Even the absolute best drivers can sometimes need help. There are many excuses for why not to get a coach, but no excuse to not learn from what a coach can teach.
If coaches were unnecessary, hockey teams would be just a group of teenagers or twenty-somethings slamming each other into the ice. Coaches within sports provide guidance and some semblance of order. They tell the team vital information. They give pep-talks. They setup game plans and they coach (etymology/wordsake at work) players to be the best that they can be. Why is racing treated any differently?
In my years as a track day coach/racing instructor/crew chief, I've heard lots of excuses for not getting some outside assistance. The most common one I have found, is usually some arrogance mixed with anxiety. Everyone loves to think that because they passed an Audi RS6 at their favourite track, they're the greatest driver ever. That driver might be in a purpose-built, racing-prepped Honda S2000 or such, but it doesn't matter; they passed a car with much more power and so they're the greatest driver. Meanwhile, the Audi RS6 driver is actually out at his first track day ever and he's only using 30% throttle and missing every apex. The slightly more experienced S2000 driver has no other reference point, except his prey in the Audi RS6. Nevermind the idea that an S2000 on R-comp tires or even racing slicks has much faster cornering speeds, no, that's unimportant. Nevermind the colossal size and weight difference and the difference in experience, the S2000 driver is proud of overtaking his prey because that proves his manliness.
Within that last example, the S2000 driver is ten seconds off of the pace of what is possible in his S2000. The Audi RS6 is 20 seconds off of the pace of what is possible in his Audi RS6 - it's his first track day and his primary focus is not crashing his expensive, unprepared daily driven Audi. The S2000 driver, though, thinks that he has absolutely maximized the potential of his car because of his prowess in overtaking "perceived-faster cars."
The Audi RS6 driver knows that he has room to improve. For months he practices, now, to improve. The RS6 driver hires a driver coach. He returns and drops 15 seconds off of his lap times now. Suddenly the S2000 driver gets passed by the RS6. He asks the RS6 driver which part of his car was different from last time. The RS6 driver looks bewildered. "What do you mean?" he asks, out of complete confusion.
"Well, it's just that, last time you and I were on track together, you were so slow! Now you're so much faster. How are you going faster?"
"Well, I hired a driver coach. The car is still the same, except I had to change the brake pads and brake fluid to keep my braking performance more consistent. My coach told me that braking is the key to getting a good lap time in an RS6 and taught me how to do it. He also mentioned that my brakes were inconsistent and that a lot of my anxiety in going faster were due to the underwhelming budget pads I had installed on the car. Now I changed my brake pads and my driving style. That's all I changed."
Sadly, however, the S2000 driver just hears "brake pads" and thinks that this was the entire solution. It wasn't. His S2000 - his pride and joy track toy - is very well prepared with years of testing. Whenever S2000 driver wants to go faster, he looks at the car. He spends thousands of dollars a year on tires and puts in a lot of effort to keep up with the latest tire trends. The S2000 driver is missing the biggest difference in the equation. The S2000 driver doesn't know that his grip is not perfectly linear, and that at higher speeds, he has less grip, so in lower speed corners he can push a little harder without losing grip. He's missing a lot of time. He's still missing 10 seconds per lap off of what the car is capable of.
Now, S2000 driver retires from racing. He sells his S2000 to a young hot-shoe who wants to use the car for time trial. Suddenly the S2000 is 9 or 10 seconds faster without even a single change to the setup. The young hot-shoe praises the car's setup and incredible performance. Suddenly, the retired driver sees the error of his ways.
I've actually seen this situation play out more than I'd like to admit. Okay, maybe it was never that conclusive that the driving was the biggest issue. Maybe the difference was only two or three seconds. Unless you toss rain, dirt, or snow into the equation, most drivers can still get within 6-8 seconds of each other. I've never seen anyone ten seconds off pace first hand. But, I have heard the stories from longer tracks like Germany's Nordschleife or America's VIR, of people being several seconds - or even minutes - slower per lap than the theoretical best lap.
I don't want to self-advertise too much, but, I will toss in some real-life examples that I have experienced first-hand. You see, a very good friend of mine whom I have mentioned several times within Melons' Better Driving content, but never by name, he has been playing sim racing games for several years. He thought that he had absolutely mastered his driving potential within these sim racing games... Until he raced with me and saw what I brought to the table. It was at that same moment that he sat back and listened to me telling him almost everything there is to know about racing. He went from being ~5 seconds per lap slower than me, to now challenging me to go faster... And don't even get me started on that day we went karting together and with my coaching he was able to edge me out by less than a tenth of a second. Okay, okay, I was bump-drafting him because we wanted to set a new track record, so maybe his lap time wouldn't have been faster if I hadn't literally pushed him to go faster. But, as a coach, when you long-term student is now suddenly faster than you, it's a double edged sword of both pride of a job well done and jealousy of knowing that your diamond in the rough is now more polished than you.
