HPDE Instructors Guide
This page houses information that instructors and HPDE coordinators can use to assist them in setting up a high quality event and providing students the necessary skills they need to feel comfortable, be safe, and advance their high performance driving skills. The methodology described here stems from three main sources:
Steps of a good instruction
This whole practice should last for 6-9 hours. While the amount of content might appear not large to the experienced, it would require one break of 30-45 minutes after 4.5-5 hours or so. Good means of hosting is important in this time. Afterwards, you may progress to heel and toe, assesment of braking distances and regressive braking to threshold braking. This begins by a short theoretical summary. Than, make several instructor's illustrations showing common mistakes and their consequences. Ask the student's for what they think would happen and why. Than, perform the illustration and only than make your notes from it. Now, and only now, the student is ready to begin performing the drill himself, as his ability to succed and be able to reproduce similar results over time will increase exponentially. At this stage, the summary autocross might be reconstructed to contain these elements as well.
The next day will be devoted in particular to driving on the track. Disscuss the relevant track and the more important points like trickey or blind corners, areas that tend to be slick, flooded or bumpy, etcetra. Watch videos of the track (preferbly in-car videos synchronized with a footcam) to disscuss and analyse the laps and the smaller or bigger mistakes of the driver. One good way is to perform one or two of these laps yourself and read out important details as well as use photographs of your car at important points (I.E. turn-in, apex, track-out), preferably with a following car demonstrating a different performance or mistake. You will be able to give a better description of your own lap.
From here, the driver should progress to training in the whole doctorine of driving lines in a sterile envorinment, starting from a simple corner at a low speed, and moving onward to fast curves or curves entered relativelly quickly, as well as to linked bends. Repeat understeer and oversteer corrections from time to time, and focus on effective driving (slow in, fast out, utilization of car grip and weight transfers, smooth and yet decisive driving, correct utilization of vision), particularly vision. Practice each element over and over across the bend untill you can go over all of them as a fluent line, and than move on to the next type of corner.
You are now ready to work on the track. We begin with a demonstration made by the instructor at a speed that allows him to show the student what he is doing, what he is seeing and what he is thinking at every given moment (which are mostly three different things!). The student than works around corners resembling practice sessions, segregating the track into several technical segments requiring different levels of skill and progression, performing than student and than with an instructor demonstration of a better performance. Than, the students move onward to perform several laps (because the sterille training of driving techniques was done earilier) without exceeding a certain amount of revs, bringing the amount up after each lap, if succesfull. Than, the student should reach a level allowing him to perform a decent number of solo laps, than returning to instructed laps and a final slow-speed instructional lap and than a final student lap in the presence of the instructor, followed by a full-speed instructors lap.
My view is that learning how to drive well is a process, and the process is most efficient when instructors develop a basic respect for the proper sequencing of skill development. By that I mean that everyone learns fastest when they focus on the right set of problems/challenges in the right order. To my mind, those problems/challenges look something like:
Newbies: learning the meanings of the various flags, understanding the rules/procedures for being at the track, appreciating the sense of community and etiquette that governs behavior at these events. How to properly wearing of a helmet (and know if it fits). How to determine a proper seating position. Hold to holding and turning the steering wheel. How to use your hands to shift and your feet. Becoming comfortable and calm while on the track. Becoming comfortable with taking instruction (instructors, you should always use a two-way communicator). Understanding the importance of vision. Appreciating the need to let the oil/coolant/tires warm up. Appreciating the need to let the brake rotors cool off during the cool down lap. Not using the parking brake while in the paddock. Perhaps most importantly, knowing where all the corner worker stations are located. I believe strongly that instructors are responsible for drawing a “box of prudent risk” around Newbies and Novices such that the student feels confident that he/she can “play” safely within that box and not have to worry about having an incident. A Nwbie that spins (much less has an off-track excursion) is less to blame than is his/her instructor!
