The Race

The Race

This section will take you through from the time you take the green till the checkered flag falls. The race is where all of your preparation, training, and practice efforts come to fruition. The whole point of everything we’ve discussed thus far is to put you in a position to win the race. It’s no longer important to set the fastest lap in the race.

Absolute speed is no longer the primary goal; consistent speed over the duration of the event is much more important. It’s not really important how many laps you lead; it’s being in position to lead on the last lap that really matters. Your goal is simply to cover the distance of the event faster than your competition. How many times have you heard the following clichés?

You must finish to win

The race is won on the last lap, not the first

Patience

Consistency is more important than speed

It’s more important to be fast at the end of the race than at the beginning

All these clichés are true. Each of the above offers an important insight in which many drivers take for granted. Without cheating, I bet you can’t remember the five clichés I just mentioned seconds ago. See what I mean about taking them for granted. If every driver would say these 5 clichés to themselves before during and after every race, we all would become much better sim racers.

Before discussing the specifics of this section, you should determine your risk/reward ratio for any maneuver you attempt during a race. By risk/reward ratio, I mean, “Is the reward (higher finishing position, more points etc.) Worth the risk needed to get there”. Is the risk of a crash, probation, or ill feelings from another competitor worth the possible outcome if the move is unsuccessful? The main motto is: “when in doubt, back out”.

Starts:

The most exciting and dangerous moments in racing are the starts. No races are won at the start, while many are lost there. All of the material here assumes a rolling start. If you’re lucky enough to have received the pole it is advantageous because you get to control the pace of the start to a certain degree. Additionally, starting from the front row or first three rows minimizes the risk of traffic and major spins/crashes in front of you.

Keep specific criteria in mind as you develop a start strategy. The first issue is pace. How fast should you or can you start the race? To make this decision requires specific knowledge of your car and to a certain degree your competitor’s cars. If all cars are equal, then speed is less important from an acceleration standpoint. If the cars are not equal, what gear and engine rpm will allow you to accelerate the best compared to the competition? Regardless of the gear selected, always hold rpm at peak torque for the start, as that should give maximum acceleration. Also be sure that your F2 screen is up and running at the start. Keep an eye on the pace car and make sure that you have plenty of distance between yourself and the pace car so as not to jump the start. Passing the pace car before taking the green will result in a black flag situation.

At many tracks you will lose sight of the pace car as it drops off onto pit road. That’s why it is necessary to monitor your F2 screen for proper spacing.

As soon as you reach maximum rpms for the gear you are in shift to the next higher gear. Be sure to monitor your tach and listen to engine rpms. Shifting to late will certainly end your night much earlier than anticipated. Continue this process until you reach forth gear. Keep in mind that this whole process assumes you’re in the front row. Getting up to speed and shifting further back in the field will all be dependent on the car directly in front of you.

Since you will likely be off-line when starting from the front row, you must quickly analyze the first turn and make a decision. Chances are good that you will not be up to speed entering turn 1. With the slower speed, will you be able to take this turn flat out without braking? This could give you an advantage at the exit, since most drivers brake out of habit, even though it may not be required on a start. Once again the size and configuration of the track will have the final say in what can or cannot be accomplished. Practice and testing in advance may be merited.

Another consideration after taking the green is lateral position on the track. Your goal here is to be in position to negotiate the first turn without disadvantage. Single file starts shouldn’t be a problem for those leagues that run them. Double file starts however are another story. Running side by side going into the first turn will not allow you to run the preferred line. Combining that with the cold tires is a recipe for disaster. You’re better off to relinquish the lead instead of causing a possible major pileup fighting for those five bonus points.

One method that cannot be and is not tolerated is surge starts. A surge start is when the pole sitter backs-off, then accelerates again. When the rest of the field responds by lifting, the pole car is back on the gas, giving an advantage if the timing is right. Most leagues frown upon this method and chances are good you will end up damaging yourself and others in the process. The race begins when the green flag drops. Some leagues allow passing as soon as the green waves, though some do not allow passing until the start/finish line is crossed. First, know the rules for the league your participating in. Second be ready when the green flag drops. If you are well back in the pack & cannot see the starter stand, listen for your spotter to tell you when the green flag has dropped.

One of the keys to a good start is to focus considerable attention on vehicle speed judgment. As previously mentioned your vehicle speed will most likely be slower than normal, so little or no braking may be needed to negotiate the turn. By judging speed, you can alter speed reduction and vehicle path to accommodate the existing situation. You must judge speed relative to your position on the racetrack and the position of other cars. These two factors determine cornering speed and vehicle path for your car through the first turn. The most important parameter is to create an opening, which allows the best exit speed and path from the first turn. Additionally, since starts are often plagued with spins and crashes, be prepared for any possibility, and plan escape routes that give you the best chance to emerge unscathed from the melee.

