I'll be the first one to tell you I don't know everything about driving. From techniques, to car specs, to the best way to go round a turn, there's always something new to learn to become a better drive. I can however, tell you some of the things I have learned from doing autocross.
1. Horsepower Isn't Everything
This is one lesson that you will hear debated all the time, from people who don't do autocross. One day at an autocross event that has a variety of cars, and it becomes all too clear that all the horsepower in the world won't necessarily get you around the cones any faster. Watch a Miata get a faster time than a Dodge Viper or a Corvette and you begin to wonder why they have all that horsepower to begin with when they just slide all over the place. This brings me to my next lesson...
2. Tires, Tires, Tires
Much like location in the real estate business, in autocross tires are everything. A car sporting a big brute of a motor with all weather tires will soon realize the mistake it has made after spinning out in one too many corners. A good, grippy track tire can take seconds off a lap time, even in a nimble car like a Lotus or Miata, and give you a big boost in confidence as you rip your way through corners tighter and faster than the guy who went for the budget tires. If there is one place you should spend some cash on your car for autocross, it's tires.
3. Take Time to Learn the Track
This is key. It is all too easy to show up, car ready to go, helmet on, and take off like a bat out of hell from the starting cones only to find yourself with a DNF (did not finish) seconds later because you missed those cones telling you to take the inside corner. Most autocross events give you plenty of time to walk the track before you drive, and chances are you will also be working the track at some point, which is a great opportunity to get a layout of everything including the tough spots other drivers are having trouble with. Like any other driving, if you don't know where you're going, your probably going to get lost.
4. Take advice
Face it, no matter how great of a driver you think you are, there is probably someone better. At the very least, there is probably someone who has been doing it longer than you, who might just have a few tips to help you with your driving techniques in order to shave a few seconds off your lap times. If you see someone at autocross running blazing fast laps, why not ask for a ride along, or better yet, see if they will ride along with you and give some pointers while in action. Pride will only get you so far and learning new techniques could prove to be invaluable. It's like the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and in this case, faster lap times. You may not even notice some of the mistakes your making until someone with a keen eye points it out. After all, we're all here to become better drivers, right?
5. Have Fun
Ok, this one sounds a little cheesy, but stay with me. If you're not having fun and you're getting frustrated, your'e going to lose focus, make more mistakes, and have an even worse time. We all make mistakes on the track, but unless you're a pro, you're not racing for a paycheck or for sponsors, so why not enjoy yourself, learn a few things, and have a good time doing it. The calmer you stay, the smoother you'll drive, and the better you'll be. So relax, enjoy your car, and kill-em with a smile.