Author of the article driving his old car as fast as it would go with his ex-girlfriend in the car at Toronto Motorsports Park, Cayuga. The car experienced brake fade after a single lap, but that single lap was one of the most exhilarating things that she had ever done. Photo of a touge.ca event. Photo by Kevin Kwan.
That's not saying that I'm slow, it's just saying that my student is fast. Very fast. Like, he's absorbing what I'm teaching him so quickly that within a year he has gotten several seconds faster across the board, with better knowledge of suspension tuning and geometry, among other things. He knows that he has a direct line to me at all times, be it via cell phone, Facebook messages, or even emails. If he's got a question, he can ask me and get instant answers. People like him - people who love racing and want to improve their race craft, or people who love cars and want to build better cars - are what inspire me to keep going.
But, here's the thing: some of my students didn't always believe me and didn't always believe that I was faster until I proved it. There's a huge amount of arrogance associated with driving. Everyone thinks they're the best at it. It needs to stop. I'd dare anyone who thinks they're good to try to race against the likes of Pat Richard, "Crazy" Leo Urlichich, or Antoine L'Estage before claiming that they're the best. I'm fast because Crazy Leo taught me, and because I have like 14 years of racing experience. I really want to race Leo on tarmac, which is my specialty, but I will easily cede that he is a far better driver on gravel. I am not brave enough to drive like him on gravel. I'm not the best driver ever; therefore, I chose Leo to be my coach. He taught me a lot and I learned ever more and I got even faster by applying what I already knew to what he taught me.
You're not fast until you've proven that you're faster than a top level driver. This is Rally of the Tall Pines 2014, where Subaru Rally Team Canada was leading until the car rolled with a bad pace note. Rally drivers are a different level from us mere mortals; driving like this on roads that they barely know!
Certainly, if you can afford to, go and hire yourself an internationally acclaimed rally driver to be your coach. Or, if you can't, hit up a less expensive coach. Even I offer my services as a coach, with a far more personalized system and with more time to dedicate to you, and all for less money. Race Lab, Crazy Leo's own business creation is great if you have the time, money and so on. But, some of us are budget limited and so we can't always afford to have him coaching. But - regardless of whomever you choose to go with - coaching is something we can all benefit from. Ask Leo yourself, on his Facebook page, whether he learns from other drivers and whether he ever had a coach or someone to teach him. You know he did. Driving coaches are important.
The International MotorSports Association (IMSA) has long been known as a great staple of motor racing, ever since the days of the IMSA GTO series.
However, in the late 90s and early 2000s, it lost some popularity due to a rough patch, where some of the decisions made by the leaders of the sanctioning body were questioned by the mass public, and where the safety of the drivers and fans meant making sacrifices to the quality of the racing.
In 2016, however, things have now changed. We held our breath with anxiety, in 2014, as we heard that IMSA was buying the American Le Mans Series of yesteryear, as the ALMS was arguably the more popular of the two series at the time. IMSA had made some mistakes, some "ugly" cars, (we won't agree or disagree) and we were nervous about whether ALMS and IMSA could really join together and create the "United Sports Car Championship." At least, we wondered if they could do it successfully.
Well, to cut to the short version of the story, they did. 2016 was arguably one of the best seasons ever in the history of the IMSA sports car series, simply because of the caliber of the cars and teams, and the enthusiasm and spirit of the organizers, sponsors, media and fans. The cars that made it out to the 2016 races were incredible, too!
I do have some areas of improvement that the IMSA team could work on, based on the 2016, but they're all fairly minor, and I'll list them after the reasons why you should watch the series in 2017.
Reason #1 to Watch: The Cars
Obviously, the most important thing to mention when discussing the IMSA series in 2017, is the cars. There's no way around it. IMSA's GT field will have some of the best cars in sports car racing, some of which won't race among each other anywhere else in the world!
Beginning with an explanation of the class system, we'll introduce the cars. There are four classes that will compete in 2017, which are not racing against the other classes, but racing among their own class. Top honours go to each class individually, as well as the "Overall" win, which is mostly for bragging rights (like, for example, the Porsche 911 RSR should not have won Overall in the 2015 Petit Le Mans, but crazy weather meant that the Overall winner was not from the fastest class, which meant that a GTLM car claimed overall victory and had massive bragging rights, but didn't score any bonus points or anything.) You can win the race, even if you don't win overall.
