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Racing 106 - Race Craft & Passing

It is the driver's obligation to ensure that the pass is made cleanly and incident free in both sim and live racing. Learn more about Race Craft and Passing.
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Key video notes:

It is the responsibility of the overtaking driver to make sure that the pass is made cleanly and incident free.

Corner Exit Pass - A pass on the driver ahead in which a gap is left by the overtaking driver going into a corner, in order to leave room to perform the corner faster than their rival and carry enough speed at corner exit to execute a clean pass down the next straight.

The skill of truly knowing how to race is most commonly known as racecraft and it is, quite simply, just that; the ability to race. The ability to assess your competitors on track, analyze and seize opportunities to pass other drivers, defend your position, control your emotions, and have a strong sense of awareness about what's happening around you when you're in the heat of battle. So let's go racing!

As we're all racer's at heart, we all want to get to the front of the field to be the first to the checkered flag. And, along that road of glory, there will be many cars to pass. Watch any Hollywood racing movie, and you'll likely be mislead into believing that passing another driver is simply a matter of pressing the gas harder, or dropping to a lower gear. Sorry, but this is far from reality. As with everything in racing, there are specific techniques that will help you to race better and pass competitors. Additionally, there are specific guidelines that you have to follow when implementing these techniques. 

Before we delve into the intricacies of passing other cars, there is one rule that must be followed in all forms of motorsport. This is the big one; no matter what series, track, or car you're driving. It is the responsibility of the overtaking driver, meaning the car that is attempting to execute the pass, to make sure that the pass is made cleanly and incident-free. That's it. Got it?

Previously, we've talked about the importance of driving your own race, and your own line, rather than that of the car immediately in front of you. Consider this; if you're following another competitor, you'll be going exactly the same speed as they are, which is hardly the optimum scenario for executing a pass. Experience will allow you to evaluate if you're faster than your competitor in one corner or another. Hopefully, one of those corners where your performance is superior will lead onto a straight that provides ample room to execute a pass. The discipline needed to execute a corner exit pass is to allow a gap to your rival so that you can get a run on them, and convert your extra cornering speed to additional miles per hour down the straight. The trick, though, is timing! You want to position yourself so you can execute the pass just beyond the track-out point of the corner. If you leave too little of a gap, you could very well find yourself under the gearbox or rear bumper of your competitor at the apex of the corner, thus creating contact and possibly a spin if you have to lift out of the throttle mid-corner. If you leave too much of a gap going into the corner, there is a chance that you might not catch, or pull alongside and pass your competitor on the ensuing straight. Certainly practice and experience will improve your ability to judge exactly how much space you should leave for a given corner or competitor. Additionally, for situations where the closing rate is particularly high, it may be beneficial to aim for a slightly later apex so that once you're exiting the corner, you'll have some available grip should you need to adjust your line prior to corner exit. 

Key video points:

Aerodynamic Drag - The force of air on the surface of the vehicle, that increases significantly as vehicle speed increases.

Drafting - The practice of following closely to the car ahead in order to take advantage of the lower aero drag behind it, allowing for slightly more speed, as well as the possibility to conserve fuel, execute a pass, etc.

Corner Entry Pass - A pass on the driver ahead in which the overtaking driver moves off line to the inside of the corner, so that they are able to pull alongside the driver ahead under braking but before turn-in, and pick up the optimum line at the apex of the corner while forcing the overtaken driver to a slower line on corner exit.

Aerodynamic drag; what is it? Aerodynamic drag is a force that acts upon race cars at all times when they're in motion. Additionally, as speed increases, aero drag increases quadratically; meaning as speed doubles, the aero drag increases FOUR times, using up more of the engines horsepower to overcome this resistance. 
Aero drag comes into play in passing because a car travelling at speed will create a hole in the air, leaving in its wake an area of lower resistance that can be to the benefit of the car behind it. This is commonly referred to as drafting. The execution of a pass by drafting is fairly straight forward. Similar to the corner exit pass, it's necessary to leave a slight gap to the competitor that you're trailing. Once on the straight away that gap, along with the vacuum created by the car ahead, will allow you to accelerate to a speed that may be three our four miles per hour faster than would normally be possible. You'll use that momentum as you pull out of the draft to go around the car ahead. Though the mechanics of this type of pass are pretty straight-forward, there are a few other variables that you need to consider to consistently execute a safe pass. 

