"Looking at parameters like percentage full throttle over a lap, throttle speed, brake aggression and coast time are all some of the more advanced measures I use to help even experienced drivers break through plateaus that invariably affect us all."
Driving Coach Peter Krause Part II
by Ziva Allen
One of the cool and unexpected perks of publishing a magazine for track day enthusiasts has been the opportunity to talk to people who are not only the heavy hitters in this activity, but who are just plain nice. Satch Carlson, Alan Wilson and David Ray have all been unselfishly generous: willing to give their time and assistance. Imagine how exciting it is to look at your email in-box and find back-to-back correspondence from Ross Bentley and Peter Krause. Well, that has happened, not once, but twice. They are probably the two most highly regarded track day coaches. Ross Bentley publishes Speed Secrets Weekly and Peter Krause is a contributor. Peter has been driving since the mid-eighties and has a thriving coaching business. He emphasizes the sophisticated use of technology and data in helping drivers to improve. We split our interview with Peter into two parts. The first focused on his business and career and this one is about how to use data to improve as a driver. Peter even gives us insight into such enigmatic questions as which is the “best” line through the seemingly never ending turn seventeen at Sebring. This is the turn where the track is so wide that people have gotten lost our there like it’s the Bermuda Triangle. Let’s hear now from our guide through the mysteries of track day driving in part two of our interview with Coach Krause.
Q. What is your approach to working with a driver to improve his/her driving?
A. My approach to working with a driver is multi-pronged. Most of the drivers that I work with are experienced, some with decades of track time, others just starting out, but rabid in their enthusiasm! I send a questionnaire asking what the driver thinks they do well, and what they would most like to do better, with my assistance. I provide pre-event study material, dealing specifically with the venue where we are working together. These can be elevation maps, Google Earth views with landmarks identified, screenshots from inside and outside of a car, sample representative data screenshots, turn and radius measurements, sometimes from the CAD drawings of the track as well as a vetted list of videos from playlists that I have assembled for each track. If they have iRacing, I sometimes will schedule a private, one-on-one pre-event session that lasts for two or three hours, so that we can hit the ground running! Even on tracks they know! Then, at the event, I outfit the car with additional video and data logging equipment and set up a large display PC so we can brief and debrief before and after nearly every session. While they are on track, I am reviewing the data and video in more detail and selecting no more than THREE skill executions and/or areas of car positioning that will yield the best return, in my experience, so that we can work on very targeted goals each session. It's pretty intense, but it works. It's not so much an "information download" from me to them, it's more of an intelligent conversation between two colleagues using technology and my extensive experience to recognize the areas that offer the greatest improvement, then crafting a plan together to realize that improvement!
Q. How would you describe your ideal student?
A. My ideal student/client is one who is open to new ideas, willing to study the extensive information made available before and at the event and one capable of bringing focus and concentration to the task of learning how to go quicker. I often have to help drivers get away from very specific expectations that they have in their minds, mostly concerning lap times. I tell them that a lap time is the sum total of THOUSANDS of decisions and resultant executions of a plan (or not) and that we need to optimize THAT process, then the lap times will come. It's a redirection of the expectations, not a quenching of them.
Q. How does your approach to teaching differ with a beginning versus an intermediate versus an advanced student?
A. While few of the people I work with are novices, for those with little or less experience, I start with the proven staples taught in one of the best school curricula anywhere, Skip Barber. We start with proper ergonomics, fitting to the car to actuate the controls easily, vision, car placement and desired geometry. We spend a lot of time on defining the glossary or words we will use to describe sometimes abstract concepts, then we move to acceleration and braking technique, then cornering, then traffic management. The more experienced the client is, the more advanced material we cover and the higher my expectations of their ability to execute fundamental skills well. At the highest levels, it's generally a return to basics and a MUCH more detailed dissection of exactly what they're doing in the car, through the use of leveraged data analysis. Looking at parameters like percentage full throttle over a lap, throttle speed, brake aggression and coast time are all some of the more advanced measures I use to help even experienced drivers break through plateaus that invariably affect us all.
