How To Test Lines On Track

Posted on January 31, 2016

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How To Test Lines On Track

By: Rob Oakman

Whether it is your first time around the track, or you know it like the back of your hand, there is always a chance the line you think best, isn’t. So, when is the best time to try changes?  Practicing before an event is usually too limited to try anything drastic (but if you can squeeze something new in, do it!), which is why testing is usually the best place to experiment and make radical changes. So where do you start?

Drivers walking the track before the 6 hours of Fuji (courtesy of FIA WEC)

Drivers walking the track before the 6 hours of Fuji (courtesy of FIA WEC Twitter Page)

Walk The Track

This is more important than you may think. Walking the track will get you familiar with where to go if it is your first time there and you can find changes if you are coming back. It will also allow you to scout for bumps, cracks, polished surfaces, dirt, oil, and other things on/in the racing surface. Instead of discovering these things with your very expensive racing equipment, you’ll see them simply by walking around and looking.

Notice where other racers have laid rubber down to see possible racing lines. Rub your shoe on the surface. Does it stick or slide? If it slides than your tires probably will too. Has someone dropped oil in that corner since last time you were there? Has a new patch been put down? Is the corner concrete while the rest is asphalt? Has the track been used recently? If it hasn’t it’ll be slick at first and gain grip as you go. If it has, then your chassis is likely to tighten-up sooner.

Biking around the track is good too, so is a golf-kart if you stop to get a good look at things. But it is better to walk the track. So go for a walk you lazy bum.

Find a Basic Racing Line

Once you walk the track you will already have a good idea of what your basic line will be. Once on track, spend some time finding where your chassis likes to run. Even if your set-up is off, you should have a good idea. It usually is the basic outside-inside-outside to start with and check your times to see how much you improve from the first lap to the last of each run. You are seeing how much your basic understanding and comfort level is with the track. Only stop to change set-up if it is really off — Aim for a neutral set-up.

Use these early runs to spot bumps, cracks, loose corners, curbing, and anything that might effect your chassis.

Try Something Different

Daytona's roadcourse offers several different line options in many of it's corners. (courtesy of automotive content experience)

Daytona’s roadcourse offers several different line options in many of it’s corners. (courtesy of automotive content experience)

Starting with your basic line, begin making modifications. Try later earlier and later turn-ins, apexes, and turn-outs a few laps in a row. Focus some time of the bumps, cracks, loose corners, curbing, and other things you noticed and try using lines that miss them and then try using them. Get creative with a wider line or running mid-track on exit from a tight left so your entry into the next corner is a little wider, then try making it tighter, etc.

It’s important to make each change on its OWN! Don’t try the curbs and avoid bumps on the same lap unless you can time sectors*. If you can, then change only one thing per sector*. The point is to learn what is fastest on the stopwatch — you can’t know for sure what worked and what didn’t if you try too many things at once. Experience will help you know when you have totally botched it up and cost yourself time, but even the most experienced racers are often surprised when something worked on the watch that they felt was slower on track.

(*Sector times are times based on individual sections of the track. If your first sector is from the start/finish to turn three, try ONE change in that sector only. If sector two is turn three to turn eight, then make only one adjustment there, etc).

Improve the Chassis to Match the Line.

Maximizing your gains requires the chassis to work reasonably well. If the line you think will be best requires a change to the chassis, then make it — the watch will decide whether you were right. You may need a faster turn-in, or better rotation at the apex to use the line you want to try. And that is fine. Just make your changes one at a time, keep notes on your baseline set-up, and any changes you make. Plus, don’t be afraid to play with even more lines after you make changes.

The GTD Hurican and one of the GTLM Prosches at Daytona 2016 (couetesy of imsa.com)

The GTD Hurican and one of the GTLM Prosches at Daytona 2016 (couetesy of imsa.com)

Put It All Together

Using your stop watch (and sector times if you have them) you should have narrowed down the best lines, and even alternative lines, on track. What you now have are the best lines for your set-up, and have also discovered where you should and shouldn’t pass. By running wide in different corners, entering a lane low or exiting mid-track, you have discovered where you can and can’t stick, and just as important, where others can or can’t stick as well. This has developed a working knowledge you can now use to make passes where others don’t know it can be done. You can avoid making a pass into turn 4 over the bump and instead, wait until corner 5 and make the other racer hit the concrete patch on the outside. You can plan your moves ahead and make those moves with confidence.

Note: If you think your new line is better, but the watch disagrees, or it was harder on equipment, then during the race you need to use the old line. Save using the new line for when you have time to test it further.

By taking your time and walking the track, taking note of what you saw, and trying new things, you will have a working knowledge of the track to make yourself faster, pick better lines, and to help you get around your competition.

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.
Subscribe for new articles and follow on twitter at @oakmanonracing. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything else, feel free to ask.

***Apologies for the multiple updates some recieved in January. The changes should have been drafts and edits but not published. Think I have fixed the issue.***

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Posted in: How to Race