Again that word patience comes to surface. Spinning or crashing on the start from being overaggressive will not improve your chances to reach the checkered flag first. Your ability to exercise patience is critical at this time in the race. By analyzing the situation clearly, a decision about the course of action most suitable is usually very apparent. Take what is there, and do not force the issue. Accept the reality of the moment; plenty of laps probably remain unless it’s some sort of sprint race.

If you should have a poor qualifying effort & are forced to a mid pack or rear field start, force yourself to remain calm, patient, and be sure to provide plenty of room. Your number one goal when starting from the back of the pack should be to get through the first five laps without incident. The last thing on your mind should be how many cars you think you can pass on the first lap.

Drivers with this sort of mentality are the ones that will find themselves with damage & most likely will be one of those drivers that are first out of the race. Drivers that start towards the back of the pack must realize that the start will be slower than usual. I cannot tell you how many times I see drivers get rear ended due to another driver questioning why didn’t you go or why did you stop.

The smaller the track the slower the starts will be and the longer it will take for cars in front of you to get up to speed. Why? It’s simple. Drivers towards the front will back off early to keep from rear-ending the driver in front of them because they will be braking hard into the first turn. This forces the driver behind him to back off earlier, and the driver behind him even earlier that the previous mentioned driver. You multiply all these actions from drivers throughout the field, and by the time you reach the back of the pack, drivers may actually find themselves braking as early as the S/F line at small tracks like Bristol or Martinsville. Be prepared for slow starts and cars that slow much earlier than anticipated. A driver that is on his toes here will gain many positions because there always seems to be some driver that just doesn’t get slowed enough resulting in a wreck and a yellow flag situation.

If you get involved in a situation that costs you time on the track, like spinning cars in front, and your forced to drop back, deal with it and remain calm. Quickly refocus on driving. This is the most efficient way to gain back the lost ground. Lingering on the situation assures that you will lose more ground. Unless your starting in the front row, you shouldn’t think about passing the driver in front of you unless that driver makes a major mistake. Remember your tires are cold and not up to optimum operating temperature. Attempting to pass this early is foolish and just plain stupid.

Why pass a driver on the first lap? What does it prove? It does you no good expect cause possible hard feelings towards the driver you risk taking out. If you’re running third and pass the driver in second what does that do for you? Absolutely nothing. Nobody cares or remembers who was second, third, or twenty third on lap one of a 133 lap event. They will only remember who leads that last lap, and when it comes right down to it, that’s all that really matters any ways. Be patient and be in a position at the end to claim victory.

A successful start is critical in becoming a better sim racer. The driver that can survive and remain patient in the opening laps will be the driver with the most success when all is said and done in a long points season.

Mirrors:

The mirror is an important tool to deal with traffic. This of course assumes that you use the in-car driving view, which I believe 90% of all sim racers do.

The important part of using mirrors is twofold.

1. Mirrors are used to successfully pass another car.

2. Mirrors are used to watch cars approach. There should never be any surprises around you if you use your mirror correctly. The proper way to use a mirror in a racecar is to look into the mirror and remember where the cars are positioned around you. Also make a note in your mind of which cars are gaining ground, and note if any cars are trying to move inside or outside of you.

Mirror driving: Mirror driving is a technique that is often frowned upon and even illegal in certain on-line racing leagues. This method of driving is basically a way to prevent a driver behind you from passing. By watching your mirror, and switching lanes high or low as that driver attempts a pass is what mirror driving is all about. Mirror driving is considered blocking. 99% of the time this type of driving is unnecessary, uncalled for, and is even a possible cause for disqualification, probation or possibly even league banning. Blocking is pointless and actually costs time to the blocking car.

So when is the one percent of the time that it is ok to mirror drive? Leading a race at Talladega with a handful or less of laps remaining in the race. When you’re in this position mirror driving maybe the only way to pull off a victory. This circumstance is often accepted and understood amongst the sim racing community. Again read & understand the rules for the division or leagues you compete in. Don’t be labeled a mirror driver; it will cause more hard aches and possible damage than it’s worth.

Leading races:

For many drivers, leading a race is the most difficult position to be in. The pressure created in your mind usually causes as shift in focus from driving to watching the following driver. The key is to focus on driving smooth consistent laps, just like a qualifying session. Pay attention to your own car & the line your driving; having a comfortable lead reduces pressure and makes it easier to maintain focus on the important priorities.

