How To Pass On The Straightaway

Posted on November 9, 2014

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How to Pass on the Straightaway.

By: Rob Oakman

Set-up is really just an educated guess. Sometimes it will work out that you are stronger on the straight than in the corners and you have to work with what you have if you want to win. This means you have to use your speed to get around the competition. So how do you make a pass on a straightaway? There are three parts.

Toyota passaing Audi on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans (courtesy of fearless-assassins.com)

Toyota passaing Audi on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans (courtesy of http://fearless-assassins.com)

Part 1. Get a good clean run

Part 2. Use the draft

Part 3. Don’t give your final move away

Part 1. Get a good clean run.

Getting a good run onto the straightaway completely depends on the last corner. This last corner determines your top speed. The higher your speed out of the last corner the higher your potential speed on the straight. So how can you make the most of that last corner? Here are three ways.

A. Slow your hands down

Every time you move the steering you are scrubbing off speed. You only want to move the wheel when you have to and only as much as absolutely necessary. The way to slow your hands down is to be precise about everything you do in the corner from braking to exit. Obviously you want to get everything out of your machine as possible but you need to be careful not to push too hard. If you go into the last corner too hot and are jerking at the wheel you are scrubbing off speed. The same is true if you carry too much speed through the apex or you run wide on exit. If you are smooth and you hit your marks precisely then you can get to the throttle sooner. Overall you will have carried more speed through the corner than if you Bonsai your way in. The result is a good run down the next straight.

B. Give yourself space

If you are too close to the person in front to get a good final corner then they have effectively killed your momentum and blocked you from getting a good run. What you need to do is back off a bit and give yourself some space heading into the last corner. This is counterintuitive for many racers but trust me, this is important. If the person ahead slows you down at the apex they have delayed your ability to get to the throttle. They will accelerate away from you so that by the time you catch up on the straightaway it’s too late to make a move.You need to gain some space and get a clear run.

Often when we are running behind someone it’s easy to start using the same braking and turning points as they are without realizing it. This is call “Mirroring”. You are running so close that you are reacting to the driver ahead instead of driving the track, anticipating their moves and learning their patterns. You can tell if you are mirroring the driver ahead if you have chased them down rather easily, or they are clearly slowing you down, but you just can’t seem to get a run on them to make a pass. Whenever this happens back off a bit. Usually the best place to gain space is at the apex of a corner. You can slow a bit more than necessary, or delay when you pick up the throttle without worrying about anyone behind making a pass on you. Once you have that separation between you it’s time to figure out where you are catching them so that you can decide where to pass. Choose the passing zone that will work for you based on where you are strong (in this case being the straight) and commit. When the time comes to go make sure you have just enough space in between you in the last corner so that you can get that clean run – sometimes half a chassis length is enough – and then go go go.

Late apexing the final corner at COTA (courtesy of autoracing1.com)

Late apexing the final corner at COTA (courtesy of autoracing1.com)

C. Late apex

Using a late apex gives you a straighter run out of the corner and onto the straight giving you a higher exit speed. Tie this in with giving yourself a bit of space and the draft and you’ll get a really good run on the competition. Speaking of drafting, that’s the next step.

Part 2: Use the Draft

So what is it and how do you use it?

Whenever you are moving you are plowing through the air. The faster you go the denser the air becomes (the smart people on PBS say so). The faster you go, the harder it is to go through the air, and the more power it takes to accelerate. Since the only power you have comes from the engine, and the engine only makes so much, you want as much of that power to be used to accelerate and as little as possible being used to push you through the air. So what you can do is drive behind the racer ahead of you. Because they are pushing the air out of their way it will still be moving in behind them for a short distance. If you get close enough you can run through that moving air than the power from your engine can be used to accelerate you faster and faster without being wasted.

In simpler terms, run up the ass of the person ahead of you and you can go faster.

The trail of moving air is known as a wake, but is generally just referred to as the “draft”. It’s like what you see behind a boat moving through the water but it’s air. The tricky part of drafting is actually understanding that air moves independent of the ground. The draft is just air moving in one direction in an atmosphere that is moving in another. This means that the wind will push that draft (or wake) around. If there is wind pushing you to the left side of the straight then the draft will start at the back of the machine you are chasing then trail off to the left with the wind.

How far the draft extends from the back of another racer’s machine is determined by the shape of the thing moving through the air, how fast it is going, and the wind direction and speed. Don’t worry though. You don’t have to know all these things or work for PBS to make the draft work for you. All you have to do is remember that as you get closer to the racer ahead of you move your line off to the direction of the wind until you find it, then follow it right up to their bumper. This of course brings up an obvious question.

How do you know when you are in the draft?

Knowing when you are in the draft depends greatly on what you are driving. In open cockpit machines you will feel the air buffeting your helmet and/or the chassis around. In closed cockpit machines it can be anything from a change in air pressure that makes your ears feel like they want to pop, window netting or body work starting to move and shake differently, hood louvers opening, the wind noise changing, the chassis being buffeted around, or even the engine note changing. This is going to take some practice and experience to know what it feels like for you and your machine but you need to figure it out. Drafting is a vital skill to learn for more than just passing, as I will get into in a later article. Basically you just get in behind the racer ahead and follow the draft to them, letting your speed build until it’s time to pull out a make a pass. This brings us to the final question.

When do you make your pass?

Part 3: Don`t Give Your Final Move Away

Waiting before making a move. ALMS at COTA 2013 (courtesy of www.foxsports.com)

Waiting before making a move. ALMS at COTA 2013 (courtesy of www.foxsports.com)


This is not the most clear of answers, I know, but here’s why. Some racers will try to block you. Some won’t. Sometimes they are running a defensive line. Sometimes not. This is where practice and experience plays their usual roles.

If the racer is likely to try to block you once, you can fake or faint which direction you intend to pass on. Then, when the other racer has committed to their blocking line, change back . This means you have to pull out of line a bit early to get their attention and get them to move. Do this early enough to still have distance between you and them to change your line back once the other racer has committed.

Some racers and drivers like to be very aggressive and try to block you more than once. You can faint a move more than once as long as you give yourself enough space between your machines to change lines multiple times. This also means that you will have to be aggressive yourself to get your nose in there once you have made your final move. This is a riskier way to pass so you should probably save this for when it really counts late in a race, or if you are really being held up.

When you catch someone using a defensive line then a pass on the straight is a good option. It means that you can clear them before the next braking zone or corner so you don’t have to worry about driving on the dirty greasy part of the track under braking. Usually a driver using the defensive line is running a slower pace than usual anyway so getting a run should be much easier to attain. The trick here is to make sure you have enough separation between you two before the last corner so you can get a good clean run on them.

Then there are the times the other racer just holds their line and doesn’t try to block you in any way. These are the best, but sadly can’t always be counted on. These are usually lapped machines or racers taking it easy for one reason or another. When you are racing for position, especially late in a race, you can’t count on this. But when it does happen all you have to do is make sure you get close enough that you have just have enough time to miss them without giving your pass away (Though obviously they will see you coming if they have mirrors but still) and just fly on by.

Using your straight-line speed is a great way to get through the field. It is less risky than late braking and you have a better chance of success against moderately aggressive drivers. With more aggressive drivers there is a risk of course so choose your timing wisely. Of course you didn’t go out there to follow now did you…unless its F1 (kidding…ish).

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.

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Posted in: How to Race