There are many skills that racing drivers need to learn to do automatically (unconsciously) and this can only be done by practicing the same thing over and over again. This practice gradually builds Neural Pathways (high speed links) in the brain which in turn develop what is called Muscle Memory, and once a certain skill has been practiced enough times it becomes ‘programmed’.
Once strong neural pathways have been developed, much less conscious attention is required to drive a car or kart and the mind can switch over to more of an over viewing role. When we are over-viewing we can see slight errors in our driving, recognise issues with the handling of the car and in a race situation have a clearer picture of race craft and strategy. This is why:
We keep repeating the same thing in our training (if misunderstood this can be seen as tedious).
We practice counting tasks during simulator training to force the unconscious mind to take over the role of driving and to help let go of conscious control. It is this that creates the ‘spare capacity’ for us to take the overview of our driving and strategy when in the car.
Building a new neural pathway
The first time a driver learns a new skill they have to work hard (consciously) to execute it and all of this effort makes the new technique feel unnatural and awkward the first few times it is tried. A driver who continues learning the new skill (or practicing an existing one) builds new or stronger neural pathways and this helps the skill to become an unconscious or automatic action. And... crucially for drivers this means that the more often skills are practiced, the more likely it is that those skills can be executed when needed under pressure.
Good vs. bad neural pathways
When practicing and building your neural pathways, it is essential that the muscle memory being built up is created using the correct technique. It is a complete waste of time to practice driving the wrong way; this is how bad habits and bad technique are created (engrained) and when something has been learned the wrong way, this incorrect muscle memory has to be overwritten and new neural pathways must be built to replace them... this can take a lot of time.
Performing under pressure
When under pressure it is your built up neural pathways and muscle memory that you rely on – at that moment they can’t be changed and this is what you have to run with - you have to trust this process as you cannot do more than this.