The first, is closing rate. As you're running in the draft, you know that you're going to be accelerating and closing up on the car in front of you, so it should be fairly easy to judge the correct time to pull out of the draft to execute the pass. However, keep in mind that as you get closer to your competitor, you'll be reducing the amount of turbulence behind their car, thus momentarily creating a situation where they will also have a slight aerodynamic benefit. As you pull out of the draft, the turbulence will come back into play, causing their car to accelerate less quickly, which will increase the closing rate briefly as you begin the execution of the pass. Keep this variable in mind so that you don't clip a front wheel or fender as you make your way around the other car. 

The other variable that you have to contend with when executing this type of pass, is how to get back on-line. In a perfect world, when you execute a pass by drafting, you'll have enough momentum to be able to pull back into line in front of your competitor, prior to the braking point for the next corner. But, because your speed advantage will gradually deteriorate once you're out of the draft, you'll need to focus on your spatial awareness to keep track of your competitor to determine when, or if you can, get back on line. Additionally, as a following driver, it's also important to note that there's some benefit to allowing a driver that is passing you back in line. If you hold position and both of you reach the next corner side-by-side, you will both be subjected to lower cornering speeds because the passing driver is off line, and thus lowering both of your lap times. A slight lift of the throttle to allow the passing driver back in line will give both of you the optimal line into the next corner, and will make it less likely that your pursuers will be added to the mix. 

Unfortunately, there are never any guarantees that either the corner-exit pass or drafting techniques will allow you to fully pass a competitor on the straight. It is far more likely that you'll end up executing a pass in the braking zone at the end of a long straightaway. The braking zone pass can be executed in the following manner. 

First, position yourself next to your competitor as you reach the braking point. Often, drivers will be hesitant to be in such close proximity to another car, leaving too much room and finding themselves too far off line, or going for an early apex and thus destroying any potential for exit speed. You should be within a few feet of your competitor, effectively "pinning" them against the side of the track and forcing them to concede the corner. Secondly, as you approach your traditional turn-in point, keep in mind that you're gonna have to turn in slightly later because you're a car width or more off line going into the corner. This also allows you to brake slightly deeper than your competitor, because your turn-in target is slightly later. Turning in, you should find yourself on the correct line, and aimed toward the traditional apex and ready to get on the throttle. Third, keep in mind that your throttle application is not as well defined as when you execute the corner normally. Because the competitor whom you just passed cannot hit the throttle until you do, you actually have a split second to wait to make sure that you'll have optimum grip coming out of the corner. 

In racing conditions, it's actually a common trick to hesitate for a moment at the apex, to be sure that your competitor is out of the gas, possibly forcing them to move to the less than optimal outside line. Finally, as you get the power down, resume your normal line and follow your trajectory to your normal track-out point. Keep in mind that you should be aware of where your competitor is located on the track. It's not unlikely that they may have tried to stay with you on the outside of the corner and may be between you and your track-out point. 

Key video points:

Want to start a heated off-track debate? All you have to do is start a discussion about who has the rights to a particular corner as two cars enter it; the overtaking driver, or the driver being overtaken? While there will always be differing opinions, adhering to the following guidelines should clear up most disagreements when it comes to road course racing. 

First, if an overtaking car is fully alongside a competitor, meaning wheel-to-wheel at the braking point, the corner goes to the overtaking car. In this case, it is the obligation of the car being overtaken to surrender the corner, and not turn in to their competitor. Next, if for any reason the overtaking is not fully alongside of the driver being passed at the turn-in point, the corner does not belong to the driver attempting to overtake. In this case, it is the obligation of the overtaking driver to give the other competitor room, and to do everything possible not to create an incident.

For oval track racing, the general guideline is that the driver being passed should not come down on the passer if contact is likely, regardless of how much alongside the passer is. 

Although we've defined a few specific techniques to execute a pass, keep in mind that your opportunities to do so may not always be so neat and tidy. The reality is that, once the green flag waves, you'll need to be flexible and try to seize every chance you can to try and get by a competitor. Whether it happens by your own execution or by taking advantage of their mistake, make the pass safely and cleanly. 

It goes without saying that if you have a lead over a competitor, you want to hold that lead. There are two types of defensive driving to try to keep your lead. The first is strategic vehicle placement in order to place your competitor with a less-than-optimal position on track to execute a pass. The other is, quite simply, down and dirty blocking. 

An example of strategic vehicle placement shows a car driving down a straight on the opposite side of the normal line in order to force a competitor to the outside line going into the next corner. This method, while frustrating for the overtaking driver, is considered a reasonable strategy for defending your track position. An example of blocking shows the car driving down a straightaway, using the mirrors to weave left and right, blocking any potential moves by the pursuer. This, above all else, is not considered good sportsmanship, and will certainly draw the ire of your competitors. It is also against the iRacing sporting code.

