Adequately preparing for your first session at an unfamiliar track is key to keeping you and your fellow drivers safe at your next event. Below are just some of the methods I use to prepare for a visit to a brand new track, or one I haven’t driven in many years.
Review onboard footage: Many drivers lean heavily on simulators to learn new tracks. While I occasionally make use of sims, my preference is to review onboard footage. I start by searching for videos of professional drivers tracking cars similar to my own. Afterward, I’ll print out a track map and watch the footage again—noting where the driver begins to brake, which gears they use, where they place the apex, and where they exit each turn. By thoroughly reviewing a trusted driver's onboard footage, I can comfortably go into my practice session with a solid baseline plan.
Phone a friend: Every track has subtle nuances that may not be apparent on video or simulators. In this instance, you should talk to someone who knows the track intimately to find out where hidden obstacles may be lurking. Take note of things like elevation changes, camber variations, hidden bumps, or lines that won’t work when the driving surface is wet.
Visualize: By now, most of you have seen the movie Rush and remember the scene where James Hunt is lying on the ground, driving lap after lap in his mind. It may seem silly, but I know plenty of drivers who do this while holding a stopwatch to see how close their mental laps match their actual lap times. Personally, I find this process helps me cement details into muscle memory.
Arrive early: Nothing hampers your ability to learn a track faster than being late to the pre-grid or missing the start of a session. Having to jump on a track with cold tires when everyone else is already warmed up is a recipe for disaster. The pre-grid is especially important ahead of the first session of an event. Make sure to show up early, so you have time to settle your nerves before hitting the track.
Lead-and-follow: As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and the same is true with a lead-and-follow session. Seeing someone who intimately knows the track breaking down corners right in front of you can be hugely beneficial. This works best with a driving coach who can moderate the pace based on your progress. A professional driver coach can also remove the burden of spotting traffic and arranging point-bys, so you can focus on the track ahead.
Rest up: The first visit to a new track can be mentally taxing, especially at a highly-technical course like Circuit of the Americas. If you’re traveling long distances or changing time zones, consider arriving a day early to alleviate any potential jet lag, and be sure to get to sleep early. An afternoon nap may also be in order on the day of your event.