Novices: all of the above (those topics often need reinforcement even for intermediate and midrange drivers) PLUS concentrating on straight line braking and learning how to get progressively on AND off the brakes, learning how to roll in steering input to allow the car to take a set, learning how to drive to the apex and to track fully out on corner exit. Learning how to unwind smoothly and roll on the throttle. Understanding the importance of being smooth and practicing smoothness. Understanding the importance of looking deep on the track and practicing good vision. I pay particular attention to a generic cornering sequence: brake, brake, brake, followed by late downshifting, rolling off the brakes on turn-in, transitioning into mid-corner and allowing the car to take a set, passing the apex and rolling on the throttle while unwinding the wheel. With novices, I'll start talking about what to do if something goes wrong -- how to control the car if it begins to spin and what to do if the car actually does spin (two feet in) -- but I believe strongly that novices should never be allowed to push their cars hard enough to get more than a few degrees of slip angle, so this lesson is intended to be precautionary and to give new drivers some confidence in case they do have an incident. Novices should never be allowed to get loose, IMO, as they don't have a clue what to do when the car starts to get wiggy. I typically encourage Novices to begin doing their homework, as few truly good drivers drive well without a solid grasp of performance driving theory. I often recommend, “Secrets of Solo Racing,” by Henry A. Watts and the “Speed Secrets” books by Ross Bentley
Intermediates: all of the above PLUS developing a feeling for weight transfer -- under braking, during the transition from braking to cornering, and while getting on throttle on corner exit. Developing a sense of where the car's limits lie. Learning to incrementally push the car until it begins to plough and learning how to unwind the wheel and ease off the throttle in order to manage understeer. I pay particular attention to whether braking is progressive (not only in terms of how a driver gets on the brakes but how the driver gets OFF the brakes), how the suspension is loaded, and whether or not the student is driving a reasonable line. I start to talk more about theory at this stage of a student's development, as they now have some practical experience to help them understand the underlying physics. Introduction to heel-toe. I typically start applying the following litmus tests to help Intermediate drivers begin to develop the ability to critique themselves. (i) Does the nose of the car drop smoothly and stay down during the braking zone (a sign that the driver is going smoothly to threshold and not coming off and then getting back on the brakes)? (ii) Does the driver turn the wheel once and then unwind (in most corners this is a sign that the driver is carving a decreasing radius turn, thereby taking the most efficient line through the corner? (iii) Is the driver on full throttle while passing the apex AND does the resulting line require the use of most of the pavement on exit (a sign that the driver is taking a good line at exit)? I also pay particular attention to etiquette, as Intermediate drivers sometimes stop playing nice when they get confident. Intermediates also often require a quick refresher on the basics, including most importantly the need to look deep down the track.
Midrange drivers: all of the above PLUS trailbraking, using weight transfer to rotate the car, learning how to control a car that's oversteering, finding a line that works best for the combination of their car plus their driving style and track conditions, consistency. Only at this point, does it make sense to start talking about using tire pressures and sway bars to tune the handling. I pay particular attention to whether the braking zone is compact and the brakes are used progressively and up to threshold; whether longitudinal (braking) forces are traded efficiently for lateral (cornering forces) on corner entry (i.e., is the driver using the full traction circle); whether all of the track is being used; and whether the driver is getting to wide open throttle early enough in the corner. I often encourage mid-range drivers to drive the car loose, not because it’s necessarily fast but because honing their car control skills is helpful and better prepares them for off-line passing (during open-lapping situations) and driving in traction-limited conditions. If a Mid-range driver has not yet read at least two or three of the good books on performance driving, I strongly encourage them to do so.
Expert: by the time someone reaches this stage, they ought to be consistent, able to get to the limit early in a corner and keep the car there until track-out, able to handle the car when it gets loose, able to drive-around the limits of not only their own car but other types of cars, including cars with different drivetrains (fwd, rwd, awd), different weight distributions, different polar moments, different power-to-weight ratios (big power versus momentum cars), etc. Expert drivers should be very smooth, should use consistently good vision, should demonstrate confidence and competence, and be capable of turning a good enough laptime that they'd benefit from a GPS-datalogger. Most of my coaching at this stage focuses on using the datalogs to diagnose where time is being left on the track and how to go faster. Good drivers must also understand tires, so I typically recommend a book that focuses strictly on tires, such as Paul Haney’s, The Racing & High Performance Tire: Using Tires to Tune for Grip & Balance.” Above all, expert drivers should be good role models.