When the following car is right on your tail, whether fighting for the lead or for 11th place, the pressure tends to mount. Can you handle the pressure? It is difficult to understand the situation effectively without having experienced it. Let’s look at the reality of the situation. Until the following car attempts a pass, nothing is different about getting the car around the track. The priorities remain the same focus attention on the most important ones like hitting the proper line and corner entry speed.

If you focus attention on the other driver and car behind you, or you worry about losing a position, you have made the other driver’s job easier, and your more difficult. While it’s very easy to say, “Stay calm” it is much more difficult on the track, and that is just what must occur to maintain a lead or hold a position. Unforced errors are always caused by a lack of focus on the important priorities. Stay focused on what you control, not on what you do not control, i.e., the other car or driver.

While it is important to keep tabs on the following car, the amount of attention to focus there should be small. The overwhelming priority is to focus on driving the track as you would in practice or qualifying. This is true until the following driver attacks for position. An attack is when the following driver actually attempts a pass. Until the following driver asserts for position, i.e., overlaps the rear of your car in a real pass attempt, you do not need to alter your line your change your strategy.

When to relinquish the lead: There are many occasions when letting the following car pass without taking defensive action is in your best interest.

When a following car can draft by on a straightaway: In this case, defensive reactions are rarely effective for very long, and defensive moves have two negative consequences. First, tire scrub is increased, and second, cars following farther back can gain time on you or the group your drafting with. As long as you’re not in the closing laps of the event, you can always come back with a well-timed counter attack.

When a race strategy requires careful tire management: A passing driver is over-driving and wearing their tires. Pressing a defense may cause you to do the same. This can be a tough call and requires discipline. The exception is near the end of a race, or in a short sprint race, where tire management is not an issue.

When you know the other driver is inconsistent or erratic: If you are consistent, and the other driver is not, you will find it easier to come back with your own attack later on in the race. A driver that seems erratic or doesn’t hold a smooth line, you might be better off letting pass. Don’t bother battling this type of driver as not to risk an accident to you. Chances are good that this driver will do himself in or suffer from premature worn tires and getting by him down the road will probably be the safest route to take.

When you think the other driver is in to deep: In this case he may scrub off speed at the exit, spin, or crash. Attempting to stay with a driver who is overaggressive will lead you to the same fate. Reality based judgment and discipline are required in this type of situation.

When you are within a lap of a pit stop: When a pit stop is approaching, fighting for position is really a low priority, and doing so takes away focus on making a clean entry to the pits and stopping on the mark.

When the attacking car has established position when or before entering a turn: At this point the attacking driver has pulled off the pass. Attempting a defense at this point is like locking the barn after the horses have escaped. Short of knocking the attacker off the track, little can or should be done. It’s time to focus on a later attack.

Following the leader:

Happiness is watching the race in your rear view mirror, being second to the leader of a race is, in many ways more fun. It is much easier to drive your own race while pressuring the leader, or patiently waiting for him to make a mistake and leave an opening for a pass. Even when following the leader, it is important to drive the racetrack, not the other car.

Many times you can learn a lot about proper lines while following the leader of the race. Depending on his experience it is also possible to get caught up in the flow of the lead car and be caught out by the leader’s mistakes or “tricks”. Drive your own race against the track, not other cars.

The act of following another car applies mental pressure to its driver. Attempting to apply additional pressure by “filling the mirrors” of the lead car is a popular tactic to rattle the leader.

This tactic should be ineffective for two reasons:

1) When a driver is doing this, he is focusing more attention on the leader or passing the leader than on driving.

2) He may be using more tires, brakes, fuel etc. giving the leader a slight long-term advantage.

One of the nice aspects of following the lead car is the opportunity to analyze the techniques of the lead driver. If the driver shows signs of inconsistency, you can use that to your advantage. If you find yourself slightly faster on a specific section of track, then at some point you can use that to your advantage also. There are several mistakes to watch for

Late throttle application at the exit: You can use this to your advantage on the next straight by leaving a small gap and getting on the power earlier, allowing more speed to be carried on the next straight. If you follow to closely, you will be unable to get on the power early enough.

Timing is important.

Excessive slowing at the entry to a corner: This is the perfect scenario for out braking attacks.

Early turn in: This on rare occasions can allow for out braking to the outside. It can also allow earlier throttle application if the other driver does not adjust the exit line and get back on the power early enough.

Any inconsistencies in line or speed: Can obviously open the door for an attack.

Overdriving: If the lead car is overdriving, especially at the entry of a corner, you can often count of tires going away late in the race.

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