Many laymen and dispassionate observers view racing as a game of guts. It seems incredible to hear, but many think that racing comes down to merely flooring the throttle longer and hustling the steering wheel a little more aggressively. When I hear people echoing that sort of ignorance I can’t help but giggle a little bit, though I usually refrain from trying to explain how racing is, in many ways, like chess. Gaining the psychological advantage is integral to becoming a top driver, and learning how to psych out a rival can often overcome sheer speed; the trick is, not many people know how to do this.
The strangest thing about racing is how much of it comes down to patience, timing, and anticipation – not only with one’s own driving, but with another’s. It’s an odd experience when people find themselves outqualified yet able to pass a supposedly faster driver for the first time, but it shows that the brain will always come before a heavy right foot. The tricks of the trade are hard to read from the outside, but it’s absolutely necessary to learn them if one intends to remain on the podium regularly, since having the most speed or the most capable car every time is never going to happen.
When a driver of quality finds themselves outpaced by a younger, gullible, and impatient driver, they don’t necessarily worry. If the difference between the two drivers’ lap times comes down to a few tenths, it’s still possible to make a pass, and sometimes the leading driver will almost willingly hand them the position if done right. Doing it correctly takes subtlety and precision, and a bit of restraint. When two drivers trade paint and interlock wheels for lap after lap, there are several ways to approach the situation.
Being in front is often a stressful situation to be in. Even if you’re leading, it’s harder to judge your own pace and determine where your pursuer is quicker than you are. What’s critical to remember is that one’s own performance comes first – trying to guess a pursuer’s moves is only going to slow you down. Of course, when you see your attacker moving up the inside, it’s wise to leave some room and then engage accordingly, but it’s smart to keep one’s eyes ahead and stayp calm as long as they’re nipping at your heels. Generally speaking, deep breathing will help avoid tensing up – it’s very effective.
In the event you’ve just passed someone and recently assumed the lead, it’s time to drive 10/10ths. While many drivers usually leave little to chance once they’ve settled into the groove in the middle of a race, no driver likes to be passed. Therefore, they will be quite angry and emotional at that point in time, and fervently try to regain the lead. If you can manage to establish a bit of a gap over the next couple laps, you can demoralize your opponent, who will reluctantly accept they’ve been beaten.
When leading a similarly-matched opponent, there are fewer things to consider than when following. While a driver in front mainly needs to keep their speed up, which is no mean feat, the pursuing driver must be studious and bide their time.
It’s a trickier situation when following an equally-matched opponent. Stay vigilant. Your opponent will inevitably show their weak spot, like a hole in their armor. Merely staying in their mirrors and occasionally sticking your nose alongside can rattle their cage, and only a great driver can stay totally calm with an opponent trying to pass and pass in wherever they can. Once they start to lock a tire consistently, or slide, or overdrive a certain section of the track, you can move in and begin planning your attack.
If you can sense where your opponent is truly slower and foresee a chance to strike, it’s important to not make that clear. Wait and keep your attempts inconsistent and unpredictable, and your final move a surprise. When you’re going to actually pass, holding back over the course of the preceding lap might encourage them to drop their guard. When they’re not expecting it, that attack can prove incredibly effective.
Though it’s said all too frequently, it’s absolutely imperative that a driver stay calm and observant. If they’re in front, they need to stay calm because worrying about a pursuing driver too much will slow them down. That doesn’t mean occasionally being defensive is bad, but a good offense is the best form of defense. When a pass has been made and a new driver is leading, demoralizing an opponent by driving a series of laps hard is enough to ensure the lead most times.
When a driver is on the attack, keeping a keen eye on their rival’s progress is one part of getting in their head. Being unpredictable and annoying can be a huge aid in finding a way through. Sometimes it’s easy to rattle the leader’s cage just by reminding them of a rival’s presence, and eventually cause them to make a mistake and concede the corner. The cooler head usually wins out in situations like these, simply because they’re absorbing more relevant information and allocating it where it should go. When a driver gets nervous, they tend to throw the race away.
The calm, quietly self-assured drivers know their own abilities, while the worry-prone ones will find this sort of serenity threatening. If they happen to notice someone with that self-assurance in the pit lane before the race, there’s a good chance they’ll almost completely avoid that particular driver, because nobody likes knowing they’ll be beaten regardless.