Learning a New Car – When it Rains

By Mazda Factory Race Driver Tom Long:

I was recently at VIRginia International Raceway helping Reg, a friend and client of mine, with a brand new car. Learning a new car provides both opportunities and challenges, and you may want to tackle them weather dependent.

Reg’s home track is VIR, so learning the new car at a familiar track was the start of our plan. That plan continued with incremental goals for each session on track as he learned the new car. But, there was rain in the area that washed out these dry weather plans, which encouraged us to consider plan B.

We asked ourselves, “How do we judge when it’s beneficial to go out on the track or better to stay put and work on other objectives?” In this particular scenario, given that it was a first-time experience in a new race car, we decided it was best to minimize the variables by not running the car in the rain, and maximize other necessary learning. Besides, there are often lots of new buttons & switches to learn!

With so many protocols on new race cars these days, it’s critical to be familiar with your controls, especially when you’re at speed on track. You don’t have time to be looking down to find out what switch does what! So, instead of driving, we spent our time working in the paddock, learning all of the car’s buttons, switches and protocols.

Sometimes it is advantageous to run in the rain or other adverse conditions. One main reason is if similar conditions exist for qualifying or for your race. You practice in the rain as a scouting mission to discover where the puddles are, where it’s extra slick, and what the limits of grip are in areas. You can even go out to see if your windshield fogs up and what visibility is like in the car.

Obviously, another big reason to brave bad weather is simply to gain seat time in the rain. It can be beneficial to “weather the weather” if you’re learning a track for the first time and need to maximize seat time.

Given that VIR is Reg’s home track, he didn’t need to learn the course, so for him there was more risk than reward. He didn’t get the seat time we’d been looking for, but we still made the most of the day. That way, Reg will be even better prepared when the sun comes back out.