We've talked before about the importance of spatial awareness when you're out on track, but as you're in close proximity to other competitors during passing situations, it's even more important. As depth perception in the sim can be difficult, you need to be particularly aware as you overtake other cars. As an overtaking driver, make sure that you're cognizant of closing speeds, whether you're in a draft or simply approaching a slower driver. Additionally, we know that peripheral vision is limited in the sim, and as we're now adding other cars to the mix, it's easy to lose sight of our external reference points. This will be particularly apparent when you're drafting, or when you have another competitor next to you in a braking zone. You'll need to pick up other cues, whether they be on the track surface, or on the opposite side of the track. Regardless, train yourself to absorb as much data as possible so that you'll be able to make sound decisions about where your car is on the track, and where you want it to be. In the sim, audio cues are helpful to ascertain what's going on around you. You'll be able to hear the engine noise of other competitors as they get close to you. Listen to variations in engine noise, and use that as a cue to check your mirrors and take note of those around you. Additionally, make use of the spotter feature to gather more data about what's happening around your car, to help keep you out of trouble. And finally, consider using the mic feature to talk with your other competitors. Keep in mind that this should be courteous, professional communication. It's not meant to distract or instigate. 

The concepts of racecraft really bring together the entire driving experience. It's truly the melding of the technical side with the strategy, etiquette, and awareness. And, as with everything in racing, perfecting racecraft takes time, patience, and practice! Good luck out there.

Again, there's not a lot you can add to the information posed in these videos. 

Racecraft and passing are both arts in and of themselves, and the best way to improve upon them is to practice. One of the best ways to do this in iRacing is through open practice sessions.

One thing to remember through all of this is that your racecraft will be a function of your driving ability. It's 50% how well you can control your car, and 50% how well you can make decisions with the other cars on track. They blend with each other like Jack and Coke; you can be the most intelligent, crafty racer in the history of the universe. But, if you can't control your car when you go for a pass on a different racing line through a corner, then it's all for naught. You can also be the sickest hot lapper in our solar system, but that means nothing when you have to deal with traffic, and if you can't cleanly and effectively cut your way through the cars ahead then your races likely won't end well. Since car control is a huge factor whether there are other cars on track or it's just you turning laps, focus on that before you add in the complexity of racing other cars on track!

Another thing to put in your pocket is that racecraft is basically a measure of how well you can make the right decisions. This comes into play the longer the race is, and especially in races such as an oval restrictor plate track or big-grid/tin-top road event where the cars aren't fragile enough for contact to scare the piss out of people. Racing is sort of like playing Limit-Poker. Some people think it's all about the cards you've been dealt; well, it's not. It's actually not at all about that! The advantage any good poker player has over his opponents is his ability to make the right decisions given the information he has to work with. In the same regard that a good poker player will fold pocket Kings on the flop if there are a lot of players still holding cards and three spades hit the table, great drivers know when to abort a pass and wait patiently for a better opportunity to improve their position. These things take time to learn, and dedication to learn as well. You're not going to magically race better! You have to put effort into understanding what happened when contact was made, how to avoid it, what you should do next time. If you thought you were going to complete a pass but the driver ahead ended up holding you off, analyze the situation. Why did they get that run on the outside? What could you have done to complete the pass? Should you have tried the pass there in the first place? Was there a better spot on track? VERY few drivers "waste no time" getting around a car ahead, regardless of their speed differentials (I'm not talking about LMP1 and GTC, multiclass is a bit of an exception to the rule BUT at the same time an addition to the rule!). Instead they take a moment to size-up their rival and determine where the safest and most effective place to pass is, and spend a few corners setting up a pass for that section of track.

In conclusion, the biggest thing I feel will help a driver regarding racecraft is this: Your race is your own responsibility. You must prepare for the race. You must know how your car will behave and react in traffic, off your typical line, when in dirty air, and under other situations. You must also know that it is your responsibility as to what happens to your car and where you finish. While you cannot avoid all incidents, you can avoid 95% of them, and it is your responsibility to do everything in your power to make sure that an overtake or a loss in position happens in such a manner that you come out unscathed and ready to attack the next target or contend with your passer to regain your position. Crashing and complaining will get you NOWHERE, regardless of the fault. That's why iRacing adopted a no-fault incident policy. Everyone involved gets an incident, with protests being the exception for those times when a driver acted unsporting and fell into that 5%. Regardless, you MUST adopt the mentality that YOU are in control and at fault for everything that happens to your vehicle. And if you do, you will shit yourself less.