Q. You emphasize the use of data. Why is data so important and how is it used to help a driver improve?
A. My whole business is built around an objective evaluation of driver performance, and the only way to get that is to measure, both with video and data! The human mind is a very powerful thing. We remember things happening the way we would LIKE them to have been, not necessarily as they ACTUALLY happened! The advent of instrumented video, embedded with speed, g's, times, distance and often throttle and brake inputs has been the best and only way I can do my work, and NEVER has it been easier to obtain this information from a variety of different manufacturers. The other reason why data is important to me is because there are many old wives’ tales, stories and outright fallacies that continue to be handed down from DE generation to DE generation. Some of this is from folks who have not had the exposure to truly top level driver performance execution measures. What I have learned is that the best drivers maximize the available grip of the car, using the maximum width of the road (unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, like a "give up to get" compromise corner), blend the braking into the cornering phase, as well as accelerating through and out of the corners in a much more complete and full way. This means that people CAN learn the RIGHT way to do things, from the outset. It also means that instead of braking to what WE think is the limit, there are actual numbers that can confirm or deny that limit. I could write a whole book on why I think data is SO important, but suffice to say that most drivers do a few corners REALLY well every session, just not ALL in the SAME lap. Data allows us to identify those "best corners," string them together and make a "would have, could have" theoretical best lap and SEE WHY those corners and segments were the best. Before anyone thinks I think that there is only one way, I can say concretely that with the advent of data, I am LESS sure than ever that any ONE approach is the best. Let's just measure and see!
Q. Have you always used data?
A. I have used data to advance my own driving since the mid-1990’s, after reading famed engineer Buddy Fey’s seminal work, “Data Power.” Once only present at the highest levels of professional racing, the advancing of technology, packaging, processing along with the advent of easy GPS has spawned new, small and self-contained data loggers. It’s only been the last few years where the equipment doesn’t require a full time data engineer to set up, download and arrange the information so that drivers can make sense of it. Now, video is going through the same metamorphosis. I started with a VHS, then VHS-C and 8mm video tape camcorders two decades ago! Now, led by GoPro and many others, the HD revolution is here. I know that there is a big gulf between what drivers SAY they do and what they ACTUALLY do. That was evident nearly thirty years ago when I started track day driving and it’ STILL true. Data is the solution to not just debunk that difference, but turn that around to help people drive better!
Q. Please provide a few examples of how you helped someone to improve.
A. Where do I start? Probably one of the best is my friend, John O’ Donnell. John’s wife called me to engage my services as a birthday present for him four years ago. He was driving a C6 Z-06 with a few track mods and had just gotten started at Virginia International Raceway. He was having fun, but didn’t know what to work on next. He was running high teens (2:18-2:19) in a car with a license plate on it, and after about half a dozen engagements at VIR and Road Atlanta, he had chopped ten seconds off his “usual” time at VIR. We would work together for two days, then he would do a few events solo, focusing on honing a few very targeted fundamental skill executions. We would spend time on the simulator, not doing “hot laps,” but stopping on the simulated course and looking very carefully at all the various landmarks and geometry requirements to go faster, safely. The next year, he stepped it up, and bought two data systems with video. We went to Watkins Glen together and had several very intensive days at VIR. After nearly eighty days on track in three years, I encouraged him to become an instructor, and we still work together at VIR, periodically. Now, John is one of the fastest guys I have ever worked with, turning UNDER 2-minute lap times on VIR’s fresh pavement, again in a car he takes his son to school in on the street. Awesome!
I’m writing this on the way back from the Monterey Reunion historic races. Yesterday, in our second weekend of work together, my lady Porsche driver client passed not only Patrick Long (he was giving up a little more than half a liter in displacement in his 911, but had qualified ahead of her), but also passed Rolex 24 Hour/Sebring 12-Hour veteran pro David Hinton in a Competition Ferrari Daytona to finish as the top GT car in her feature race! She exceeded her own expectations and went from 19th to 11th over the course of our work together. It’s great when a client can execute what we both agree are the most important goals.
The examples of our driver improvement are so numerous, that I am never without work.
