Some of you may have seen Bark's Bite on Ego and Safety and, if you have not, you should. It’s a really great explanation of why being in the right group is important for you, as well as everyone else on track with you.
But it does raise a different question- How do you know when it is time to move up? Every organization may do it a little differently, and when the topic comes up in the paddock there seems to be lots of talk about number of events, horsepower, and even (gasp) lap times. For Track Night, none of those things matter. For Track Night in America- Driven by Tire Rack, it comes down to two things: awareness and comfort.
Awareness is defined as “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” In the case of Track Night, situations and facts include but are not limited to traffic, flags, track conditions, light condition and the behavior of your vehicle.
Having knowledge or perception of all of these things is a lot to expect and that’s why the KONI Novice Experience is there to help new drivers build their on-track awareness skills. If you’ve never been on track, or haven’t been on track with Track Night, this is the place to start. Not to worry, if you are “getting it” quicker than the rest of the group, we won’t be shy about moving you up.
The Intermediate Group is for drivers who don’t really need help building awareness anymore but prefer the simplicity of only managing traffic in passing zones. Intermediate drivers should never miss flags and know what to do when you see each one without hesitation, never be surprised by a car in their mirrors, and have comfort in their vehicle and skill level.
For drivers who have a high level of awareness, there is the Advanced Group. Running in advanced means you are able to manage it all, all the time- someone caught you in a series of turns, no problem, point ‘em by now. See every flag, no problem. A good way to know if you should run in Advanced is to think about the last time you noticed a car in your mirrors outside of a passing zone. If you thought, “I should just let ’em by now,” then it’s probably time.
But What about comfort? If awareness is the standard for which group you CAN run in, comfort is the gauge for which group you SHOULD run in. While speed should never be a determining factor in moving up, the reality is the pace does go up as you move up. Pace is a by-product of awareness and comfort. So, if you are more comfortable with a little less pace, it might make sense to stay in intermediate, even if you have advanced chops.
Still not sure? No problem. That is what the Track Night coaches are for. Go ahead and sign up for the group that you think is best for you and be sure to let your coach know that you have questions. Your coach can watch you, give some pointers and help you find the group that suits you best.
For more on this topic, and others check out the How To: Track Night video series presented by Mazda.