Accessing peak performance

You know how it takes a bit to get going? Tires have to heat up, etc. Once your all gripped up and it’s go time, people start to push and get fast.
However, when you miss an apex or maybe slide a bit, your pace falls off along with the revs. It seems to take a while to get the momentum back. It seems to take longer than it should to rebuild momentum, at least for me. I am guessing part of this is simply mechanical, revs drop a bit and it takes half a lap to get wound up again. I also suspect its partially mental.
Which makes me wonder, how do top-level drivers get to their peak performance quickly? Presumably they make mistakes too.

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Check out this discussion. Some good tidbits in it.

Thanks. Exactly what I was looking for.

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Hi Dom,
You seem to be asking two questions:
How do top-level driver get to peak performance quickly
This is just my opinion (based on observation/experience), but I believe that top-level drivers have a VERY clear holistic mental model of how ‘fast’ looks, feels, and sounds at any point around the track. So, when they hit the track, there is very little ramp-up time or analysis… they just get right to the task of making reality match the model.

How do top-level drivers recover quickly if they make a mistake
I think driving is somewhat like music, with the ‘action’ points for the track (braking, turn-in, etc.) forming the basic rhythm, and the nature of the driver’s actual inputs (speed, magnitude, timing, etc.) as the melody played over the rhythm. When these are in synch, it rocks, But if the rhythm track and the driver’s actions get out of synch, it quickly becomes a dissonant mess, and the magnitude/duration of the mistake has a huge impact on how badly reality and the mental model get out of synch.

When a mistake is made, I think that top-level drivers recover more quickly than other drivers for three main reasons:

  • Top-level drivers tend to have more mental bandwidth, and more sensitivity than other drivers, so that allows them to identify a mistake more quickly, which allows them to minimize the magnitude/duration of the mistake, which limits how far they get out of synch. Or, in other words, their mistakes are typically smaller because they recognize them sooner, so they have less of an impact on their speed/momentum/location.

  • Top-level drivers tend to have high confidence in their driving ability. They know mistakes can happen, and when they do, they don’t ‘live in the past’ (beating themselves up for having made the mistake). Instead, they immediately get to work minimizing the impact of the mistake, with the objective of getting back in synch with their mental model as quickly as possible.

  • Top-level drivers also seem to have the ability to do a temporary recalculation of their mental model so that they can get back in synch at the next ‘rhythm beat’ (action point). For example, if they get an unexpected slip, which cost’s them a couple hundred revs, at the beginning of the straight. Their mental model says “we should be flat out, for this long on the straight, and brake here”, but they are able to adjust the duration of full throttle and the application of brakes on the fly so that when they get to the turn-in point, they are back in synch (in the right place, going the right speed, and in a position to execute the next required action correctly). Plus, they can do all this while trying to defend their position if the mistake was made in a race.

Thanks. I was hoping you’d chime in. So yea I have been thinking about it in the same way. It is like music and there is a beat. Brake, turn in, throttle out. When you apply those three inputs is important. At the right time, you build revs, wrong time, you lose revs because you have to make a secondary input to correct.

And yes, I am referring to the moment when someone in the orchestra makes a mistake and all of a sudden the string section is confused and off tempo.

I’ve gotten to the point where mistakes rarely compound (but when they do…). I guess what I am looking at is a way to expedite the process of getting the kart loaded again.

I seem to get faster and faster as I progressively load up the kart. Inevitably, something happens and the load falls off a bit. Slide, missed apex, whatever.

It seems to me that it takes the engine (and me) a while to get loaded up again, typically about half a lap.

Is that normal or too long?

Well, the quicker you can recover the better, but your current recovery time represents where you are at this point in your development as a driver. That said, it’s definitely something that would be worthwhile putting some effort into improving.

To that end, If we take the music analogy a layer deeper, then the recovery can be thought of as two phases: getting back in rhythm with the track, and getting back to your maximum tempo. Expert drivers can often do these two things at the same time (or nearly the same time) as described in the third bullet point in my reply above.

However, other drivers often have to drop their tempo (to a safe or comfortable level), get back in synch with the track’s rhythm at that lower tempo, and then ratchet the tempo back up to their maximum level, which, of course, can take some time.

All true, but as usual there are layers to this as well. Because, the ‘right time’ often changes as you go faster. That is, the faster you go, the more energy you pour into your tires, which will increase loads, which will increase traction, which will increase slip angles. So, as you progress from 80 ->90->100% of your tires capabilities, the time it takes to transfer that energy/load into the tire will increase minutely; managing that timing shift is critical.