Let's start with an explanation of the biggest class in the field, the Grand Touring: Daytona (GTD) class. GTD is known as the slowest class, generally, because it is intended to be the heaviest, least powerful class with the least downforce and somewhat limited modifications. It's all meant to mimic GT3 spec cars for international continuity between series. This doesn't mean that they can't win overall, as it has happened before in some strange races back in the late 2000s, but it means that it shouldn't. For a GTD car to win, things have to go fairly badly for every other class! This class's entry list for 2017 could include:
GTLM class, the Grand Touring: Le Mans class, is a step above the GTD class. It's still based on road going cars, but this time, they're heavily race prepped with massive downforce and more power and so forth.
2016 saw the arrival of the Ford GT, battling with the Porsche 911 RSR, Ferrari 488 GTE, BMW M6 GTLM and Corvette C7R. Those cars are expected to return for 2017, with no major changes to the series, except that Porsche is going to upgrade the 911 RSR up to a dedicated GTE car, which will still be known as the  911 RSR. The 2017 911 RSR is expected to make better use of the specifications to be more competitive and more evenly-matched within the GTLM class. The previous generation 911 RSR was actually based on the GTD car, and was therefore not fully optimized for the GTLM class, because the car was not immediately designed for that particular class. The changes that were made were able to make the car successful, but there were vast differences in the performance of the GTLM cars, which made the Porsche faster in some sections of track, and slower in others. It didn't have the downforce of the true GTLM cars, and therefore usually did well on tracks with longer straights and slower turns. This explains its lack of pace at Road Atlanta, a track with lots of high speed turns. The 2017 car aims to be competitive at every track, making the racing even more closely contested!
The Prototype Challenge class is a spec series, meaning that every car in the Prototype Challenge class is the same. Winning in this class depends on driver talent.
The PC class is an open-cockpit prototype series. What this means, is that the PC class is not based on road going cars, but instead was created with the sole purpose of racing. The car is not available for purchase for use on the road in any way. It's noticeably lighter and more aerodynamically efficient than any road car, permitting it to be faster than the GTLM cars with less engine output, with power around 485 horsepower. PC is the only class where driver assists are completely banned, meaning absolutely no traction control systems can be fitted, making it a great test of driving talent and capability.
The Prototype class is open to closed-cockpit prototypes, including the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) bodystyle, and the LMP2 bodystyle. DPi cars are made to be equally fast as LMP2 cars, but they are permitted to design the cars to mimic the styling of road going cars, with design features such as grilles, headlights, and taillights. These cars are essentially the same prototypes as in PC class, but they are closed cockpit, and make about 100 horsepower more. This makes them very, very fast.
Chassis manufacturers are as follow:
Reason #2 to Watch: The Tracks
America and Canada have long been known as the area where you will find some of the most prevalent and unchanged racing history, and most challenging circuits outside of the Nuerburgring.
With circuits like Road Atlanta, Sebring, Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Mosport and Circuit of the Americas, the tracks on offer from the IMSA WTSC are truly extraordinary.
The bravery required to storm through VIR's undulating section of turns, from Turn 6 to turn 10 full-throttle is unmistakable. If you thought that the Nuerburgring was terrifying, you've never driven VIR. Being on two wheels for most of the section of corners from turn 5 to turn 9, at speeds of up to 260 km/h is probably one of the most terrifying sections of track in endurance racing, anywhere.
The immense, stomach-churning drops of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport, because I'm a stubborn Canadian and I remember what it used to be called,) make the section of track from Turn 1 all the way through to Moss Corner (Turn 5) incredible. Turn 1 is flat-out with little run-off room. It's not quite VIR terrifying, but it's very, very close. Dab the brakes for turn 2 and again for turn 3, and ride the helical turn 4 down into the depths of Hell and back up through the rise of Moss Corner, which is so steep that it's difficult to walk on (as I found out in 2010, first hand, while walking the track after the American Le Mans Series races). The speed of the car will barely drop below 210 km/h through that section of track, before the braking zone into Moss.
The precision required at Watkins Glen, where the corners flow into each other, means that if you're an inch off of the first apex, you're several feet off of the next, and, if you don't correct in time, you're into the wall.
The tracks of the IMSA WTSC really set the series apart from other series. There's less runoff room, there are higher speeds, and there's a lot more elevation change and undulating series of corners. Sorry, Europe and Asia, we have the best tracks!
Reason #3 to Watch: It's FREE!
Since you can read this, it can be assumed that you have an internet connection. Since you have an internet connection, click this link:
That's right. There's a YouTube page dedicated to IMSA race uploads for all of IMSA's major racing series. You're welcome for the link. Enjoy it.
How Melons' Better Driving Wants to Make it Even Better
Before I go into this list, let me point something out: This is pulling hairs. There is so very, very little to improve that this list is going to be short, and it's going to be full of very minor, trivial concerns.
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.