#5 – Target fixation and looking ahead
You’ve been told to look ahead in every driving school you’ve ever been to and you really think you’re doing it right but there’s one spot on the track that is the most common for screwing this up…the braking zone. So many drivers I have coached beginner or not have this same problem. I even catch myself doing it sometimes if I am in a new car I am not comfortable with or if I am trying too hard to get the fastest lap possible. Braking is the biggest leap of faith for a race car driver. If you don’t have brakes, confidence in your brakes, or you are trying to push your braking zones to the absolute limit then naturally you are going to want to make sure you are not going to overcook your entry and go flying off track.
Your natural reaction is to fixate on your turn in point all the way up until you get to it instead of looking through your apex to your exit like you should be. Here’s the way it’s supposed to work, you exit a turn and your eyes should already be looking through the braking zone at the end of the straight and focused on your turn in point. As you approach your turn in point your brain calculates when it has to hit the brakes to slow down enough to reach your desired entry speed. When you hit the brakes you are already looking ahead at your apex. Your brain then calculates the speed and turn-in point required to make it down to that apex and as soon as possible you’re already looking out at your exit point keeping that apex in your peripheral vision.
Your brain then calculates the trajectory needed to make it to that exit point. So you should have your head turned long before you even turn the steering wheel but that’s not the way it happens most of the time. Instead you fixate on your turn in point to be absolutely positive you’re going to make it there safely and then you turn your head and the wheel at the same time. The problem with that is most of the time that spot you picked out as a turn in point might not be the best spot to turn in but you don’t figure that out until you’ve already turned in since you weren’t looking ahead. This can really catch you off guard if your reference point is a cone or something else that can be in a different spot the next time you come around to that turn. If you’re looking ahead far enough you won’t need a cone to tell you when to turn in.
How does this effect handling you may ask? Well I have noticed that when you target fixate and turn your head and the wheel at the same time you usually turn the wheel too quickly because you’re turning your head quickly which often results in understeer from jerking the wheel. Turning your head and the wheel at the same time usually results in a much too early apex which will also kill your exit speed or puts you off track at the exit.
So there you have it, a few of the most common driving mistakes I see almost every day. They are all so common that it is highly likely we all started out making every one of those mistakes and unless we’ve been corrected at one point or another by a driving instructor many of us are making those same mistakes still. So next time you think your car has a handling problem think about these things and make sure it’s not your driving. Even if your car does have an actual handling problem understanding these principles can help you adapt your driving to minimize the issue and continue on with your race.