There's probably no other time during the course of a race that the likelihood of an incident between two or more cars, is higher than at the start. With an entire field of cars nose to tail and side by side, drivers pumped full of adrenaline, and a race track that's suddenly claustrophobic, anything can happen. Although a multitude of variables (many that are out of your control) can have an effect on your race, a calm, calculating demeanor coupled with a healthy dose of flexibility will certainly improve your odds of getting through more than just the first corner of the track.
Your mental approach to a race start is vital. There are few people who can say that they are completely calm at the start of a race. In order to combat this natural tension, anything you can do to calm your mind and relax your body will help in the long run. Your mind needs to be able to focus, and your muscles need to be able to act and react. Taking the tension out of your body will certainly allow that to happen.
To further prepare yourself, you have to take an inventory of the situation. First, take a look at the qualifying grid and examine the other drivers around you. Are there drivers who you've raced with before? Have you been around them in practice; are they reckless? Consistent? Though you can't predict what might happen, this will help you get a feel for who you're gonna be working with, and who might be a candidate to create some problems with the field. Next, take a look at your position on the grid. Are you in the top 5, mid pack, or bringing up the rear? Are you on the inside lane or the outside lane? If you're mid pack or further back in the field, you need to be prepared for the accordion effect as the field stacks up in Turn 1. Remember that you need to be conscious of what's going on a few rows in front of you, NOT just with the car immediately in front of you. Also, remember that you're going to be braking at a completely different point than you normally would. If you're in the front of the pack it's going to be later, because you're approaching the first turn slower than normal. If you're in the back of the pack it's going to be earlier, because of the massive traffic jam in front of you. The challenge is that you'll lose a majority of your reference points that you would normally use because your vision is obscured by traffic. Be aware, think about what the cars around you are doing, and try to look through the traffic.
Another variable that you have to contend with is which lane you're in. If you're on the inside lane, you'll have the preferred line once you reach Turn 1. You'll need to be prepared to defend the position from your competitors at your back. Whenever possible, don't allow enough space between you and the edge of the track, whether that be grass or a wall, for another competitor to slip by you. Keep in mind that you're going to be entering Turn 1 on a radius that is less than optimal, so be sure to pick an entry speed that is appropriately slower than normal. You'll have competitors outside of you; be mindful when it comes to getting back on the throttle, and trying to get to the appropriate track out point. Being a little too anxious with the throttle can create some oversteer or understeer that could put you wide into another competitor, ending both of your races. On the other hand, if you're in the outside row, you have to contend with a few other variables. First, once you get into Turn 1, you're going to be on the outside of the corner which means a less than favorable line as well as a very close proximity to the edge of the track. This leaves little room for error. Additionally, your competitors who are in such close quarters on the inside of the corner are going to have a propensity to push wide as they're trying to accelerate out of the corner, either in the form of understeer or oversteer. Regardless of which, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they might come into contact with you, pushing you off track, so be prepared to take action either by slowing to avoid the contact, or taking that ride off track in as controlled a fashion as possible.
We can talk about the multitude of possibilities that you might encounter at the start of a race, but the reality is that you have to take your knowledge of what might happen, develop a strategy, and then be prepared to be completely flexible with your plan. Above all, the most important thing to do is protect the car so that you can make it to Turn 2. Once you get there, forget about everything that happened when the green flag dropped, and get on with the job at hand.
I'm going to break in between this video and the next, as the next video just goes over the types of race starts. The actual race starts themselves are absolutely crucial to your performance as a driver. One of the biggest issues a rookie or even seasoned driver encounters during the race is that first drop of the green flag. The most common problem a driver experiences at this point in time is the requirement and responsibility for each driver including themselves to make fast and responsible decisions that will give them the most benefit to their situation without breaking any rules or, in general, failing to conform to basic racing etiquette.
First things first, I'd have to say that probably half of the wrecks in a race are in the first two laps. And of those wrecks, about 75% are on the first few corners. In the sim, this is almost entirely due simply to poor judgement by at least one driver. There are typically two things a driver does that gets them into trouble. The first, is that they just plain over-drive Turn 1. While it's great to try and out-brake the guy ahead, steal the inside line, try and make it stick on the outside, one must always be aware of their position on track relative to others, and must always be able to maintain control of their car as well as not forcing someone else to lose control of theirs. The second is the driver who is terrified of the coming situation, and as a result behaves in a wildly unpredictable manner, darting from one side of the track to the other, and braking hard far too early into the braking zone and catching everyone off-guard who are trying to close the gap to the cars ahead under braking. In a lot of the rookie series, you'll see guys braking too late, braking too early and too hard, being to aggressive going into the corner and forcing a three wide situation etc.
Two simple steps can be taken to avoid certain death.
