What is Race Craft?
Racing is more than just being fast, there is a lot of skill and cunning that goes into the sport.
The Dark Art
Great racing reminds us of two things: outright speed and the ability to go around someone like they’re standing still. Setting up a pass is a black art that requires years of experience to master and it can all go wrong in 2 nanoseconds should you make the wrong move. So how do you get good at it? What does it mean to have great race craft? Let’s explore one of motoring’s finer points of discussion.
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A great racer is one who can make a clean pass without drama, make the right decision in a high-stress situation and knows when to hang back and let others take themselves out. It’s a complex process that can change instantly, so the first rule is to expect the unexpected. Anything can happen—and it always does at the race track. While accidents do happen, honing this craft will help you avoid situations and gain critical points in a championship, but it isn’t just reserved to those battling it out for hall of fame glory. You can stay out of a lot of trouble at a track day by understanding what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Rules of the Road
When it comes to getting around someone it is always on the responsibility of the person passing to do so it without causing an accident. Short of getting intentionally brake checked (this actually happens quite often in European racing) you always need to be thinking as you approach someone. This is truly the first rule of great race craft. Even if you are coming up on a car in a slower class it is always on you to get the job one cleanly. Things get slightly more complicated, however, once you begin battling for points with someone. Rules of the road can fade away when the red mist descends on your rivals and that’s where things get dicey.
Half Way Up is All the Way In
Imagine for a moment that you are racing another car down a long straight away. You get the draft and decide to go for a pass. Because your speed is slightly higher you will end up alongside the car next to you as you attempt to out-brake them into the corner. Generally speaking, once you are half way up on another car, you more or less have priority for the corner. If the person next to you turns into your car it would be considered their fault. You have gained enough ground to fight for the corner so it is on your competitor at this point. However, this doesn’t mean you can just slam into them. You still have to have total control over your own machine.
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Defending or Blocking?
Take the previous situation and reverse it. This time someone is making the pass on you and you’re not simply going to stay to the outside and let them pass you, right? It’s a fine line between defending and blocking with the separation being how many times you move from left to right. Currently, in Formula 1 the rules state you are allowed to make one move to defend. Outside or inside? Pick one. Darting back and forth to stop someone who is faster than you is extremely dirty race craft and should be avoided if you want to be respected in the paddock. In my opinion, blocking occurs when someone has driven in a way that goes radically off of the traditional racing line. It’s dangerous and actually pretty slow to be constantly weaving. If the person behind you was faster than you by a significant margin, weaving around might actually make it easier for them to pass. Still—we see this all the time. Drive with the head on your shoulders as opposed to the one between your legs. Don’t block!
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Backmarker Grand Prix
Inexperienced backmarkers can suddenly become professional racers when a faster car is about to lap them. Now is not the time to see if you can hang with the top dogs who are battling for 1st and 2nd position. This is pretty common at track days among guys who are first starting out and are eager to prove themselves. Don’t hold people up who are quicker or try to show off once they are on your tail—facts are facts and faster cars should be allowed to pass without obstruction. This is different than blocking since you aren’t in competition with them directly and can be thought of more as holding people up. If you’re not in competition with another car then good race craft dictates you allow them to pass without creating more danger than there needs to be. The backmarker Grand Prix can be dangerous to faster cars and even ruin someone’s race results. If you’re slower, get out of the way in a place that is safe to do so.
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Tapping and Moving People Into Walls
In an American Le Mans Series race about 9 years ago at Laguna Seca, two cars were battling neck and neck which resulted in one car forcing the other into a wall. The reason for this? A tailing driver who couldn’t get around the car in front of him. As the two approached the final corner the trailing car bumped the leading car going into the braking zone. This simple, minuscule action caused the lead car to run wide which gave the chaser an advantage going down the straight away. Jorg Bergmeister—the driver who was bumped—didn’t take too kindly to this and drove the other racer straight into the wall. Now, who is at fault here? At this level, both guys knew what they were doing and the driver who bumped did so intentionally. When you get to the big leagues, guys have no problem ending your weekend early should you pass in an unsporting fashion. The following car should have made a clean pass and if a clean pass couldn’t get the job done, well, that’s racing. Some points are better than no points.
Driving Clean is Always Better
Losing your temper is never a good move in the racing car. You must always exercise proper race craft that respects those around you and shows you have absolute control over all situations. Racing can be incredibly aggressive while staying fair and clean. One of the greatest battles of all time—and a masterful display of race craft—is Rene Arnoux vs. Gilles Villeneuve at an F1 race in Dijon in the 1979 Formula 1 season. These guys actually touched and bumped wheels without ever crashing each other or doing anything sketchy. It’s a brilliant example of how you can be fast, aggressive and fair all at the same time. There really is no excuse for not practicing good race craft.