Crash And Learn: Typical Fault-Finding Is Pointless Or Wrong

By Tom Martin

February 25, 2020


This post is a few years old, but a great accompaniment to our recent re-post of The Guide To Road Racing, Part 13: You Be The Judge - How To Assess Responsibility In A Crash - Editor


We saw a crash of epic proportions at Road America on Saturday in the Continental Sports Car Challenge race (as far as we know, both drivers are okay). It happens in the famous Kink, with Owen Trinkler (#46 Mercedes AMG GT) setting up a pass on Craig Lyons (#9, Aston Martin Vantage):



The small point we want to make is that attempts to judge this are never going to amount to much. You can hear it in the broadcast, where Hindaugh and Shaw, by disagreeing, manage to point out that basically, both drivers are at fault. Let us expand on that just a bit to show the futility of trying to figure out who is "at fault". Lyons is hit by Trinkler when Lyons starts to turn in for the Kink. Both drivers are required to give each other adequate racing room; they touch in the middle of the track so someone didn't give someone else racing room, but who didn't follow those rules? Well, you can say it is Lyons because he changes direction. But you can say it is Trinkler because Lyons is just following the standard line and Trinkler is far from the edge of the track, so he could have allowed more room for the arc he knew Lyons would drive. You can also say that Trinkler is at fault because he is the aggressor (passing car -- which in most post-crash evaluations is assumed to bear the burden unless proven otherwise). You can say that Trinkler isn't fully alongside Lyons. You might also say that Lyons, being the slower car based on position in the race, should have given way, but of course, Lyons is under no obligation to allow a pass nor is he clairvoyant about who is passing him. It was an ugly crash, but it is a classic racing incident where both drivers bear some responsibility.


Our bigger point is that we want to say that it was a stupid crash. Our point isn't to criticize the drivers, though Lyons and Trinkler would probably agree. Our point is that understanding why it was stupid might help you avoid a stupid mistake.


So, another assessment is that it was a game of chicken. Trinkler pops and says basically "I am a fast guy and you are getting lapped; I deserve a good laptime, you should lift and give up another eight tenths on your already worthless laptime (because you are a slow peon)." Lyons then has to make the judgement call to either not be intimidated and turn in, hoping Trinkler will not put him in the wall, or he can give in to the intimidation tactic.


To put this another way, it seems that many observers take the Senna quote to heart ("If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver") and use it as an excuse to never lift, come what may. That forces people like Lyons to either be rational and take the safe bet (lift and let him through, ~5% chance of death, 100% chance of slower laptime), OR exercise his right to turn in when another car is barely at his rear wheel and pray that Trinkler lifts (50% chance he then spends the night in the hospital and has to buy a new Aston).


Stupidity is when you could have known better, in fact did know better, but didn't do better. So, could the drivers have known better? Could you know better?


We've driven Road America many times and every driver meeting brings up the point of "not trying to make a pass into the Kink". You can see the reasons for this cautionary note in the footage above and in logic: the Kink is a high speed (maybe 125 mph) corner, most cars are on the limit so your line has to be near perfect, and the runoff is tiny (the other side of the Jersey barrier is a drop off down to a rail line). But we think the crash is stupid, not just because the consequences are big, but also because everybody knows you can't do what Lyons and Trinkler are trying to do. If there weren't consequences, this might not be as important to point out to others. But there are.


At Road America, the way to make a pass near the kink is to set up the slower car by timing your following distance and throttle application so that you make the pass on the "straight" from the Kink down to Canada Corner. Here is a rough example (unfortunately part luck, part skill) of what works better:



This pass was still scary, but the side to side contact comes on a straightaway which means everyone comes through unscathed.


Our point is that this distinction between passing out of vs. into the Kink is well known. At Road America they tell you, so you don't even have to ask. But in general, the wise driver either has this local knowledge and follows it, or if you're new to a track the wise driver asks about such local knowledge and respects it.