He hadn’t been specifically looking for Tracey before getting in the car, well he had but that was only because she had said she was turning up for the Saturday racing. He hadn’t expected her to turn up early, the track was a good two hours travel from home and under her own steam arrival before 10pm was unlikely but by the Run For Pole he did half expect her to make an appearance.
Throughout the preparation as he sat in the car waiting for Tommy, his pit manager, to give him the go ahead to start rolling, he tried not to think about Tracey not being present and it was working. Then as he exited pit lane for his warm up lap he spotted her standing behind the barriers at the end of pit lane. He didn’t wave, such behaviour from a driver wasn’t done when they were in race mode, but that didn’t stop a smile forming on his face.
Danny exited the pit lane, happy he’d seen Tracey and staying within the exit lane where he was required to do so. He increased speed slowly and as soon as the pit lane exit line ended Danny began turning the steering wheel side to side trying to get heat into the tyres.
The first turn, a left turn, was less than a hundred metres from the end of pit lane, although Danny was able to turn back and forth across the track several times he only crept into second gear before hitting the apex of the corner. It was standard practice during the warm up lap not to go gung ho into the first corner on pit cold tyres and risk making any error.
At race speed turn one was a third gear corner and the passing the apex was the point where all drivers sunk the boot back onto the accelerator and sped up, often short shifting through the gear box for the short straight into turn two.
His mind was still thinking about seeing Tracey in the VIP area and how he didn’t blame her for not coming into the pits as he pushed his foot down onto the accelerator. What Danny didn’t realise as his foot went down was that he’d missed the apex slightly and his left rear tyre was running on the very edge of the ripple strip that outlined the corner. With cold, slick tyres and the painted surface of the ripple strip the left rear tyre lost traction and the rear of the car kicked out to the right.
It wasn’t a large error and Danny was able to regain control by grabbing armfuls of steering wheel and pulling his foot from the accelerator but it was still a mistake, had Danny not regained control quickly he could easily have skidded off the track and into the sand trap. Even such a small error took some of the heat out of the tyres and risked flat spotting them, both of which could slow his run for pole down.
Danny was cursing himself for the error when he heard Tommy’s voice on the radio telling him to forget the error and keep moving. It was standard practise for a pit, or team, manager to tell his driver to forget the error, even in cases where the car was damaged. Remaining calm and not telling the driver off was a protocol that on paper helped the driver regain his thoughts.
Danny apologised for the error, it wasn’t something he had to do but most drivers did. Just like the calm team manager theory worked better on paper than it did in practise the driver being polite and apologising worked well on paper too. In Danny’s case apologising was his way of reprimanding himself for the mistake, it helped him clear his head and concentrate on what he needed too. Thinking about Tracey wasn’t Danny’s mistake and he knew that, thinking about her at the wrong time was.
The one thing many non-racers had trouble understanding was the concentration levels that such a sport demanded. Many thought that the driver’s concentration had to remain constant, never waiving, because everything moved so fast and so much happened every minute they were on the track. But it wasn’t true, concentration was indeed paramount in racing but even a racing driver’s brain needs to rest at times because the human brain just isn’t made to run at the kind of stress and concentration levels driving for two hours or more requires.
What that meant for drivers was that they needed to find times during the race where they could rest their brains, think about something else. It wasn’t like the movie Happy Gilmour where there was the suggestion that they needed to go to their happy place, there wasn’t enough time for that, but there was time for brief thought changes. Coming into the pits or travelling behind the pace car were good times for the brain to ease back a gear but most drivers found themselves selecting parts of the track like the straights where they could think of something else other than the job at hand.
Therefore Danny knew that thinking about Tracey standing at the end of pit lane wasn’t the problem, it was thinking about her whilst he should have being thinking about his line into and out of the corner, thinking about the pace and thinking about when to accelerate, that was the problem. It was however a problem he wouldn’t share with the team. When he got back to the pits he would take the blame and say he lost his train of thought, he just wouldn’t say where those thoughts went.
Danny did recover quickly, being the only other car on the track helped, not doing any damage also helped, and by the second turn he was back in the mind set he needed to be.
Every corner Danny hit the apex and drove the car through the corner on the racing line, whilst on every straight he snaked along warming the tyres. At the half way mark he began alternating his foot between the accelerator and brake, not skidding but pushing his foot down on the brake enough to dip the nose of the car down, again in an effort to get as much warmth into the tyres as he could.
Previous Racing Story here.