Since traffic was a little slow, I decided to get out of my car, walk around and take a few behind-the-scenes pictures. I was in quite a bit of luck because as I got down to see the pit area and control tower, a few of the main officials were on their way out for a track walk.
Walking the track sounds like a pretty obvious thing to do, especially when it’s a brand new circuit. But it’s especially important to try and do this often because it’s easy to miss important things with a street track.
This is mainly due to the traffic that fills the road so you cannot easily cover every part of the tarmac. It’s important to do this at all times of the day so you can see the traffic flow when rush hour is on and when it is not. So even if you cannot fix it for this first of City races, then you can at least tackle it for the next one.
As one of the official’s told me, they also get out on track when it rains because it’s important to know how the drainage works, especially when the barriers are up. Puddles of standing water can be disastrous to a racecar and you need to try and minimize it. It’s also a good time to see if the contractors have laid the tarmac well, because pools of water can show up easier surrounding the bumps and surface imperfections.
As a driver we always try and walk the track with our engineers and, if it’s a new circuit, we will do this half a dozen times. We look out for bumps and cambers in the tarmac during the braking areas and corners. Also how the tarmac is laid and try and get a head start on which areas will be have the most grip.
Most important is how the corners are laid out and how they flow into each other. By getting a good read on this we can tell if the track will punish the front or the rear axle and have an idea which way to go on setup.
However, we must always bear in mind that we need to drive on the track first before we actually do anything. Many an engineer or driver have been caught out by trying to outsmart a track before actually driving on it. It’s good to have information before the weekend starts, but never to act on it until you actually get the best data in hand. And that best data is accumulated in the head of the driver once he has done a handful of laps on the track at racing speeds.