Last updated: March 15th, 2023
Whenever we attend a driver’s briefing in real life, we’re always reminded that Motorsport is a non-contact sport. Save a few categories, this rule is very much accepted by all the drivers involved. What you have to remember is that even what feels like a gentle tap in a saloon car could be enough to cause serious harm to a driver in a Formula car. We’re all there to have fun, not hurt people, and certainly not cost ourselves tens of thousands in repair bills.
This is doubly important in historic racing where (as I have experienced) you might find yourself next to an original racing Aston Martin DB5. That’s €3,000,000 worth of racing car. There are historic race meetings where it is a rule that you meet 50% of the damage bill if you’re the cause of a collision. Fancy that? Didn’t think so.
Racecraft, then, is drummed into us from a very early point. If you do something particularly stupid you’re likely to end your own race, cost yourself a lot of money, and likely cause the same for another driver too.
These deterrents don’t exist in sim racing, nor does that all-important sense of periphery; you don’t instinctively know the position of a car alongside you in the sim. So the risk is far higher even if the deterrent is virtually non-existent.
I’ve had to learn the hard way, myself – being the subject of a video titled “how not to overtake” is, slightly ego bruising:
The TL;DR of overtaking: Watch your opponent. Learn from them for a lap or two. It’s much better to build into an overtaking maneuver; you can make your opponent defend and cut back to the racing line or, staying absolutely behind the car ahead go for a far better exit and make the pass on the straight. If you can’t beat them to the apex (without overshooting and running wide after), don’t make the move.
You need to have a good understanding of the car you’re driving and the track you’re racing on. You should know the car’s braking performance when it’s likely to lock up, where the braking points and turn-in points are on the track, and the apexes, and exits for each corner. This will allow you to anticipate and plan your overtaking maneuver well in advance.
Next, you need to study the car you’re trying to overtake. Look for its weaknesses and strengths. Is it fast on the straight but slow in the corners? Does it have a tendency to understeer or oversteer? What lines is the car ahead taking while under pressure? Are tehy making mistakes because you’re behind them? This knowledge will give you an advantage when it comes to choosing the right moment to make your move.
When you’re ready to attempt an overtake, make sure you have a clear and decisive plan of action. Look for any openings in the other driver’s line and make your move confidently. Stay focused on the task at hand and be prepared to react quickly if the other driver tries to defend their position. Usually, the best answer to defense is to jump back on the racing line so that you can get the better exit out of the corner and, attempt to make the pass cleanly with the extra pace you’ve gained by driving the racing line.
And don’t worry, it does come good in the end:
The Vortex of Danger
Commonly, inexperienced drivers end up in what’s known as the “vortex of danger”. On a corner entry, it’s far too tempting to put your nose into the direct path that the car ahead is likely to follow.
In real Motorsport this sort of pass attempt is dangerous, but it’s possible that the driver ahead has seen this and wants to avoid a collision. This is very much how Max Verstappen drives. Whether you approve of that or not, it realy doesn’t teach good racecraft fundamentals. Max is depending on the driver ahead 1) being aware he’s there and b) preferring to avoid a collision.
In sim racing, it’s far less likely that the driver ahead has seen you, and, if you’re executing a “half pass”, there’s a good chance you’re going to make contact:
The Exit Vortex of Danger
The Exit Vortex of Danger presents a risk of contact in the mid-corner to exit phase of the corner. This treacherous triangle is formed by the apex, the track-out point of the lead car, and the outside edge of the road. If you’re attempting a pass on the outside, and you’re not in the lead car’s peripheral vision, it’s already too late to safely make the pass. The hole you thought you saw on the outside is closing rapidly because the lead car is using all of the circuit width and headed for the exit kerb.
There’s simply no room for error in this zone, and backing off the throttle at this stage is going to severely slow you down (although it will save your race).
Poor pass attempts and over-defending costs time
You put your car in the vortex of danger and survived, either because the car ahead yielded (unlikely) or, you lifted off the throttle. It was never your line in the first place so if that’s the case, you did the right thing.
Now you have a new problem, you’ve cost yourself time by a) coming off the racing line and b) lifting off the throttle! The car ahead, the one you thought you were ready to pass, is probably a second up the road and you’ve wasted all of that effort.
This aspect of sim racing racecraft frustrates me the most. A car ahead can lose an awful lot of time while over-defending. They may think they’re holding on to a race position, but in terms of race time (the total amount of time required for first place to finish), you are both going backwards.
Worse, the cars behind are catching you and soon you’re both going to be defending and losing even more time.
The Dive Bomb
Let’s talk about the dreaded dive bomb, a move that’s often the result of misplaced optimism, especially from inexperienced drivers. This almost never works and it’s just poor racecraft.
The bomber sets up on the inside passing line, thinking they can make the pass, but they’re still too far back to pull it off. Meanwhile, the car ahead brakes on its usual mark to make the corner.
The bomber, in a desperate attempt to catch up, stays on the throttle instead of braking.
If luck isn’t on their side, the bomber makes contact with the victim as they turn into the apex of the corner.
If the car ahead is lucky, the bomber manages to avoid contact but overshoots the turn-in due to their excessive speed. If you’re aware that this is likely to happen, you can turn in slightly later knowing the dive bomber will overshoot the apex, giving you the opportunity to switch back.
The one golden rule for a good overtake
The one golden rule that ought to determine whether it’s appropriate to make a pass, especially drawing near a corner entry:
To make an overtake stick on the inside of a corner, a driver only needs to have their front wheel in front of the defending car’s rear wheel for it to be judged a fair move. On the outside, the cars must be side by side.Motorsport.com
You must be considered to be in the range of the peripheral vision of the driver of the car in front before the braking zone and definitely before the other car enters the corner. Once the car in front enters the corner, it can no longer see the car behind, because its rear-view mirrors now point outward and the driver is looking towards the apex.
One last thing, and that’s the inspiration for this post. This classic video of Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell demonstrating overtaking maneuvers from F1. It’s grainy and old but nonetheless a masterclass:
Hopefully, this helps preserve’s everyone’s Safety Rating, and remember: set up the pass and race cleanly!