Likewise, the amount of slip angle you generate will cause small deviations away from ‘the line’ you are driving, which must be compensated for. Also, the relatively higher amount of energy (speed) will mean rotational forces will be elevated, so you’ll need to be on top of (or preferably ahead of) that.

Warren explains it beautifully, I think it’s about how fast you recover from a mistake. A big part is confidence so you don’t dwell on an error. If I feel I lose momentum over a mistake, I force my mind to focus on the right things: the next corner, the next braking point, the next driver I am about to overtake. After all, driving fast the result of nailing all the details, so focus on them.

Hmm that makes sense hadn’t considered it that way. So basically as I ramp up and get faster and faster, I eventually exceed my “limits” which sends me back down the slide and then climb back again. Brake a little too deep, try to take turn a touch too fast etc.
Presumably the more time I spend at the top end of my abilities, the greater my comfort with it will be and will be able to remain there longer.
When I do screw up, I don’t dwell on it at least, I just try to get going again. It just seems wierd to me how easily speed bleeds off and how much track space it takes to get useful speed back. I guess that’s due to having to re-process your line to compensate for your unexpected location. Sort of similar to how satnav recalculates your trip when you take an unexpected deviation.

And to Matthijs point, I guess I should start thinking about my marks moving as I get moving.

And yes, I hadn’t considered that slip angles increase, which of course they do. Perhaps expecting this is part of the solution to staying at speed in the first place rather than being reactive to it as the laps evolve.

True, but that’s the long (all you need is seat time) approach. :wink:

The best way to stay at the limit is to learn to recognize the limit as it approaches, instead of identifying it as you breach it.

Of course, you can’t learn to drive at the limit without going over it occasionally, but what you extract from that experience is critical to your development. If you just brush it off, regroup, and then go head-long again into the breach, you’re learning a very small fraction of what you could. That is, you’re basically teaching yourself to drive by rote; REACTING to what is happening or has happened.

However, if you put the effort into extracting all of the information and lessons you can from the experience (mistake), then you can teach yourself to RECOGNIZE the limit as you are approaching it.

Driving by REACTION requires analysis (a bandwidth-limited, stress inducing, serial process). Driving by RECOGNITION (comparing a holistic moment in time to your mental model of the track), is an extremely efficient parallel process. Of course, both are needed in different circumstances (e.g. REACTION is typically needed in rain driving), but the more you can drive by RECOGNITION, the quicker, more consistent, and more relaxed you’ll be.

There is a bunch of info about extracting lessons from your experience on my site here, and when combined with imagery and race walking training it can profoundly increase the value of your seat time, and the breadth and depth of you learning.

There are some very subtle, but very crucial, shifts that occur in attention, awareness, and perception when you begin to transition from reactive driving to recognition driving. These same changes also influence the level (or timing) of your sensitivity, which is critical when you want to drive by recognizing the limit instead of reacting to it.

By way of explanation, I’m going to use the idea of a cornering energy cycle, which I’ve mentioned in other posts. The energy cycle starts with a driving input, and then:

  1. That causes energy to flow through the chassis
  2. That energy pours into one or more tires and produces load
  3. That load produces traction/slip angles
  4. That traction produces forces that act on the kart

The cycle starts with a small amount of energy and then grows bit-by-bit as the forces actin on the kart cause more energy to enter the cycle. This cycle continues until the tire contains the maximum amount of energy it can handle (and therefore is producing the maximum traction it can); then the cycle reverses and the energy dissipates from the tire back into the chassis.

So the energy cycle speaks to sequence, timing, etc. However, another way to look at the elements of the energy cycle is to consider them as levels of sensitivity. For example:

  • If your awareness is primarily focused on (#4) forces acting on your kart, which is the end of the energy cycle, then you are driving based purely on reaction… you are constantly reacting based on what the forces are doing to your kart.

  • If your awareness is primarily focused on (#3) and you stay focused on only the traction/slip angles you are feeling in the moment, then you are still driving primarily based on reaction. However, if you expand your focus to take in both the current traction level, and the trends in traction, then you are starting to add an element of recognition to your driving.

  • If your awareness is primarily focused on (#2) tire loads, and/or the energy pouring into your tires, then you are well into the recognition realm. From this perspective, there are still two more stages in the energy cycle, which means you may be sufficiently ahead of the curve to recover (or minimize) a ‘mistake’ before it manifests on the track.

  • If your awareness is primarily focused on (#1) managing energy transfer (to produce the loads/traction/forces you want), then you are driving from recognition. However, beyond that, you are actively creating your sensations; you have taken control and are performing the driving actions at the precise time/location needed to produce the energy cycle your mental model indicates is needed to get around the corner.

