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Practice makes perfect

Let’s discuss how some drivers can dominate on a practice day, but then can't translate that onto a race day. We see in practice sometimes, kids setting the fastest laps they've ever set. Two days later, or a couple of weeks later, get to race day and suddenly, they're 0.4, maybe even up to one second off the pace they were driving the weekend before.

How's that possible and what changes sometimes from a practice day to a race day? The first thing we're going to be discussing is pressure. On a practice day, generally there might be other karts on track, but there's possibly you just racing your lap time. You might be doing a 46-second lap time and really, you're just racing yourself. You're trying to brake later than you normally do. You might be trying a slightly different line. You might be trying to take a little bit more curb than you're used to or you're trying to accelerate earlier. But realistically, you're just racing the clock on a practice day.

And so, if you do make a mistake, that's totally fine because most karts have a clutch these days. If you do spin off or you run wide, it doesn't matter because you can just get back into it on the following lap. When it comes to a race day, you might be a little bit more tentative because if you do run wide or spin out, that could jeopardize your race result. Straightaway, you might be only driving at 90 or 95% of your full potential, and that could be a reason why you are half a second off the pace of what you're doing during the week.

The second thing where it helps having a practice day compared to a race day is as a parent, a coach, or a mechanic, you can start to place markers on the track for your driver. Whether that's cones or you are standing on the track. You can really showcase to your driver where to brake, where to accelerate and where to apex.

What you're trying to do is you're trying to build muscle memory, so that your driver can start to memorize and visualize those markings on the track, so that when it comes to race day, that driver can hit the same marks and hopefully do the same lap times. But again, on a race day, if they haven't visualized or memorized those markings, they might be braking one or two kart lengths early. They might be turning into the corners too early, or they could be accelerating one or two kart lengths later on. Now, all that could equate to half a second difference in your lap time from practice to a race day.

The third instance where times might differentiate from practice to race day, is the track does evolve on a race day. On a practice day, you could be driving by yourself and you're just laying your own rubber on the track. There's not much rubber going down because only one kart's circulating at all times.

On a race day, there could be 150 to 300 competitors competing. Now, more tires on the track creates more rubber, but not necessarily does it always help you because there's different tire compounds for most race weekends. You might find the different compounds are taking away the grip, relaying different rubber and it's working against you.

At practice, they might have more grip because only one tire compound is on the track at that given time. Then get to race day and there's again, four different tire compounds. You need to adjust your kart setup from practice to a race day.
There's other times where it actually works together and it creates a lot more grip and your times do go fast on a race weekend. But again, adjusting your setup to suit the conditions is very, very important. Now, that might mean that you have to run a stiffer axle to release some grip, or you might have to move your seat if it's getting too grippy and it's bouncing around the corners.

Or you might have to move your seat back or move some lead ballast back to give it some more rear traction, some more rear grip. You could look to change the rims if it's cold in the morning compared to sunshine in the afternoon. But being on top of the setup of your kart is very important to maximizing your lap times in the race. Because ideally, that's when you want to be at peak performance on a race day, not so much on a practice day. It's all good and well knowing yourself that you can do it, but it's about delivering on the race day is that's when it counts.

Now the last instance is that sometimes drivers just need a carrot and someone to chase on the track. On a practice day they've got no one to try and strive to push themselves. Then come race day they can. But it works both ways that when you are chasing someone you can go faster, but you can also overdrive now. Or you can start to copy other people's bad habits.

So many times, on a practice day we see the kids driving well. They might catch up to a slower kart, and now suddenly, they've caught that driver. Instead of doing the same lines that they were driving to catch that driver, now they start concentrating on that driver in front of them and making mistakes that they are. They start to turn in earlier, they're starting to miss their apexes, braking earlier, not using the whole track.

And you just think to yourself, "Why? You've caught someone the whole straight by driving your own lines. And braking at your spots and accelerating in your spot where you know can do it and you feel comfortable. Now why are you following the other person's lines that you were catching so much and now you're starting to drop one or two seconds?"

It's very important that if you do catch someone, that you keep concentrating on what you are doing and what's working for you. That should make it a lot easier for you to overtake that driver and keep those lap times that you know you can possibly achieve.

Obviously, a lot of pressure gets put onto kids when it comes to a race day as well. Although sometimes a little bit of a hurry-up for your son or daughter, it does help to get them going. A lot of the time it gets them down and they start to not believe in themselves. As much as we want to help, it can have a negative effect, having that constant, "You're driving like crap, you can do better." It does work for some, but I've seen it being negative for a lot more.

A practice day, where it's fun and it's more chilled out, you can drive your own lines and you can push yourself and make those mistakes. Getting to race day, sometimes that pressure does put a lot more emphasis on why they can't deliver the same lap times.
I hope that helps when it comes to trying to adjust from a practice to a race day so that you are quick in practice, and can then translate that into race pace as well when the trophies are rewarded.

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