Track Tactics 101
This is your insight into beating out the best.
Victory is Tough
If you've ever entered into any sort of track competition--from local track day shootouts to the front row at Le Mans--you know that edging out the next competitor can be difficult. You're doing everything you can and it still isn’t enough. How do you win? Here are some tips and tricks that we learned on the track as well as by studying the videos and advice from the world's greatest drivers.
It doesn’t matter if you're an IMSA winner or if you're just learning how to drive a manual transmission, a good coach has something to teach you. Working with talented people will inevitably make you a better driver. People can often progress more in a few hours with the right instruction than they can at 20 track days on their own. Yes, it can get expensive, but think of it as a skill that goes with you everywhere, never wears out, and it doesn’t need to be replaced. Investing in yourself is the first way you get a huge advantage on the track.
Prepare for War
Psychological tactics have been used by many famous racing drivers throughout the years. Some have stepped over the line while others prefer to play the game in a more traditional sense. But the reality is, every good driver partakes in this form of "warfare." Victory can be secured before a wheel ever turns, before the flag drops, and before you ever worry about who is going to get the inside line into turn 1. Withholding pace in qualifying is one example of how a professional driver will use mental games to get ahead—by never letting others know exactly how fast your car is, you keep people guessing. Data is valuable in this sport, so if anyone is timing your sectors in order to get a leg up on you, you have now given them bad information. Combine this with some sarcastic banter after an upset and you can really throw someone off their game.
Confuse the Entire Paddock
There is a great story we once heard about a clever thing one driver did to throw off the entire paddock during one of the most competitive eras of karting. After being accused of using cheater fuel (because he was very quick), he took the rumor and ran with it, going as far as bringing chemist sets to the track where he would act like he was measuring fuel. The reality? He understood chassis setup better than the rest of the field and was a better driver. That didn’t stop the entire paddock from scratching their heads and keeping their eyes on his fuel instead of their own chassis setups.
Read the Rules Carefully
One of the best ways to get a leg up on your fellow racers is to spend more time pouring over the rule book. Pay careful attention to the wording of rules as well; sometimes a clever “interpretation” can be the defining factor in snatching race wins. Perhaps one of the best displays of this is NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick, who saw that the rules limited the size of a fuel tank, but not the fuel line that connected to it. So, Smokey made it 11 feet long. By doing this, he enabled the car to hold an extra five gallons of fuel which meant he could stay out longer than everyone else. This proved to be a huge advantage and a very smart way to read into what was not stated in the rules.
Build to the Rules
Solo 2 C-Stock autocross competitions used to allow for a single adjustable shock that the rulebook mandated was "single adjustable" (rebound only). The rules also said that you were allowed to re-valve your shocks to give better performance, which not many people actually did. Building to the rules is a part of smart competition because it leaves nothing left on the table, and it gives you the best chance of winning. Be smart, build all the way to the rule book.
Knowing track protocol of your particular series can give you an advantage with safety cars and other incidents that pop up during a race. There are often hidden strategies that occur in real time. Sometimes a clever advantage is something that happens in a nanosecond, and you need to know how to capitalize on it. These things can't be taught because there are a million variables that pop up. Your advantage just might be in your natural instincts to read a situation better than the next guy. Knowing how to adjust your strategy on the fly is one of the best weapons any racer can have, but not everyone exercises it. "I should have done that two laps before looking back” is something you don’t want to be saying as you take a bronze trophy that could have been gold.