Driving Advantage 02 - Time


In all the books on racing I have read, I have never seen any material on the time component of racing, other then the final product, lap times. Many pages and diagrams are devoted to space, diagrams of the line, the position of carious objects around the track, the position of various cars, etc. but nothing about time. Racing is a space-time continuum, neither component has much meaning in a vacuum. This chapter is going to explain a whole new dimension of racing, specifically, sub-second time discrimination. That is, we are going to train you to discriminate fractions of seconds and we’re going to explain why you need to know this, and exactly how to apply this knowledge.

When we go to the track, we measure lap times to the hundredth of a second, and we feel good when we can consistently lap within a few tenths of a second. I’ll bet you think half a second is a very long time, that you can accomplish a whole lot in a racecar in a half a second. The truth is you can’t do very much in half a second. The absolute minimum time to do anything that requires conscious intervention is 200 milliseconds (0.2 seconds). This is called reaction time (RT) and is very consistent, varying only from about 160ms to 250ms among various individuals. It also applies to only the simplest tasks, requiring no real decision-making. After that you must add the time the car takes to react. So our half second is about the minimum amount of time necessary for you to exert any influence. Real world tasks that require decision making can take much longer, typically 600ms to 1200ms.

From here on, I want you to think in terms of one-quarter of one second (250ms). This is a magic number that crops up again and again in motor learning. We’re going to use this sense of timing to outfox your opponent. There are two additional concepts from motor learning that we need to consider. First, whenever you double the number of choices, you increase RT by about 150ms, this value is not constant and is affected by many other variables. For a single choice such as stomping on the brakes, RT is approximately 200ms, but for two choices, say turning right or left to avoid an obstacle, the RT increases to 350ms. The second concept is that if two stimuli are given within a narrow time window, they will cause a delay in reaction. These two concepts explain how faking works; to fake someone, first you give them at least two possible responses, then you give the stimulus that you are taking one of these two actions. As soon as the action is observed by your opponent you reverse and complete the other alternative. The key here is timing… If you are too fast, your opponent never starts his response and if you are too slow, it is as if the stimuli are completely independent and no timing advantage is gained. The advantage gained by this technique is a delay in reacting of 200 to 300 milliseconds.

These timing concepts give the advantage to the attacker. He should always keep as many options open as possible. This means following directly behind the leading car. Conversely, the defender should remove as many options as possible, that is drive the defensive line unless there is a compelling reason not to.

One last very important concept to keep in mind; motor activity comes in chunks. You can accomplish about 3 to 4 changes that require you to consciously think each second.

Obviously, key visual talents a driver needs are to have good peripheral vision and to be able to notice everything that might be relevant as far down the track as he can see. We can also look at this from the opposite point of view. A driver should pay little attention to things that are so close he can’t have any influence on them.

If we use 70mph as our reference speed, we can half or double it to get to distances for other useful speeds. 70 miles per hour = 100 feet per second.

We know basic reaction time is approximately 200ms. So we now know that for about 20 feet absolutely nothing happens. Data acquisition shows it takes about 500ms to reach full breaking. An average racecar brakes at about 1g. So for that 500ms we have about 0.5g average braking force. So to summarize, we have no control for about 60 to 70 feet then we have gradually increasing control, with complete control at about 180feet.

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© 2007 Doug Snyder of Force 5 Racing Team
Permission granted; "Driving Advantage"

Race2Play comment - As I read this chapter in Doug's book, I began to consider how an Internet latency (even 100ms) plays a role in this. Very interesting read for sure.

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