Studies in the US have shown that visualising any sporting activity (if done correctly) can be almost as effective as actually practicing it for real, so once you develop the skill you can improve your on-track performance from the comfort of your own home!
Watch Olympic Athletes before they compete. A high jumper, for example, before their run-up will close their eyes and you can see them rocking on their heels and moving their arms as they rehearse mentally the jump they are about to make. This last minute visualisation will have been preceded by countless hundreds each trying to ‘make a perfect jump’. It is just a part of the way elite athletes do things nowadays.
Creating Neural Pathways:
Essentially, visualising laps works by developing the same neural pathways that are created when you actually drive on track. Neural pathways are the ‘high speed links’ that are created when a skill is practiced over and over again until eventually it becomes automatic (unconscious). When visualising correctly the subconscious can’t actually differentiate between the mental process of actually driving a lap from a visualised lap and consequently it uses and strengthens exactly the same neural pathways as if you were doing it for real.
Work at it:
If you have tried visualisation in the past and have struggled, then there is some good news for you... you’re normal. Some people have the ability to close their eyes and instantly bring up crystal clear images but for many this is a skill that needs to be developed over time. With practice however, everyone has the ability to visualise effectively.
Think of it as ‘free practice’ anywhere, anytime. Before arriving at a track your visualisation will help you to arrive relaxed, concentrated and focussed; ready to drive and ‘be the best you can be’.
Visualising at home:
Most drivers will use visualisation to prepare for their next test or race and depending on the circumstances drivers can also include any of the following in their visualisations:
Defensive driving, etc.
Visualisation at the track:
This is where visualisation can be very effective. Drivers use visualisation to help them make corrections that have been identified by their engineer during the de-brief session, for example: If a driver has been braking early for Turn 1 and consequently turning in early they can visualise over and over braking later and turning later until it becomes automatic, completely short cutting the learning process when they get back out on track.