An Alternative model: Driver's evolution
This is the simple model.
Try and describe the senses and notions the drivers are likely to experience when they drive. Explain the sylabus of the course and than focus on every aspect in order, according to a certain arrangement, such as the one demonstrated in our Race Driving guide. Verbal disscussions are not going to be very helpfull. Use as much visual information as possible: Ask questions, write, draw patterns, arrows and tablets, illustrate with pictures, videos, drawings, a drawing or tables are more easily memorized than plain text.
Any concept that appear clear and easy to understand for you, is not usually really that clear, but it normally means you have reached a level of expertise good enough for such things to appear obvious. Teach the students from zero over and over again, make sure the students understand. Say you portray the racing line. You can ask your students for which line they think would be best and than explaining to them where exactly they went wrong and which line is really ideal. It's human nature to avoid mistakes, so once the students are allowed to be wrong, and are than shown why they are wrong, they will memorize the right line because they do not want to be wrong.
An unused tire with duck-tape to explain grip and adhesion, use a cradle to illustrate turning and skidding situations. Hand gestures, slogans (like "If you spin, both feet in") and abberevations (like CPS for correct, pause, straighten) are highly helpfull for students, particularly if one makes his students repeat them vocally and at a certain tone. Do not think about time limits and repeat aspects and make sure students know the subject thouroughly.
Use catchphrasing and particularly humor, as it lets you take the piss out of the seriousness of the instruction and making things more memorizable. Use illustrations from your own racing career, but be carefull, as too much personal stories might come across as megalomanic for students. Do not fear from degressing slightly from the original subject. Do not be too theateral with your physical gestures and phrasing, as it might distract the students from other elements of the instruction. Change the tone, accent and rythm of your speech and make a sudden body movement every now and than to regain concentration. Stop mid-sentence and ask a student to fill in the rest. Once the tone of the students starts to express that tiny bit of frustration that says "we have been over this" or when they know what you are about to say, it means they understood the subject and will eventually comprehend it's importance. Do not be too laboring for them, though.
Certain students tend to disrespect rules of instruction dictating that one should enter corners at slow to exit them fast, or to drive correctly and than let speed emerge on it's own, with their claim being that these are rules of safety. For such, explain the concept of "effective" driving and that speed and safety alike are only some of it's benefits, along side the pose or impression of driving (effective driving is cool driving) and the comfort of the ride. It would therefore be advantagous, in terms of speed also, to follow these guidelines, which will get the attention of such students.
Look at this video where Chris Harris shows how to powerslide:
The first important thing is how he takes time to refer to important basics such as a seating position. He than explains simply and in clear steps, accompanied by hand movements, partially meant to give the text a certian rythym and in times to articulate what he is saying. A simple and catchy phrasing helps in making his instruction more memorizable ("Bolt-style, arms-out-straight-stuff", "Fransin Delacore style"). He than moves on to divide his upcoming demonstration into three generic stages, which besides being memorizable and orginized, allows to locate problems with a certain student and attribute them to a specific problem. One must remember than often students will believe sincerely that they did not do something wrong, because the mistake is instinctive.
He than illustrates all three as a fluent but slow enough as to be accompanied by a disscussion. Notice the whole thing takes place in a particular corner set. He than moves to describe the first stage in focus, dealing with common mistakes and inferring the correct means of action according to it, rather than the other way around. He puts stresses and reasons for things, which is crucial for understanding and memorizing, given that one is not over informative. Reasons must be shown in short sentences to avoid getting the focus on the them rather than the actual manouver they should perform. He makes the stages overlap: When moving on to describe the second stage, he starts from repeating the first stage and than moving on to the next. Eventually, the whole thing is re-made in a second fluent demonstration, and only than are more advanced practices.