#1. Preparation Preparation Preparation. When you decide to run in a race event, make sure you've prepared for the situation fully. You should have hopped in a test session and practiced entering turn one from whatever format you will be using in the race, and from multiple lines. Lots of people don't practice the actual race start, and when Turn 1 comes up on them, all hell breaks lose and the shit hits the fan. They realize they have no idea where to brake for the corner when they're on the inside line, they don't know where to turn in to leave someone room when they're on the outside line, they have no idea how fast they'll be going into a corner and hence brake in an awkward spot, they realize their typical turning markers are completely useless when they're in the middle of a pack on the race start, etc.
#2. Don't be a doucher. Like I said before, it is in the back of EVERYONE'S head to try and capitalize on the drivers ahead of them at the race start. With so many cars in close proximity, it's very tempting to split towards the inside of the track and try and pass both drivers ahead, going three wide into the corner. Well, just fucking don't. Okay? I cannot tell you specifically how agitated it makes me when drivers decide to make a ridiculously bold move, however "legal" it may be, when the risk of an incident is extremely high. If you're on the inside line and the driver ahead gets a horrible launch on the standing start, and there's plenty of room to get well aside or completely around them before Turn 1, that's a no brainer. But if it's a rolling start, and they immediately move to defend, and you decide that it's a fantastic idea to try and outbrake them on what you think is a wide enough gap between their car and the side of the road to try and steal their line hopefully by the time they start turning in, then I will hunt you down and gut you like a fish. Even in the CESCS I see things like this on restarts and such from rookie and experienced drivers alike. I don't know what it is about people and trying to jump a restart, but as a gentleman driver, it takes the sportsmanship and enjoyment out of a race when you must concede a position because the driver behind you is driving far too aggressive and you want to preserve your car. That's not a pass anybody should be proud of, and there's no reason for it. Race the man ahead for the position, and remember; this is the start of the race. You'll have time. The race doesn't and at the exit of the first turn! THERE'S ACTUALLY LAPS AND SHIT AFTERWARD.
And one more thing. Read that italicized, bolded line at the end of the video about a thousand times and commit it to memory. No matter WHAT happens at the start of the race, you should never even be concerned or angered by it enough to think about it in any other way than how you should react that will be most beneficial for you. Whatever happens, happens. Don't be a terd and get on the horn about how someone broke the rules. Wait until the race is over, and until the checkered flag flies you should be 101% committed to your job as a driver. It does NOT include thinking about things that have already happened and you can't control. Just run your race, do your best, make your run to the finish, and protest as necessary. That's it. Done. Next event.
The procedure for the rolling start is fairly straightforward. After a predetermined number of pace laps, the field lines up two-by-two nose-to-tail and approaches the starter stand on the front straight at a speed that is determined by the pole sitter. The green flag will fly shortly after the pace car dives into the pit lane. Passing is only permitted on the outside prior to the start/finish line. One of the challenges of the rolling start is making sure that you choose your gears wisely, so that you're in the heart of your car's powerband when the green flag flies. Keep a close eye on the tachometer, as you don't want to be in a gear that has you within a couple hundred rpm off redline, forcing you to shift almost immediately. Most starts will be conducted in either second or third gear, so make sure you choose wisely.
The standing start is exclusive to iRacing's road racing events, and is entirely different than a rolling start. The cars start on the grid just before the start/finish line, in a staggered formation that has been determined either by qualifying or iRating. When all cars are in place, a red light visible to all drivers will come on. At a random interval between four and seven seconds, the red lights will go out, and green lights will come on. At this point, the entire field accelerates from a standstill, jockeying for position into Turn 1, and the race has begun. Passing is permitted as soon as the lights turn green, so you don't need to wait until passing the start/finish line to make a move.
Regardless of the type of start, once things are moving, don't forget about your tasks in the car. It's not unheard of for a driver to get so wrapped up in the excitement of the start that they forget to change gears, both up on the straight and down once they get to Turn 1. Hitting the rev-limiter for an extra second, or even worse blowing up your engine, will certainly lose you some positions. Additionally, arriving at Turn 1 and leaving the car in a high gear as you turn in and get back to throttle will more than likely see you getting hit from behind, and at risk of spinning and collecting another car, or even a group of cars.
We've talked about a few strategies for dealing with some of the variables that you might encounter, but once the green flag flies all bets are off. Absolutely anything can happen, and you need to be ready. Above all, your spatial awareness and your ability to make sound decisions on the fly will help you make a successful race start. Smart moves can be made, and you might be able to pick up a few positions, but above all, stay out of trouble and protect your equipment. You also have to keep in mind that there is a time to race, and there is also a time that you need to weigh your options and make the best decision so that you can make it to the end of the race.
Often, you'll come across a competitor who simply isn't going to relinquish a position at the start at any cost. Sometimes it isn't a bad position to settle things down, get in line, and start working on your race in a progressive manner. The overall goal of a race start is to get through it, and settle in to driving your race. You'll have plenty of time to do just that.