On The Right Track
Life lessons and speed strategies from a motorsport legend - Sarel van der Merwe cuts an intimidating figure. For one thing he’s six-foot-four, but it’s his demeanour that is more unsettling. It’s his eyes. Shadowed by the squint of his gaze, they’re gunslinger eyes that could stare down a bull.
Make A Decision, And Execute
Like all pro sport, there’s a lot of pressure in motorsport. Sure, you can decide, Okay I’m going to settle for second or third, in which case it’s easy. If however, your decision is to take the chequered flag first, you’re going to be under a little more pressure.
My strategy has always been to make a conscious decision to take it on. Once you’ve done that you now own the situation. All you have to do is execute… and worrying about any potential danger is contrary to successful execution, so what’s the point in worrying? A typical example would be during qualifying in the IMSA series. The rules called for a qualifying lap shoot-out. You’d do one warm-up lap and then have a single flying lap to set your qualifying time. It was an enormously pressured, balls-to-the wall situation. The Chevrolet-Corvette was one of the most powerful racing cars ever built. Today’s F1 cars put out around 750bhp – the Corvette was nearly double that in qualifying trim and it would eat its tyres if given half the chance. Qualifying rubber often wouldn’t last a single lap and I’d have to decide which part of the track I needed to save them for.I would sit in that drivers seat and consciously think, Right. This is what I do. I have the ability, I have the car, and I know the track. I’m now going to put it all together. And I did. The Corvette was fragile and suffered reliability issues during the race…but I would often put it on pole. Afterwards is when I’d feel the pressure. And the fear. Because I had made the decision up front – I’m going to take a chance, it’s going to be hairy – I owned the hairiness, and I would go out and do it. Afterwards it was more like, shit… you were right. That was bladdy hairy.