During the powerslide, particularly with a student, it might be benifical to rehearse a certain phrasing or mantra to help make the actions more subconcious and fluent, like in this demonstration by Tiff Needell:
Another thing to be learned here is that an instrcutor must be critique, yet encouraging and friendly. Perhaps these points are more easy to detect in this clip:
In here, instructor Lior (Coupe de France, JMC-racing team and DriveArt) is beating the material into the student's head, constantly and rapidatly telling him to "look there" (articulating with his hand), "cover the brake as you turn", "Brake", "downshift", "hug the corner (drive at the right line), accelerate at exit, etcetra. His phrasing is repetitive and mantra-like and yet is sprinkled with both criticism when appropriate and with encouragement ("right on") at times. What he is in fact doing, from a behavioristic point of view, is to set a distinctive goal for the student at any given moment (like to keep neutral throttle through a certain part of the turn ("Just steady throttle, steady, steady" in 0:45 or 0:51-0:54) and than providing brief reassurance if the task was performed relativelly nicely ("good" in 0:47 or 0:54) upon it's completion and before moving on to the next action to be made. (Post-Apex acceleration in 0:48 or turning in to a successive turn in 0:55) The pace of his speech is thus parallel to the pace of driving through different segments of the track.
In Car Basic Exercises
Take care for the students' seating position, wheel grip and steering technique. These little aspects will become critical for the performance later. Do not settle for basic techniques, such as finishing the braking in a straight line and maintaining a constant speed through the curves -- this will only create a lack of consistency in the scale of progress by educating drivers to bad driving skills.
One good instrument for the instructor is a personal instructor's mirror, that sticks by vaccum to the windshield, allowing you not only to look behind, but more importantly on the track, to see where the eyes of the student are looking at.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with lack of skill or bad attitude, is not to say anything. Often, a student tries to re-invent the wheel and prove the instructors wrong, or simply does not pay attention to things such as a good positioning in the car or utilization of the visual field. In this case, keeping slient, and letting the student perform at a certain level of sucess or failure through basic excersice, and than point out the seating position -- for an example -- as the cause of failure, showing him the dramatic improvement after changing the positioning in the car, can help promote your professional input. The modern instructor is a seller, not a teacher, prove your techniques, refer to the importance of each aspect of driving. Make the student illustrate himself the common mistakes and not only the correct way of approach.
Many problems that develop at a later stage, such as late or incorrect/exaggerated steering corrections, bad lines, fast corner entry, lack of smoothness, unsmooth braking, can be resolved simply by little corrections to the driver's visual field, seating position, steering wheel handling and gripping, etcetra.
On Track Familiarization Exercises
Segregate the track into segments and practice on them, possibly with the help of cones in various colors (to aid in the utilization of vision). Guide the student step by step, focusing on every aspect of driving in focus, and than making a summary and combination of all the aquired skills, eventually perfecting the cornering skills and than teaching the student some humility by demonstrating the segment on your own, and than progressing to the following segment.
The choice of the segment depands on the level of technical expertise required and the importance of the specific sort of corner in question, with a faster corner being more important than a slower one. Illustrate the "slow in, fast out" policy and differnet lines, the importance of both smoothness and decisivness, and the advantages of braking/trailing off the pedals into corners. Talk the student through the whole ordeal, regardless of whose driving: "Turn-in, apex, exit", "accelerate, decelerate, keep speed", and comment him "eyes up" whenever his visual field seem to be malutilized. Beware of early turning-in or too late braking, and of the student being too early in picking up the throttle in particular spots. Later, you may offer feedback, first, briefly stressing the good points to encourage the student, and than emphasizing the nessecary improvements.
Once on the envorinment of the track, the ways in which the instructor explains himself must become more predictable and repititive. If you repeat the same prashing over and over, it becomes more easily to remember and also contributes into a certain rythm of driving. When you reach the braking cone on the instructional lap, as an example, you yell out "bang on the brakes", "eyes up [to the next reference point)" and than continue to explain: "easing off of the brakes, easing-off of the brakes, easing-off, easing off" and perform the exact same sequence in the next braking cone.
On Track at Speed Exercises
Reading your student
Listening to the student's breathing, and seeing how tightly they are gripping the wheel (death grip) are some of the indicators that I use to see if a studnet is starting to get to the end of their attention limit (i.e. they can't focus on anything else, including what you are saying because they are over their head). I would suggest reading the book "Twist of the wrist" by Keith Code. Although it's about bikes, it has a good description of not only driving, er riding, but also how to learn and teach.
