ARTICLE FEATURED IN SPEED SECRETS WEEKLY (ON 11TH MARCH 2019)
I’m not really sure of the answer to that question; I think you forget faster than you learn. You might be think “Nah, it’s just like riding a bike, you don’t forget that quickly!” I’ve just started racing again (after a short departure from the sport), so I’d like to talk this out a little bit.
Before March of this year, I had only turned a wheel in a race car once in eighteen months. Prior to that, I was in a race car once every other weekend, running all manner of classes, race types, and events. Upon returning this year, I’m now experiencing what it’s like to come back to a sport I truly love. Here are my thoughts:
As with many things, it takes a long time to forget the basics; riding a bike is a great example! Racing, in many respects, is no different. I still have the language and lexicon of racing. I can still have a very authoritative conversation (well, for my standards) on car handling, setup, and I can follow every word of a guest speaker on a Speed Secrets podcast!
I also believe that you don’t quickly forget how to get to eight- or nine-tenths of your own personal racing speed potential. My brain is still wired with the same discipline of driving fast: eyes up; use all the road; only go to throttle when you can go one hundred percent; trail the brakes into a corner, breath properly; and, of course, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Ah, hold on, let’s pause on that last one!
My personal experience, and belief, is that if you don’t have enough seat time, you do forget things and the biggest of all is that final one-tenth. That final element of going really fast -- call it experience, courage, confidence (in yourself and the car), the feeling of having the car on the absolute edge (comfortably) -- is the piece that gets forgotten far faster than it’s learned.
Secondly, I believe racecraft is also muted a little with absence. I’m not saying people forget how to be savvy and safe; that, I believe, never goes away, but I am suggesting that, for a while, having a complete rhythm with the way a race is unfolding and competing on track goes away. Whether it’s going for a pass and reading slower moving cars, through to managing a qualifying session and getting the maximum from the car and tires in the time you have, racecraft can suffer from your absence.
Now, I’ll say that I’ve probably done things the hardest way you can when returning -- year and a half absence, a new race car (and series) and new tracks to learn. I’ve moved from closed wheel sedan cars (like the Spec E46 series in the US) to an open wheel Formula Ford series in the UK. In light of all that I've worked through, I’ve summarized my learning into three -- cough -- easy steps;
Don’t forget you can drive fast and you can race. You aren’t a novice; you know what you’re doing, so get to the nine-tenths quickly. It’ll boost your confidence and allow you to start the journey to ten-tenths. As a friend once told me, “Go fast, fast.” (Zero guesses who said that!)
Use technology to help you. I learn using data. Learning the car and learning tracks can be so much easier this way. This past weekend at Castle Combe, I used an AiM Solo 2 to learn the track and find time (more to follow in another article, here). Whatever you use, make sure it has a predictive lap time (or a +/- feature). The immediate rewards on screen from a new line, a new gear, a new braking point, will aid your development of speed.
Learn from others AND learn from yourself. Find videos online, find people with data (and willing to share) and find local people or teams with track knowledge. This is invaluable. But don’t forget to watch your old videos and relive your best performances. It’ll remind you that you are more capable than you may feel (as you retrain yourself).
With all of this said, there are some people who just don’t forget anything. I’ve raced with friends who are there at the top of the grid after big absences from racing. I’ve also known others who are more like me and need to get back up to speed. Truth be told, I don’t quite know how long it will take to be as quick as I have previously been. That said, who knows how long it’ll take until I’m quicker still and finishing on the podium more often!