Speed Secrets: Racecraft

By Ross Bentley

March 07, 2018

Passing, being passed, dicing for position. This is what racing is all about. Some drivers can drive fast, but can't race. Others can race, but aren't particularly fast. To win, obviously, you must be good at both. And the techniques used to be good at both do not always complement each other.

Having said that, first you must learn to drive fast, then you can begin to race. Many drivers never learn to drive fast because they’re too busy racing other drivers. Others are fast, but never learn how to really race - how to pass, defend their position, and so on.

I consider other race cars to be part of the track. Therefore, the racetrack is constantly changing as their positioning in relation to you changes. You'll be much more successful in your racing if you concentrate on your own performance rather than on the competition. So if you think of the competitors' cars as simply changes in the track layout, you'll be more relaxed, and able to achieve your own peak performance.

It's important to be aware of everything and everyone around you - especially in a pack of cars. Train yourself to be very focused, and yet be able to notice other things around you. Practice this on the street. Concentrate on where you are going, but try to make note of all the other cars around you - especially the ones you can't see directly in the mirrors. This ability can make the difference between being just a fast driver, and being a great racer.

No matter what, you are going to have to modify your line when passing and being passed. It's part of racing. Hopefully, though, you can do this to your advantage, not your disadvantage. Your goal is to deviate from your Ideal Line as little as possible while passing and being passed.

A good habit to get into during practice sessions is to try driving “passing lines” - that is, where you think you may be able to pass competitors in the race. Practice sessions are the time to test the track for grip “off line.”

In passing maneuvers, the general racing rule is the overtaking car is responsible for making a clean, safe pass. If the overtaking car is approximately half-way or more past the slower car and on the inside when entering a turn, it is that driver’s line. I repeat, though, this is a general rule. The "approximately half-way" is a bit of a grey area.

There are really three ways or places to pass another car:

  1. by out-braking it while approaching a corner;
  2. passing on a straightaway (either because your car is faster, you got better acceleration out of the corner leading onto the straight or by drafting the other car); or
  3. by passing in a corner (by far the most difficult).

SPEED SECRET: When passing, always "present" yourself.

Probably the most important aspect of passing is to “present” yourself - making sure you get into a position where your competitor can see you. When you go into a corner on the inside of them, it is not necessary to pass them completely. Often, if you try to go too deep into a corner to get completely by another car, you over-do it and one of three things happen: you spin; you’re unable to make a proper Turn-in; or you come out of the corner so wide and with so little speed that the other car re-passes on the straightaway. All you really have to do is get beside your competitor and the line through the corner is all yours. Just match your braking with theirs. There is nothing they can do about it, at that point.

When out-braking a competitor on the inside approaching a corner, do you turn in at the same Turn-in Point? No. If you did, it would be much too early a Turn-in. Instead, continue straight down the inside until you intersect, then blend in with, your usual Ideal Line. That puts you in position to begin accelerating earlier than your competitor.

When following a group of cars into a corner, you most likely will not be able to brake as late as you normally do. As each car in front starts to brake, they begin to "stack" up in front of you. If you tried to go as deep as usual, you will run into the back of someone.

When trying to pass another car, sometimes you actually have to hang back a little so you can get a “run” on them at a part of track where it’s easier to pass. You often see a driver in a faster car who cannot pass a slower car because they are constantly going into the corner with their nose just barely inside the other car. Of course, the driver of the slower car takes the line through the turn and the faster car then needs to slow down as well, losing all its momentum. They would have been better off easing back just a little early for the turn, giving some room between themself and the slower car, then accelerate early, driving the corner very hard to gain the momentum down the straightaway - where it’s easy to pass.

Remember that anytime you slow slightly while trying to pass another car, you are not at the limit anymore. Therefore, you can probably alter your line to almost anywhere on the track without being concerned about spinning.

If you and another car just in front of you are passing another car, consider that the driver of the car about to be passed probably only sees the first passing car - and not you. Be prepared!

If you are obviously slower than the car behind, you should try to let them by. But do so on a straightaway, not in a corner. If you have already entered the corner, you are committed to the line - it is your corner. If you change your line in a corner after you are committed to it, you are going to confuse the faster car behind and possibly put yourself in a dangerous position. Be predictable! Wait until you’re out of the corner and on the straight; then point to where you want them to pass, and let them by. Pointing is important, but make it one or two quick points, then get your hand back on the steering wheel and concentrate on your own driving.

Blocking is a controversial subject. A general rule is: you can defend your position by altering your line - but only once. If you weave down the straight or alter your line two or three times on the approach to a corner, that's blocking.

Personally, I don't think blocking is right. Not only is it very dangerous, but if that is what it takes to keep a competitor behind, you don't deserve to be in front. Of course, in the last few laps of a race, almost anything goes - as long as you remember that you're not going to win if you crash both of you out of the race. The balance between being a good aggressive racer and being a blocker is a fine one. Having a reputation as a fair but tough driver is great; having the reputation as a "dirty" driver or blocker usually ends up costing you eventually.

You will learn whom you can trust to race wheel-to-wheel. Generally, these drivers will not surprise you by doing something unexpected. They will not suddenly change their line drastically because you're trying to pass. They are predictable. They may change their line slightly to discourage you from trying to pass, but that's to be expected.

Remember, there are no real hard and fast rules regarding passing on the race track. And no insurance on a race car (well, you can get it, but it's expensive and you still have to pay the deductible yourself, no matter whose fault it is!). So, it takes respect and courtesy for your fellow competitors for all of us to "play" safe.

Ross Bentley

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