If someone is using all of their attention just trying to not crash, they won't have any left over to analyze what they are doing and talk about it. Thus making them talk about it will require them to slow down a bit and think.
This is one of the drills I put my students through before signing them off. They do some laps with me just watching, then they have to start describing what they are doing. If they start to slow down a lot, or make a lot of mistakes, it shows me that they are too close to their personal limit when driving on their own and we keep working on them being able to drive at 80%, not 110%.
Also, it gets easier to pick up on the stuents small signals as you become more relaxed in the car as well. ('Trackrat')
Common Student Mistakes
1. Overdriving: The number one mistake, in any sort of driving, is over-driving. The student must be fimiliarized to the issue and be warned of it. Correctly positioning the student and using the visual field, can highly decrease this problem.
2. Fast entry speed: Explain and illustrate how entering a corner fast in not advantagous regardless of the level of skill. Braking early and decisivelly, while using a braking cone, and than looking up and into the corner while using the convergence point, in order to minimise this issue.
3. Too early on the throttle: Besides using the visual field correctly to determind good lines and entry speed, the student must know that often a race is won by getting later on the gas. Using your vision correctly to recognise the point where the corner opens and you can see through the corner, to pick-up the power, and the correct APEX is clipped, to unwind the lock while accelerating out.
4. Bad utilization of vision: Keeping your eyes up is the most important thing, but a student relying on eyes alone is probably going to use the wheel more than the feet, which take presedence in fast driving. Good positioning, instructions and education on a skid-car, will help in this. Teach the student to lean over the left foot and feel the car through the fingers on the wheel and the back and bottom. Than, teach him to correct the line/skid with a synchornization of pedalwork and steering, with an emphasis on pedaling.
Common Instructor Mistakes
Just thought I'd share with you a short list of mistakes I've made (and, I'd hazard to guess, so have most other new instructors) in the hopes that you'll somehow avoid repeating them. Easier to say than to do, I admit, as these are tricky traps:
1. Not physically inspecting the brake pads, tires, and seatbelts, and giving the car a quick once over -- yourself -- before getting in the car with your student.
2. Not hammering on safety from the get-go: first lap out, waving to corner workers; asking the student to describe where the corner stations are located; quizzing your student about flags; forcing your student to describe the passing zones and list the rules governing passing; demanding that your student "play nice". Make a habit of actually checking your student's helmet strap and seatbelt. You'd be surprised how often they forget.
3. Not knowing enough about your student to be useful. If you don't know how much experience your student has, what he/she wants to accomplish, how he/she thinks and learns, you can't teach effectively. Not owning (and using) a Chatterbox or other form of in-car communicator. If your student can't hear you, your input isn't very useful.
4. Watching the track more than your student. You should be spending a LOT of time observing your student as he/she drives. It's easy to focus on the track and forget that how your student drives can be observed directly (by watching him/her) rather than indirectly (by seeing what the car does on the track). Pay attention to vision, hand position, use of inputs, situational awareness, etc.
5. Not contributing your own situational awareness to bolster your student's. Adjust the passenger mirror so you can check for passing vehicles as you enter the passing zones. Your job is to draw a box of "prudent risk" around the student so that he/she can play without worry. If you're unaware of what's behind you, how can you expect your student to have that awareness?
6. Driving a student's car harder than is prudent. They'll ask what their cars can do. Then, they'll throw you the keys. It's fun. It's also a good way to buy someone a car. Trust me, it's hard to NOT do this when you've behind the wheel of a Z-06, 360 Challenge Stradale, or a 993 Twin Turbo, etc.
7. Driving your own car -- with a student in the car -- harder than is prudent. This is even more difficult to avoid doing, as everyone wants to show off now and again. There's precious little learning value to novices from (in fact, you may be setting up your student for an off-track excursion by) getting your car loose ANYWHERE on the track or to trail-braking (unless you're demonstrating it to an advanced-intermediate driver).
8. Not recognizing fatigue on your own driving. I've had days where I've been on the track for 12 or more sessions (4 of my own; 4 each with novice and intermediate students). Half way through the day, I could use a nap. By the day's end, I can't think straight. Fatigue makes for dangerous driving. Sometimes instructing means you won't get in all the sessions you'd like. Accept that.