How to Manage Traffic and Pass on the Track

It’s always a challenge to get past a competitor on the racetrack. The layman might think overtaking is a matter of guts, but it’s often a matter of baiting, like a chess game. Other times it deals with aerodynamics. However, it always requires excellent timing, an understanding of your competitor’s driving style and their willingness to push you off the track. Overtaking always requires a bit of give-and-take, unless you’re driving in a series like NASCAR, where bashing by is not only condoned, but encouraged.

Braking by Your Opponent
On the track, one of the most effective, but hardest, ways to overtake an opponent. Not only does it take great timing, but it usually requires the driver to tread on the inside line, which is dirty and easy to lock up on. The best way to go about outbraking an opponent goes as follows: the attacking driver moves in on the inside, pulls up to at least halfway along their opponent, and then waits until their opponent brakes, and stamps the pedal just afterwards. Taking the inside helps secure the prime real estate for a corner, but going around the outside is possible too – just trickier.

How to Pass in racing
Outbraking at speed takes daring and incredible finesse on the braking pedal, and can easily be done wrong.

Outbraking at speed takes daring and incredible finesse on the braking pedal, and can easily be done wrong.
The important side of this is that it requires a driver to be within the peripheral vision of an opponent to try this – the rule is the attacking car’s front wheels should be in front of the defending car’s rear wheels before the entry of the corner. Even if the car uses big mirrors, it’s not fair to dive-bomb a driver, though it does happen. If a clever driver has enough foresight, they can allow a driver to pass by momentarily in a classic move called the over-under.

The Over-Under
The over-under is a move common in all forms of racing, and it relies heavily upon an understanding of momentum. When an attacker moves in and manages to squeeze through to pass by the apex, or just runs wide, a witty driver can counter-attack with the over-under, whereby they place their car effectively and take a better line through the corner. The defending driver sees the opponent coming through and allows them, but takes a better line through the corner. This allows the defender to carry more speed through the corner as the attacking driver had to scrub speed by entering on the inside. After the apex, the additional speed through the corner sees the defending driver back into the lead, but it takes timing and excellent car placement to execute.

There is one way to defend against a repass as the attacking driver. Again, this is easier said than done, but it can work with a bit of practice. What a clever driver will do after sneaking by on the inside is resist the temptation to run off as quickly as possible. In other words, knowing well that the defending driver might try to use an over-under, the attacking driver tries to carry all the speed they can through to corner to improve their chances of staying ahead. Sometimes this works, but sometimes, a momentary, miniscule lift of the throttle at the apex disrupts the defending driver’s rhythm, and they fail to find a way around the attacker because he forced them into lifting. While this sounds like blocking, it’s kosher, and it’s an also a wonderful tool to frustrate a faster opponent with.

Using Aerodynamics
The most conventional way to pass, and indeed the safest and most consistent, is getting a run by an opponent on a straighter section of track. Sometimes an additional bit of power helps here, but even with differences in power, timing and clever positioning is necessary. Once in behind an opponent’s gearbox, it’s important to pull out of their wake as late as possible to fully maximize the draft. This way, whatever additional speed gained in the wake will help push you by until the braking point. It’s important to remember that following too closely through corners, especially in some winged cars, makes maintaining traction difficult with aero-push, where the wings are no longer working well. Slipstreaming is best done on the straights.
Finding yourself in that ideal position is another task, however. In order to get a good run on a competitor, it’s important to mind the spacing between yourself and your opponent in the corner preceding a straight. This is so your momentum cannot be hampered by the aforementioned aero-push, but you still have to be close enough to position yourself for the straight. Again, this is easier said than done, but can be executed with some practice.

Running this close together takes precision and great timing, and it’s the best way to pass on the ovals.

How to Pass in racing
Running this close together takes precision and great timing, and it’s the best way to pass on the ovals.

One thing to remember when overtaking is that there aren’t often many chances with a skilled opponent, so waiting to make a move is crucial. Studying your opponent for numerous laps is sometimes necessary to find out where they’re not quite as fast or tend to make mistakes. If you can manage to hang with them for that long without falling back, sometimes they’ll crack under the pressure. Passing is made easier if you can get inside your opponent’s head by occasionally putting your nose alongside them, even if you don’t intend to actually pass, but just to rattle their cage.

How to pass in racing
If either of the front runners make a mistake, the man in back can easily snatch up a position.

However, it’s important to remember that when racing in a big group, failed passing attempts will slow you down and make others behind you catch up. Therefore, patience is important, but if you’re running in a group of three and you happen to be in the middle, a failed attempt might open for the door to the driver behind you. Being the meat in a sandwich is never a comfortable place to be.

If either of the front runners make a mistake, the man in back can easily snatch up a position.
Ultimately, passing is something that takes time to master, and should always be done with a studious eye and a cool head. Racers who make a career fumbling, locking tires and collecting their opponents usually go nowhere, whereas those that momentum is everything and careful car placement is sometimes more important than overall speed go far. However, a bit of wheel-banging is always exciting, and if it’s NASCAR, strongly encouraged. Just learn those lines and remember that race pace is important, but an ability to intelligently trade blows can help compensate for a lack of speed – it’s all part of overall racecraft.

About Tommy Parry 124 Articles
Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, Tommy worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school and tried his hand on the race track on his twentieth birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, he began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a trackday instructor and automotive writer since 2012 and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans and rally cars in the San Francisco region.

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