course of last year\’s race. Meaning, I am able to pull up all of the past data on my computer and I can see exactly when to shift, what speed to go and where to put my car on the race track. This is by far the best way to prepare for a race as you already have all of the information necessary allowing you to be extremely quick the moment you drive on track.
Upon showing up at the race track there is another thing that a driver can do to prepare. Before each race weekend all of the drivers are given an opportunity to go on a track walk. This gives me the chance to walk around the track, study each corner in detail and you will often discover bumps, cracks and other things which will escape your detection when in the race car itself. Each track walk is another valuable opportunity to learn more about the track before you even take a car on it.
So my work in preparing to drive on the race track begins many days prior to even arriving in the same country as the facility I will be competing at. This preparation provides valuable insight into each track and allows me to be on the limit the moment the green flag drops on the first practice session.