Will The Best Equipment Get Me A Win?

Posted on February 16, 2015


Will The Best Equipment Get Me A Win?

By: Rob Oakman

A good racer can win on bad equipment (within reason) but a bad racer won’t win even with the best.

I'll take eight!

I’ll take eight!

Everyone with something to sell, will tell you that you need their “trick” piece to get yourself over the hump and into victory lane. The problem is that equipment is rarely the issue. Unless you are racing around on truly outdated or damaged goods, there is another place you should be looking for improvement.

Buying the latest trick piece

If it works at all, the latests trick piece will usually only make a small difference to the overall lap (there are exceptions to this, but they are rare).  Even if the part is good, you have to know how to make it work with the overall machine otherwise it may actually slow you down. Unless you get a big part wrong — or a lot of small parts — your lap will be affected only a little bit. The parts we use and the adjustments we make all work together to make the machine work properly and predictably so we can get it around the track fast. If you don’t know what changes do what, or what a properly working chassis feels like, then you can’t get the most out of it.

The racer that wins is the one that was able to get the most out of what they had and — more importantly — was able to out-race everyone else. They were not necessarily the fastest on track that day or had the best set-up. Understanding how to make people think you are fast when you are not, knowing when to stay ahead when you need to, holding back when you have to, and saving what you have to the end, are just a few things a racer must know how to do if they want to win. They only way to do that is to get on track and race. Period.

But what about getting up to speed in the first place? Again, track time.

Magnesium rims can save thousandths of a second. Not seconds.

Magnesium rims can save thousandths of a second. Not seconds.

The one part of the machine that makes the biggest difference is you. Missing a breaking point, an apex, pushing too hard or not enough can cost you hundreths of a second each time you screw-up. Do that a few times a lap and we are talking about seconds. When you make a lap, you are trying to make every corner as perfect as possible — you keep the wheel steady, your imputs smooth and without hesitation. It takes practice to minimize the number of mistakes you make on track each and every lap. It takes even more to learn how to race against a thinking, breathing opponent.

So what can you do to speed up this process?

In order of importance:

1: Watch your fellow racers on track.

Focus on the people who win a lot and watch their lines, how they work the steering wheel, and definitely watch them race. Learn how and where they make their moves. Try to spot how they setup other racers and make passes. Simply using your eyes will go a long way.

2: Ask around.

Seriously. People at the track are generally pretty nice. They remember what it was like when they started. Not everyone is going to open their test logs for you, but asking some simple questions about racing lines, passing zones, techniques, set-up, tire pressures, gearing, and so on will usually result in some helpful advice. Just make sure to ask people who have been at it awhile and have had some measureable success. Asking another rookie for advice is like asking a cooking blogger to explain the conservation of angular momentum. Also, spread your questions around a bit. You’ll make friends to be sure, but don’t be a pest and interrupt people when they are really busy. If they offer you an open door, use it when you need it. Just don’t jam your foot in there. Remember to say “Thank You” and maybe offer them a coffee or beer or lunch or something for their trouble. Nothing extravagant. Kindness goes a long way.

Driving coach Rob Wilson having a chat with Bruno Senna (Courtesy of matthewmarsh.net)

Driving coach Rob Wilson having a chat with Bruno Senna
(Courtesy of matthewmarsh.net)

3: Driving coach / Mechanic.

If you are new to the sport, are running a new class of machine, or just haven’t found success yet, then hiring someone that can fill both roles can be a cost effective way of allowing you to focus on learning how to race. The down side is that this is a compromise. Because they are covering both coach and mechanic roles they can’t focus on one. This means that both suffer. This also means that you are not learning how to fix and adjust your own equipment. That is not to say they are not a valuable resource. At the lower to mid levels of racing, or anyone with modest budgets, this is a really good option. Particularly in kart racing.

4: Driving Coach.

No matter what level you are at, from karts to Le Mans, this is your best investment. Instead of using your money for the newest equipment, it’s better spent having a coach with you for a race or two, if not the whole season. Driving coaches are not cheap, but the right one is worth it. My advice is to talk to a few coaches and some of their clients (old and ongoing if possible) before you settle on one. Just because they have a lot of credentials doesn’t make them a good teacher. Personality clashes are a big problem too. Do a bit of homework here.

5: Professional Mechanic.

The last route is to hire a professional mechanic after you have a good coach. If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to setup your machine properly and you are using the other methods on this list, then a hired wrench is your next step. Again, they are not cheap by any means but they can at least sort out your equipment at a level most racers can’t. Just remember that a mechanic can’t help you with your driving or racing skills so a driving coach or driving coach/mechanic is a better investment until you can afford a dedicated mechanic..

The Hard Truth:

No one gets their set-up perfect. No matter how good the equipment, the mechanic, the driver feedback, and what combination of parts and layout used, there is always something more that could be done to shave off a bit of time on track. The fact is that you – the racer – are the part that makes the machine go. You make the decisions on and off track that determine where you are going to finish, if at all. There is no part you can buy that will get you a win until you know how to handle the machine and until you know how to race. Or you could cheat… but then you haven’t actually won anything. You’re just another looser that couldn’t earn it. Don’t be that Wally.

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.
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Posted in: How to Race