Update #2 - Competing to Coaching
By Zacharie Robichon
Pfaff has always called the racetrack home. From the fondly remembered Rothmans/Porsche Challenge in the 1980s, through to numerous endurance racing efforts, the Canadian Touring Car Championship and now the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge, racing has always been the ultimate manifestation of our competitive spirit.
Most coaches are former athletes, but not all athletes are successful coaches when they look to take up a second career. For myself, coaching is something that has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was 4 years old, I had my first ski coach, and that continued until I stopped ski racing when I was 16. Interestingly, I’ve never had a coach in car racing or in karting, yet it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time doing. In fact, my first job was working as a driving coach and instructor at the Jim Russell Karting Academy at the circuit Mont-Tremblant.
Coaching requires a different approaching based on what level of driver you’re working with. When working at the Porsche Experience with beginner drivers, I look back to when I was a younger ski racer where I had the opportunity to work with many high-level ski coaches and how they were able to get the best out of us, despite not having the skillset of skiers that they would have been used to working with. On the other hand, when I work with high-level drivers such as Zachary Vanier, with who I worked all year this year, I try and talk to them in terms that would be helpful to my own driving.
For beginners, relating to their own personal experiences in sports that they excel in, always seem to be helpful. Many people strive for perfection and excellence in a certain sport, and if I can find a way to relate a part of driving into their own words of their sport, it helps to get them to understand what we are trying to achieve. We can’t forget that all sports, although completely different, all play with the same laws of physics, and that relation can help beginners understand some pretty complicated concepts very quickly.
When working with advanced drivers, the biggest gain is often in the smallest details. Fast drivers know what it takes to bring a car to its limit of adhesion but can often find themselves slipping up on simple things. Helping them understand the forces that they’re applying on a car or a tire at any given moment will help them see where they’re lacking to get the most out of whatever they may be driving.
For myself, the hardest part about all this is also the most fulfilling. Communicating things that we do naturally, explaining and breaking down into terms any other driver can understand is where the best coaches separate themselves from the more mediocre coaches.
By taking a step-by-step approach to each corner, I find little things that I do and look for an explanation as to why my instinct pushed me towards that.
Then I can communicate it to drivers and add it to my own personal toolbox of knowledge to improve the next time I drive. So, although I’m not in the car while coaching, I’m gathering loads of information that will help me when I’m back out.
All this talk about details, does it actually work? Well looking back to our CTCC season with Zach Vanier, the driver I worked with this year, we spoke in the last article about our victory in race 2. Since then we have had 4 races, the results? 4 Pole positions, 4 victories and a national championship. As a driver coach, it is the second-best thing to winning yourself! But the feeling of knowing you may have played a tiny role in somebody else achieving success is a whole different enjoyment. This season was about working with our great team, working with a great driver, learning a new car, in a new series and look for success. I’d say we were quite successful. Although I haven’t been driving, I know this time spent at the track will help once we’re back racing. -Zach Robichon