Drivers on iRacing often ask, “How can I improve my times and become more competitive in my series of choice?” They think they can find the time they are looking for by running trick setups, or simply by downloading a set from Joe Alien on the forums.
The truth of the matter is, while there is some time to be found in a setup on any given weekend, the true answer to how to become faster and more competitive is solely through seat time and practice.
Having run for 6 seasons now in the Star Mazda Series, I have found that each season when I return to a track, I am able to improve my PB from last season. I am convinced that the reason behind this is that the extreme amount of laps I run at a given track each weekend provides training to your muscles and eyes in much the same way that running a drill in football over and over would.
In motorsports, there is simply no replacement for time behind the wheel on track. It is the only way that the driver will improve his lap times, because in running lap after lap, the driver will start to pick up on subtle nuances. For instance, if I only breathe the throttle a little here, as opposed to completely letting off, the balance into and off of the corner is different, and my times improve.
I could go on and on about this phenomenon. It takes several laps just to learn the fastest way around the track before you even get to the point of making the fine tuning adjustments. I firmly believe that a driver shouldn’t even begin to make changes to his car before he has done at least an hour worth of driving time on a track, just figuring out what it is he can change. The ‘setup’ (or attitude) of the driver, after all, is a much more powerful and adjustable thing than even the most advanced race car on the planet.
More can be said for the effect of seat time, as well. Perhaps the only downside to running countless laps on a given weekend, is that eventually you start to train yourself into bad habits as well as the good ones, such as over-driving or believing you can’t take any different line through a corner. It is important to fight against the negative habits.
I have found that one reason my times improve at the same track from one season to the next, is because the 13 weeks you spent away from that car and track combination, allowed your brain to reset; but here is the great part – you still retain the high level of familiarity and training you obtained from running so many laps, while losing some of the negative habits!
In summary, if you are trying to become an elite driver in your series, and come closer to the times of the ‘aliens’ out there, commit yourself to a strict diet of practice, practice, practice. I have spent 6 seasons in the Star Mazda, and know the car and every track on the schedule at an intimate level, and yet I still spend a large number of hours each week in practice sessions fine tuning.
Practice, practice, practice. It is what’s necessary to be fast in the ultra competitive environment of iRacing.