How to Set That One Fast Lap

Being able to set a fast lap right out of the box is a core part of our world. Drivers don’t have all day to get up to speed; they need to get out there and do it now.

Fortunately, Tommy Archer is here to offer some advice on how to qualify faster.

Archer has the chops to dole it out–he started autocrossing in 1970 before becoming a champion in both ice racing and road racing. (He put his car on the pole at the 1980 SCCA Runoffs.) He soon moved to the professional ranks with drives at nearly all of the top levels, including NASCAR, ALMS and World Challenge. At Le Mans in 1999, he co-drove a Viper to second in class.

At the age of 61 he’s still racing, piloting the Archer Brothers Camaro in the Trans-Am series. At their Road Atlanta stop earlier this year, he turned third place on the grid into a second-place finish.

Tommy drove a factory Viper a few years back at our Ultimate Track Car Challenge, and we lured him into our mobile headquarters with the promise of cold watermelon. While taking a break from the on-track action, he shared his secrets to a fast qualifying session.

Visualize the Win

“The first thing I do is go through the track in my mind,” Archer says. “For up to two weeks, if possible,” he adds.

He said that as soon as he’s done with one race, he starts thinking ahead to the next one. With the proper amount of pre-visualization, he says that you can be fast right off the bat. That’s important when the best conditions exist early.

Do Your Tire Homework

This tip has many parts. “Research what the fast guys are running tirewise,” Tommy says. He also emphasizes the importance of knowing your optimal tire pressures. “Find out the manufacturer’s suggested psi–the fast guys typically run lower than that.” Doing a test and tune day with a pyrometer will give you valuable data that you can use on race day.

Check Your Alignment

Alignment, like tire pressures, is a simple thing, but it can have a major effect on your car’s handling and performance. “I hear guys say, ‘I haven’t aligned it in three events.’ It has to be checked every time,” Archer says.

Be Kind to the Hardware

Archer believes a successful race weekend starts before the car even leaves its paddock. “The car never moves until I have 130 degrees of oil temp,” he reports. “Many people burn through engines because of cold oil and very hard acceleration.”

Don’t Waste Time With a Bad Setup

Archer minced no words on this one: “I’d rather do one lap in a good car than 10 laps in a bad one. Driving around all day with a bad setup is pointless.” If the car setup is wrong, bring it in and try to remedy the problem before burning up gas and tires.

Prepare for the Flying Lap

“On my first lap, I go through the motions of where I want to be on track. A lot of guys think they’re on the curb but they’re 3 feet off. I drive over the curb so I know what it looks like. Once the tires are warmed up, I stand on the gas and go in fast motion.”

Be Aware of Traffic

When a track has cars of different capabilities running at once–as is the case at most time trials or club racing weekends–Archer stresses the importance of keeping cool, particularly in qualifying or the time trial format. “Drive the normal line, don’t try to race a faster guy into the turn,” he says, citing the familiar red-mist scenario where a driver in a slower car will lock onto a faster neighbor and go well past his car’s limits in an attempt to maintain position. “Some cars, by the time they let you by, they’ve messed up both your laps.”

This story was published in the November 2016 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.

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View comments on the GRM forums
pinchvalve MegaDork
6/20/17 10:19 a.m.

"I’d rather do one lap in a good car than 10 laps in a bad one"

I wish I could get out of a car and say, "OK, I need to add some air here, loosen this a bit, upsize the bar..." whatever. I just kinda shrug and figure its me.

GTXVette Dork
6/20/17 10:37 a.m.

Like he said Tire temps,you can tell More about the car in two laps, than 10 laps of trying to figure out whats wrong

DjGreggieP Reader
10/2/17 5:51 p.m.

I should add a oil temp gauge to my car, and install my transmission temp gauge. And I believe next year I am going to do my warm up lap on the curbing so I know where it is.

dean1484 MegaDork
10/2/17 11:20 p.m.

I have not read the rest if the article but "slowing everything down". Is somthing I have always done to up lap times this applies to both your mental state and how hard you bush the car. Smooth with a minimal amount of upsetting the car is fast. Over driving it is always slower. As for the mental part. I think that is kind of what he talks about by visualizing the track. Do this enough and you can concentrate on the driving more and the rush of information will not overload your brain a d I turn you can slow things down mentally and drive better as well as think further down the track. Not sure if that makes sense.


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/2/17 11:40 p.m.
pinchvalve said:

"I’d rather do one lap in a good car than 10 laps in a bad one"

I wish I could get out of a car and say, "OK, I need to add some air here, loosen this a bit, upsize the bar..." whatever. I just kinda shrug and figure its me.

What you need to do is get out of the car, change something, then see what happens. Do that a few times and you'll be able to diagnose what's going on and how to fix it.

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