If you’ve never driven on a race track before, you may have a hard time comprehending what all the fuss is about. For those unfamiliar with motorsports, winning a race is simply a matter of driving faster than the other cars, which would mean that speed is more about bravery than skill.
As anyone who’s spent enough time on race tracks will tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Taking a car to its absolute limit, lap after lap after lap, takes a degree of talent and comprehension that few untrained drivers possess.
Also, race tracks are not designed to be forgiving, unlike public roads. Corners that tighten-up as you drive them (thus presenting a decreasing radius) are rare on public roads, but they’re a staple of race tracks.
Putting a sharp corner atop the sudden crest of a hill would never happen on a public road, since the accident rate would be staggering. Such turns are common on tracks, challenging drivers by unweighting the front wheels (and reducing traction) at the exact time you need maximum grip.
Even on less technical tracks, positioning your car precisely can translate to a few seconds per lap. Use too little real estate, and chances are you’re scrubbing off too much speed. Use too much real estate, and chances are good you’ll be returning to the pits on the back of a flatbed wrecker.
Bill Auberlen has been racing professionally since the 1980s, and currently spends his time competing in the American Le Mans Series (driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and in the Grand-Am Series (driving for Turner Motorsports). If you want to know what it takes to go fast around a particular track, Auberlen is a good coach to have.
Enjoy this narrated lap of Austin, Texas’ Circuit of the Americas. If this doesn’t prove how challenging track driving can be, we don’t know what will.