Q. What would you recommend to someone who wants to get started in HPDE? How should they start?
A. It’s never been easier to get on track. What is most important is doing some homework to start with your best foot forward. Research to find good HPDE programs locally, but I generally recommend that if the person has the time and the means, begin with a professional school first. Bertil Roos, Bondurant, Audi, Porsche and BMW Driving Experiences, Skip Barber all use tried and true curricula and inculcate the basics to build a strong foundation. While there are some wonderful PCA and BMWCCA Chapter programs, the variability of the programs and the personnel can’t guarantee a uniform basis for people seriously committed to doing well over the long term, in my opinion. Some groups, like Chin and TrackDaze, along with some chapters of Hooked on Driving and some Regions of NASA, offer a very good semi-professional school environment. The most important thing is to do whatever it takes to equip yourself with the best information on executing basic, fundamental skills. If it takes a pro school to do that, do it! Then, fall in with a bunch of friends and start hitting the local circuits.
Q. How should a track day driver prepare for a new track?
A. Google is your friend! There are many sites that offer turn-by-turn guides and suggested YouTube videos. I will caution that pro racer laps aren’t necessarily the best to model but high page views (for those videos WITHOUT an accident! <Grin>) are a good guide.
If drivers have an XBOX for Sebring/Road Atlanta and a few others, this can be good practice for learning the order and severity of the corners. While no sim can replicate the elevation changes present in most circuits, you can still get good information “doing laps.”
I use Playstation 3 for Laguna Seca. iRacing is superb for most major North American tracks, although some (like VIR and Indy Road Course) are out of date.
Finally, make sure you take a ride with a trusted, experienced driver early at the event you’re attending at a new track. This will save a TON of time and shorten the learning curve immeasurably!
Q. What one or two cars do you recommend for track day use?
A. I really like prepared Caymans and for the budget crowd, E36 and E46 M3’s.
Q. What is the best line through turn 17 at Sebring?
A. Hahaha! GREAT question, and one that I have found increasingly harder to answer as I learn more about how people think, how to help them form a belief system that allows them to “commit” fully to brakes, steering and gas application and, progressing incrementally and in small steps, while STILL respecting the right side of the risk/benefit ratio in order to bring it home…
I used to be SUCH a devotee of “the Best Line” in my HPDE teaching and pursuit, and to a degree, I STILL am. The tremendous amount of information and variations present in the roughly eight terabytes of video and data I’ve collected over the years, from raw novices to a Formula One World Champion, indicate that there are MANY ways to skin that cat!
I do think that people MUST drive a very consistent, very accurate and very repeatable path FIRST. THEN, they can begin to experiment. Most HPDE drivers, almost all really, are just not using all of the width of the road, not disciplined or consistent in where they come away from the outside of the road, don’t have visual landmarks that they can identify at track surface level, eye level and above the car in the distance that they are consistently aiming for, aren’t hitting their marks or coming close to the limit of their car or tires in braking or turning. So, the first thing is to form a very clear vision in your mind of where you want to place the car, and then DO it.
Another thing I’ve learned is that most people drive to a comfort level and a “limit” that is their own, not the car or the tires. How to find that limit is to measure what you’re doing and see where the greatest opportunity for improvement is. This can be facilitated by a good coach. For Sebring, David Tuaty at TLM Racing has helped hundreds of HPDE drivers perfect the right line (in my opinion and supported by the data I’ve collected) through Turn 17.
In considering the “best line” through ANY corner or series of corners, the “best execution of fundamental skills” MUST be the FIRST guide directing the dozens of decisions you make as a driver to “draw” that line (conduct your car’s path) through these corners. Then, blending the end of braking into the cornering phase is the next challenge, then making sure you prioritize acceleration that is progressive, hard to do when your foot is bouncing up and down over the concrete just before and under the bridge!
Let me share a link to the thread on the online forum “Rennlist” dealing with Turn 17 (Sunset Bend) at Sebring, one of the most remarkable corners in road racing and HPDE. Several good posts and links to informative video that help illuminate this: http://rennlist.com/forums/racing-and-drivers-education-forum/731748-sebring-turn-17-a.html
Thanks to ATD for the opportunity to talk about this great sport and fun we can all have! See you at the track and drive safe!
Visit http://www.peterkrause.net/ to learn more (Ed.).