Misnomers in Solo2
February 12, 2006
While I’ve been champing at the bit, I’ve been thinking lately about some very common concepts in autocross that many people adhere to 100% of the time, when they really aren’t 100% concepts. So with that in mind, I thought I’d start a discussion on these things and see what people thought. Here’s my thoughts on a couple of topics..
Our general inclination when looking at any turn on a course is to say, “Ok, how do I late apex that.” There are specific occasions, however rare, where a late apex is not the right line. I’ll give two examples..
The first is at the finish. On every finish, I try to evaluate how to minimize the time it takes to get there. October 9th is the most obvious example of this. On the optional slalom at the end, the “classic” line started on the outside and finished on the outside, allowing maximum speed going into the next maneuver. But the next move was the finish. Taking the inside entry allowed a shorter, quicker line to the finish lights. It got really ugly after that because it was such an early apex, but who cares! You’re past the timing lights, so it doesn’t matter. As long as you can get through without knocking cones down, it’s worth it.
The second possible place for this is a slalom. The correct line through a slalom is to stay tight to the back of the cones, stay ahead of things, and dive around them. But the exit of the slalom dictates if we can allow ourselves some slack. I noticed this while watching a video I took of Bob Tunnell from the ProSolo Finale in 2004. He was coming up through a slalom straight at me. The exit of the slalom was a big fast sweeper. He’d come through the slalom and get progressively further from the cone he was on, until the end of the slalom where he was practically on top of the outside cone that designated the beginning of the sweeper. This essentially allowed him to take what was a 60’ spaced slalom and make it into a 65’ spaced slalom without ruining his setup for the next turn. A larger spacing on a slalom means more speed and less time.
Looking ahead is a great concept, and it has come into its own from the Evolution schools. Sometimes though, I think it’s overemphasized. Here’s why.. Looking ahead as far as some advocate demands that your sensory input is something different than what you’re actually doing at that time. Some people’s brains just don’t work like that. Every time I tried to do this, I’d get discombobulated and wouldn’t be placing the car the way I wanted to. So it really matters how best your mental capacity works. For me, I can’t perform that sensory-action difference very well, but I can memorize pretty easily. So I memorize the course, and ensure I can play it back in my head at speed or faster. As I drive the course, my sensory input is right on the element I’m in, making sure I place the car properly and manage the dynamics as best I can. I’m replaying the course in my head a little bit farther forward in preparation for the next elements that are coming up, but I’m not actually looking at them until I’m right on them. It’s almost a reverse of looking ahead, but it works for me. Something to consider if you have a lot of trouble with this concept, you just might not work that way.
As all of us walk a course, we get certain thoughts in our head. The purpose is to evaluate a course and determine the proper lines to maximize speed through elements. Sometimes though, we get specific points ingrained in our heads that end up slowing us down. I have two examples of this happening. The first is specific - on the October 9th course, I got it in my head that on one of the turns coming up the hill, I needed to brake before turning in. In this case, I was trying to replicate certain styles from the Topeka courses and that’s how it flowed there, but it didn’t here. Every time, I broke at that point, and I definitely lost time. Later, I rode with James Sheridan and he barely lifted going through the same turn. I couldn’t believe it! But his setup in the following turns was spot on. After the event I hopped in Steve Salisbury’s STI for a quick fun run, anxious to try that turn out again. I barely had to lift and I still ended up set up for what followed. It was a good bit of time I left there. Lesson learned.
The other thing a lot of people get hung up on is specific braking points. On novice walks, I’ve noticed a lot of people want to know where they should start braking, and I’ve never been able to give a good answer, except that it depends on the car. I really don’t think the goal of a course walk should be to identify points like this. What if you’re wrong (and chances are you will be, even if by a little bit)? You’ll lose time. Instead, try to get a feel for the proper lines, and allow yourself to adapt to what’s going on when you actually drive it. Again, this may depend a lot on how you approach your course walks and visualizations, but as I said above, I’m a memorization type person, and I never identify braking or turn in points when I walk. I prefer to let intuition take over when driving. This also kills another problem people often have, which is incremental improvements. A driver will start out on their first run with a certain attack, and each run they’ll try to improve it by braking just a touch deeper, adding just a bit more grip, etc. Often, by the end of the runs, they still feel like they left time out there, because they didn’t increment enough - or incremented up too much. In my opinion, if you let yourself intuit the course as you drive it, you’ll be able to be more aggressive and really attack your time quicker.
Often as the last runs come down, we want to eek that little extra time out and instead we end up overdriving. We all do it to some extent, and I’m certainly no exception. I learned this lesson especially well at the 05 RK Divisionals, when I overdrove on Sunday under the pressure and lost by a tenth. Since then I’ve gotten it in my head to think about it differently. Driving Lee Piccione’s car set this in my mind. Instead of mentally thinking “go faster!”, I began mentally thinking “get everything right!” With so much power, brakes, and grip available, its an extremely easy car to overdrive. But when I thought about getting things right instead, I found myself performing elements with all possible speed, and my times showed. It meant I was braking correctly (earlier), being patient, and using what was available. This is similar to what Randy Pobst said in a popular article awhile back, but it didn’t click until I started thinking about it in this way.
So next time you think you’re leaving time out there, instead of thinking “go faster!”, think “get everything righter!”