Since 2011 Season 1 was my first season in the Star Mazda, I thought it would be good to share with you some of my experiences during that journey. While there are many aspects of of any journey, I’m going to focus on how I’ve had to adjust my driving style and setups to go from mid-pack driver to top 5 driver. For sure I’m no alien, but I think that may make my findings easier to relate to for the average driver.
Tip 1: Loose is fast
We’ve all heard this a thousand times. The tighter the car is, the more you have to slow through the corner to rotate the car for exit. Early in the season, I just couldn’t drive a loose setup. Silverstone is the absolute worst track for a tight setup. I was a full second off the pace of people I ran near in the few races I ran in the previous season, all because I couldn’t drive a loose setup. Other tracks don’t punish you as much as Silverstone, but they all will be slower with a tighter setup. You will also find that if you start off stable, by the end of the race you will be pushing like a bulldozer.
Tip 2: There’s loose and then there’s loose
Not all loose setups are created equal. The aliens can run a setup that is loose on entry, loose through the middle, and loose on exit. Perhaps some day I’ll understand how they do it and can help guide you down the path. For now though, its a mystery. The setups I’m using are primarily loose while off throttle. This allows me to rotate through corners quickly, but when I get on the throttle the car stays under me. Although I still must use...
Tip 3: Throttle control
Even setups that are not loose on exit require the mastery of throttle control. You need to learn that a throttle pedal is not an all or nothing device. Mashing the pedal to the floor and lifting completely will make a loose car impossible to drive. Throttle control means squeezing the gas on as fast as the car permits, and using the throttle throughout the corner to keep the car stable.
Tip 4: More Throttle
You may be thinking, ‘Duh!’, but let me explain how to do this. Another team-mate described this process and has also done so on the iRacing Forums, but I’ll repeat it here. The sooner you can get on the throttle the faster you will be. The looser the setup, the sooner you can get on the throttle. The benefit of getting on the throttle sooner is that your speed advantage is carried all the way to the braking point of the next corner. You should nearly always be on throttle 1-3 meters before corner apex. If you are not getting on the throttle until after the apex, you are losing a bunch of time. Two things to focus on: 1) brake early so you are in complete control on corner entry taking it nice and easy but get back on the throttle as soon as you can and watch the +/- bar go green, 2) turn in a bit later than normal. Most people tend to turn in too early and thus have to slow past the apex in order to exit the corner without going off track. Once you find the earliest point where you can apply throttle, then start moving your braking point later such that you can still apply the throttle at the optimal spot on the track.
Tip 5: Less Brake
Seems obvious right? Let me explain a little, because it’s not quite so straight forward. I was in the camp of braking at the absolute latest possible moment to be able to make the corner. Only I wasn’t adhering to Tip 4. I wasn’t able to get back in throttle in the optimal spot. I was also braking at the threshold and the car was unsettled with the rear of the car skipping around during corner entry. The problem was that when you need to apply the throttle at the optimal spot on the track, you need the car to be settled, otherwise you will likely loose the rear of the car. So, rather than try to brake all the way to the point where you want to apply throttle, lift the brake a moment earlier (without adjusting your initial braking point. I’ve found that doing that allows the car to free up and turn in faster.
Of course, there are a lot of different techniques that people use to get very similar times. These are the things I’ve found that helped me gain time over the course of the past 14 weeks. Hopefully you find some of them helpful as well.