SCCA SOLO National champion Tamra Hunt shares recommendations for staying sharp in the off season (while enjoying and relaxing during the Christmas holiday).
The racing season is over, your car is tucked away in the garage, and you’re bundled up for the long, cold winter ahead (if you’re most of us, at least). Your attention drifts to other things, such as projects around the house, winter sports, holidays, and movies on the couch. Meanwhile, your racing skills are getting rusty.
So what can racers do during the off season to keep their skills sharp? Last winter, I experimented with sim racing and found that it had a huge impact with jump starting my season. In the spring, instead of taking a few events to “warm up” and “knock the rust off,” I felt like I hit the ground running, and, possibly, was a better driver than I ended the previous season.
There are a few sim racing games that are popular, such as iRacing (which has actual tracks around the country) and Live for Speed (LFS has an autocross specific part to it). While you may not get all of the sensory experience of racing a real car (G forces are huge), it helps you tune into the more sensitive aspects, such as listening for tire squeal or feeling the pressure in the steering wheel resisting your hands (assuming you get a force feedback steering wheel). You can also experiment with new driving techniques without fear of damaging your real car.
I regularly picked a rear-engine car to hone my skills at catching a loose car (a car that tends to over-steer). The other bonus of sim racing is that although there is an upfront cost to get the equipment, after that it’s nearly free for as much “seat time” as you want.
For a great video on how much sim racing can benefit you, check out this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIJ0X28pMRg) on Mazda’s Road to 24 Shootout where the final qualifiers discuss how beneficial iRacing was in their driver development. Pablo Lopez was really impressive (he had only run sim racing – never raced a real car) jumping into a 2016 MX-5 Cup car at NOLA Motorsports Park as an MRT24 finalist!
If you’re not into computer games, another option is go-karting. Across the country there are many fantastic go-karting facilities (hint: not at places that also offer mini-golfing). Many places offer karts that can go up to 40mph (some places faster; some places slower) on realistic tracks with tire barriers for safety. You can practice your lines, braking zones, passing, and more. Sometimes you can even join a league. You do pay per race at places like these, so if you go frequently it will end up costing more than a sim set up in the long run.
Finally, although next season feels far away, winter is the best time to do off-season prep and maintenance on your race car. Pick up a heater for the garage, make a list, and plan out your work so your car can be ready when the season starts back up in the spring. Stay warm everyone!