Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Remember: HPDE is not Racing

I will admit to getting so tired of correcting people when they call it racing that half the time I don't bother anymore.  I correct my students, and sometimes people just checking out the events, but it is the people that I shouldn't have to remind that worry me. Namely, instructors.

A couple of years ago I changed some things around because I had some very bad experiences in an open passing environment.  I thought this was just me being a wimp. I even ran into problems during an event that didn't have open passing.  I have since come to realize that it wasn't the open passing that was my concern, but rather the other instructors who used the HPDE sessions as full on race practice OR did not really have the head about them to make good decisions in an open passing environment. They were in the open passing group just because they were instructors, not because they had proven themselves as capable of playing well with others.

Contrast that with some other open passing experience I have had that I have actually loved since those events. The big difference? Instructors, by default, are in a point-by passing group and only drivers and coaches individually approved by the Chief Instructor are allowed to run in the open passing group. I have never had a close call with another driver those open passing groups, but at many other events I have had problems because instructors were just using it as a practice session for a race.

You aren't going to go home with a trophy or prize money from an HPDE event. Lots of people are in street cars, and if an incident does occur because you are trying to HPDE champion, not only could you hurt another person (or yourself) but you can hurt the sport.  At the very least, you will damage the reputation of the club you are working with.  

This is especially the case for instructors. You must conduct yourself above reproach if you are to keep credibility with your student. If you are out in a lower run group, driving overly aggressive, you are more likely to force a student to have an incident because you scare them.  Many instructors love to do this because they feel like Gods among men, even in slower cars.  They hound them through the corners well in advance of passing zones, following much closer than any other beginner student would. When you do get past them, if you are driving "flat out" they might also start chasing you even though it is well beyond their ability.  You need to be invisible out there and blend to the appropriate group.

I don't even care if the person in front of you is your long time race buddy and you can go side-by-side at 300mph through turn 1 at Summit Point while sipping tea during a race. You can't do that in the lower run groups. It is unprofessional and unsafe (even if the two of you don't crash), no matter how good you are.  Set the proper example.

This type of scenario has played out multiple times while I am in the car with a student. We are in beginner or intermediate and an instructor comes up on them, starts poking their nose to the inside in non-passing zones, and actually makes the student become fearful for their safety and start driving unpredictably. 

So, remember that HPDE isn't a race. Dial it back, keep everyone safe, and don't tarnish the name of our sport or the clubs you are acting as ambassadors of.  I am not saying drive slow, just keep it under control and allow a margin of error.  If you find yourself saying "Hey! Watch this!" on track with your student in the car, you are probably part of the problem ;)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Student Advancement in HPDE

I am helping mentor a new cadre of instructors from our little group, and after sharing some thoughts with one of them about student advancement, I want to flesh that out a bit more and share it with a wider audience.  This pretty much sums up my criteria for advancing students between run groups, and out of self preservation (eg - my own safety on track) I hope many other coaches feel the same way.

To advance a student between run groups I must feel they are:

  • Safe
  • Aware
  • Consistent
  • Smooth*

There is an * on smooth because as you advance from intermediate to advance there can be deliberate non-smoothness to get more performance out of the car, but beginner->instructed intermediate-> solo intermediate, smooth is a criteria.

Beginner -> Instructed Intermediate*

Note: This option does not exist with Hooked on Driving, so students must meet this criteria and the below criteria to advance.
  • Awareness of all flag stations
  • Ability to give point-bys without explicit instruction (however the occasional reminder is still ok, but if they consistently cause people to wait for point-bys that is a non-starter)
  • Awareness to not put the car "where it doesn't belong" in terms of taking a point by, such as waiving off point-bys they are not comfortable with.  
  • Starting to show awareness of their own mistakes.
  • Proper inputs
    • No sudden inputs mid-corner (Including throttle, braking, jerk of wheel)
    • Smooth steering and pedal application
  • Might not be perfect o the line, but knows it and is properly setting up on the correct side of the track for corners, etc..
  • Not over driving (This will be repeated at every level)
  • Not overly aggressive towards other drivers, best to get this out of them early before something goes wrong in a higher run group

Instructed Intermediate -> Solo Intermediate

All of the above plus:
  • Starts to predict how other cars in front of them are going to behave
    • Example: Backs off when they get an un-easy feeling about a car
  • Sets them selves up for passing zones either to take or give a pass
  • Provides self-correcting commentary on their own mistakes
    • "Turned in to early"
    • "Entered that a little hot"
    • "Could have let one more car by there"
  • Ability to turn consistent laps, and manage traffic without the instructor saying a single word (VERY important, you want them to get used to silence BEFORE they move up)
  • Again, not over-driving
  • Again, not overly aggressive (THIS IS NOT A RACE)

Solo Intermediate -> Advanced

This only comes into play for check rides, because they don't normally have an instructor in the car at this point.  You will have limited time to make these assessments.  They have already made it to solo, so now you are deciding if they can run "with the big boys"
  • Can handle off-line corners (for example, from late point-bys)
  • They are planning well in advance for when cars will catch them and when they will catch cars for best passing
  • Some non-smoothness is allowed here on inputs if it is WITH PURPOSE. (Eg - To rotate the car coming out of a corner, you will especially see this with FWD cars and suddenly throttle lift oversteer to get the car to come around for the corner)
  • Again, not over-driving
  • Again, not overly aggressive (THIS IS NOT A RACE)
Now, you will notice I didn't really use the word "Safe" in there, but that is because all of those things add up to safety.   So, now that there is criteria, now comes the check-rides.

Check Rides

If permitted by the club, check-rides should always be done in the group that the student will be advancing to.  There is a level of information overload that can happen when advancing groups because they might have been the big fish in beginner and are now the slowest driver in intermediate.  Make sure they can handle the speed, possibly extra passing zones, and more experienced drivers catching them where no one caught them before.  But in order for their to be a check-ride, especially from an instructed group to a non-instructed group, there needs to be traffic.  One of our instructor candidates wanted to advance someone back at NJMP Thunderbolt to have a check-ride in the next run-group up, but in my opinion, there just wasn't enough traffic for a valid evaluation.  The reverse is also somewhat true.  A run group that is on the verge of capacity also isn't good for a first-time advancement either.  You need a run group of a moderate to ALMOST large size for a solid check-ride.  To far in either direction could actually be detrimental to the student's learning, comfort and enjoyment which will ultimately impact the safety as they get over-taxed.