by Dana Comolli

Each time you head out on the track you should have at least one goal (but no more than three) to work on.  An instructor generally sets the goals of the session for you.  What do you do when you’ve progressed beyond having an instructor with you at all times?

Many drivers approach this in a haphazard manor, using lap times as the primary indicator of improvement.  While lap times do provide an objective measure of speed around the course, they do not provide any indication about why you were faster on one lap versus another.  They also do not provide any actionable information that can be used for improvement.

This is where using data comes in.  Data provides objective information on your driving and can guide specific actions to improve it.  I will show you how to use the simplest data, the speed trace, to identify the information needed to develop an action plan for your next time on the track.

For this example, I used AIM’s SoloDL and their Race Studio Analysis software, although any similar device and application will work.  The data is from two laps at Blackhawk during our 2019 Octoberfest event.

The Speed Trace

A speed trace is MPH over distance.  A track map is overlaid to provide a reference for where the values at the cross-hairs on the trace are in relation to the track.  The red lap is about three and a half seconds faster than the blue one.

Turns One and Two

At Turn 1 the red lap trail-braked into the apex and the blue lap over-slowed.  You can tell by the shapes of the curves:  the red lap’s rate of slowing is reduced, whereas the blue lap continued its steep reduction in speed and then had to speed back up before the apex.

The difference for Turn 2 is that the red lap used maintenance throttle and the blue lap either fully lifted or brushed the brakes.  You can see the impact of this as a considerable (> 5 mph) difference in speed through this section of the track.

Turns Three through Five

This sequence represents almost 1.5 seconds of the difference between the two laps.  What did the red lap do differently?  First, the blue lap over-slowed into Turn 3, but a significant difference is the area identified by the black circle.  Here, the red lap lifted enough to get greater rotation so it could get on the accelerator earlier and harder; this results in a considerable increase in speed going into Turn 3a.  Then, exiting Turn 3a, the red lap was very aggressive to turn 4 where the blue lap lagged getting onto the throttle and then slowed prematurely into Turn 4.  The red lap was also much more aggressive on the exit from Turn 5.

Turns Six through Seven

Turn six is another example of the blue lap over-slowing and the red lap using trail braking, but what it also shows is a difference in handling the second apex of turn six.  While the red lap accelerated aggressively to the turn-in of the second apex and then lifted, the blue lap slowed significantly, placing itself at a speed deficit to the red lap that carried through the entire back straight.  This deficit was then compounded by braking into the kink rather than lifting as the red lap had done.  Reviewing the video of these two laps showed the blue lap was much closer to the kink’s apex curbing forcing a greater reduction in speed.

In Turn Seven, the red lap shows a smooth transition from braking to back on the accelerator where the blue lap appears to coast or lightly brake through the turn and then gets to the accelerator later.

As you can see, a lot can be gleaned from using even the simplest of data, which can provide you with specific goals for improvement in future sessions.  This is a much more effective approach to improving your driving than focusing principally on lap times.