I try to look at the map and decide where to apex the turns. Unlike real life with peripheral vision and a head that turns it is hard to spot increasing radius and decreasing radius turns without doing a bunch of laps. This is where it helps to look at a track map. There are tools that will generate a map from the AIW file.
I also try not to kill the track on my first few laps. It is hard to memorize the layout when your sliding through the infield. A slow lap where you stay on the track is much more effective.
rFVCRMerge is very helpful though. Many leagues post replays on their pages. The league I am in used to run the E21 mod at the same time another league was which had some very fast drivers. Some of the tracks on our schedule matched their schedule. I would download replays from there site when ever it matched the track we where running. It was a very helpful tool. I don't use this method that often anymore. If one guy in our league is running better times when practicing I will compare his lap to mine. Or sometimes I will run a really good lap one day and the next day I can't do it again. I will take the bad lap and merge it with the good lap to find the difference. I love rFVCRMerge. I would have to rate it as the best rFactor related tool out there. I integrated it with our leagues hotlap database so you can now click on a lap record and it will automatically extract that lap out of the servers replays and serv it up as a download. Super handy.