That said, sensitivity is more of a continuum than discrete levels, so I think of:
The range between #4 - #3 as Reactive Sensitivity
The range between #3 - #2 as Predictive Sensitivity
The range between #2 - #1 as Directed Sensitivity

I think I get it.

If your awareness is primarily focused on (#1) managing energy transfer (to produce the loads/traction/forces you want), then you are driving from recognition. However, beyond that, you are actively creating your sensations; you have taken control and are performing the driving actions at the precise time/location needed to produce the energy cycle your mental model indicates is needed to get around the corner.

I have been doing number two. I am driving to load.

I approach the turn with a set of expectations about how the load will feel through the various stages of the turn. I’m not intentionally intitating them, just reacting to what I have initiated. So, in my case, there’s two pieces: the technical piece which is the discipline of executing the action (braking, turn-in, whatever) which produces a sensation of load. If I did it right it gives me the loading I want. But I’m not actively “shaping” that load.

You do get it! :+1:

Driving to #2 is good… that’s where you are on the learning spiral at the moment, and as you’ve experienced, that sensitivity level can produce some pretty good performances. Moving through the stages of sensitivity is kind of like going through the stages of crawling, toddling, walking, and running; you can’t skip a step, but mastering each step provides an opportunity to advance to the next level. It seems you have a solid sensitivity process; you have a sufficient mental model of the track that provides loading/traction expectations for each corner, along with an action plan for producing those loads. The next step up would be refining how you execute your plan, and how you perform the evaluation to determine how well your results are matching the plan.

In my experience, the key to elevating sensitivity, so that you can advance to the next level, is to free mental resources by making your mental processes (gathering, filtering, translating, interpreting, and responding to sensory information) more efficient. Because we all have limited awareness/attention bandwidth, to accomplish this, you must ‘do’ less, which will allow you to observe/feel more. So, what do I mean by do less?..

Here comes yet another music analogy. The structure and ‘feel’ of a piece of music is created not just by the notes (the musician’s actions), but by the relationship between the notes and the rests (the musician’s inaction). If you remove the rests, the music disappears; it loses its structure and becomes noise. If the musician retains the rests, but does not value them, by giving them his attention, the music still suffers. In this case, the structure of the music is retained, but if the musician busies himself by constantly switching his attention from the note he just played, past any intervening rests, to ‘wait’, intently focused, on the next note he must play, then the music becomes robotic, and loses its feel and magic.

In my mind, it is the same with driving. If you drive by focusing all of your attention from action point to action point (braking/steering/accelerating/etc.) you maintain a level of attention that restricts your level of sensitivity, and therefore the quality of your driving/art. That is the case because the ‘rests’ in driving represent your opportunity to tap into (or maybe that’s set free) your instincts and intuition, which can elevate your performance from a rote procedure for getting around the track, to art or even magic. Another reason to value the rests is that they are the key to being able to do sensitivity pattern matching on a very deep (even unconscious) level, which frees mental resources for performance evaluation, race craft, etc.

“He who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men” – Bhagavad Gita

Hmm. Interesting. If you drive from corner to corner, you have to be successful every 4 seconds basically. And do it again. And again. Something will eventually break.

It would be nice to be able to drive to the larger objective instead while still being in command of the moment. Or at least not have the next corner be the dominant thing.

Well, really the answer probably lies within neuro physical and chemical structure within the brain the the relationship between various regions. We know that there is some suggestion that better drivers have more grey matter in the restrospenial cortex region, and that’s a region closely related to moving and navigating space. I wrote about it a while ago

The science on this is very naive still, but very exciting. I spent some time discussing this in-depth with Otto Lappi, who is a neuroscientist in Finland. He wrote this paper which is worth a read if you truly want to get to the bottom of what makes drivers actually tick

*In this paper I believe its value is in its insight into brain mechanisms more than the dp techniques described.

So it may well be the case the very good drivers have different brains. How they get there and whether some drivers are born with natural advantage… we don’t know.

it’s not the most colourful and engaging stuff to read, but I think driver coaching, or driver analysis to be specific, desperately needs to move away from the anecdotal and more towards better science.

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It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that driving at speed works out a part of your brain that normally is quiet.
It gets easier to drive quickly as you become accustomed to speed. What’s really odd is that you can simulate f1 speeds in sim games and pretty much anyone can, with practice, get used to diving into a turn at 200mph, bang down 5 gears, apex and throttle out.

Add a physical or financial consequence to the equation and see what happens. :wink: