How to Pull off the Perfect Overtake / Pass in Sim Racing

hakkinen vs schumacher classic F1 pass
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Featured image: One of the greatest passes, ever: Hakkinen vs Schumacher (source)

Sure, sim racing and motorsport have a lot in common. After all, that’s why Formula 1 teams
invest so much money in their bespoke simulators, helping correlate new part performance
and set up data way before the cars hit the track for real.


Drivers like Max Verstappen invest a lot of time in their sim racing while off the clock, with the Dutchman extolling the virtues of being able to hone his racecraft without fear of a wallet-bashing crash or a visit from an irate Helmut Markko.

But there are differences, and one area where sim drivers and racecar drivers differ is in their approach to overtaking.

We’ve all seen the lap-one chaos of an online race at Monza, with cars ricocheting through to Curva Biassono, but generally speaking, those who take their sim racing seriously (and if you’re a regular Simracingcockpit.com reader then you’ll likely be in this category) will be much more savvy and respectful on-track – a prerequisite thanks to Safety Rating.

Below, I discuss some of the best ways to go about making an effective – and safe – overtake in sim racing, using some of my own sim racing examples to help you out-think and out-manoeuvre your opponents, without resorting to a divebomb or an egregious ‘bump and run’!

Renault Clios in Assettoo Corsa (Sol)
Renault Clios in Assetto Corsa running Sol

Anticipation

The key to overtaking cleanly and fairly in sim racing – and motorsport for that matter – is anticipating what your opponent will do to defend their position in any given scenario. Watching your opponent for a couple of laps to see how they take certain corners and where their braking points are an excellent way of working out where you can launch your counter-strategy.

Your rival will feel under the most amount of pressure in their weaker corners, so driving right on their tail or moving unpredictably in the braking zone will likely force them into a mistake, giving you a chance to take the position.

Naturally, this tactic becomes more difficult when driving against equally-matched opponents, where the chances of them making a big mistake (assuming you race at a good level) are slim. This means you need to maximise the potential of every small error they make and use it to your advantage.

Racing against similarly skilled opponents (a likely scenario given the powerful matchmaking options available in the likes of iRacing and rFactor 2) also means divebombing moves are less likely to work, as your opponent will be talented enough to spot it coming and will easily
undercut you.

And if a divebomb goes wrong and you cause an incident then you’ll not only take a hit to your Safety Rating but also your reputation. And let’s face it, that’s far more important.

AMS2

The ol’ switcheroo

This is why switchback moves (also known as undercuts, over-under or cutbacks) are the most cerebral, satisfying and clean ways to gain positions. Switchback moves – where you force your opponent to run deep into a corner so you can overtake by achieving a better exit require a lot of skill and planning to pull off successfully, and are the cleanest way to overtake in a sim race.

Richard Baxter Switchback Radical Masters (International)

Generally, these moves are completed by forcing your opponent to defend the inside line of a corner. By hanging back and taking a wider entry, it’s possible to get on the power earlier and achieve an overlap on exit.

At the very top level of esports – where drivers are separated by fractions of a second – a switchback can be the only way to make an overtake without the assistance of a slipstream.

In the example below, my team-mate John Munro and I are battling away on Oulton Park’s Island layout in Assetto Corsa. Using identical Renault Clios with similar set-ups, we’re involved in a head-to-head battle for the lead.

Being closely matched and having raced in series like GT World Challenge Europe Esports Championship we’re both very experienced, so the racing is respectful but very close!

Exiting Turn 1, John has me under a lot of pressure heading into Cascades, which forces me into a small mistake. This gives him a good run towards the Island hairpin, which prompts me to defend the inside line.

To counteract this, John takes a wider entry and duly carries more speed through the corner towards the Knickerbrook chicane. I’ve allowed him the inside line here as I’m confident I can hold on to the position through this right-left-right complex, but try to squeeze him as far to the right as fairly possible to ensure his corner entry is compromised.

Acknowledging he has the position fair and square mid-chicane, I hug the outside line and focus on carrying more speed through the final right-hander, executing a switchback move. Timing it perfectly, I edge ahead of John towards the high-speed Druids Corner where we continue our epic side-by-side battle.

This shows that desperately defending your position at every corner isn’t always required (although on the final lap anything goes!) and that by using a little tactical nous and racecraft you can quickly regain a lost position, even against a faster opponent.

More Clio action!
More Clio action!

Example two

In the next demonstration, I’m in the slipstream of Chris Downes on Mugello’s 1.1km home straight during the 2021 TCR Virtual Europe series semi-final. As we dive in towards the San Donato hairpin I have a big overlap in my Alfa Romeo.

However, instead of trying to hang my car around the outside, I decided to take a less risky approach, opting to brake earlier than my opponent and attempt a switchback.

Ross vs Chris, tight but clean!

Chris brakes slightly too late, perhaps hoping to place his car in a way that prevents me from getting a good exit, and runs deep into the turn.

I therefore had a clean run inside and managed to hold station around the outside of his Lynk & Co touring car, eventually securing the position at the following Poggiosecco corner.

TCR Racing
TCR Racing

On the flip side

In this scenario, I’m under pressure from Jenson Button at Misano using identical Porsche Cayman GT4 cars. As if having a former Formula 1 driver right behind you for a few laps isn’t enough, I’m also one track cut away from a drive-through penalty (getting my excuses in early).

It’s also a battle for the final spot on the podium. And it’s the final lap. The heat is on!

Applying his real-world racing experience, JB realises that a divebomb simply won’t work against a seasoned sim racer, so he exerts as much pressure as he can and feints to make a move at the tricky Curva Tramonto (check my rearview mirror for the slight jink from the renowned tyre whisperer).

Curva Tramonto (source)

Track knowledge

In this final example, I demonstrate the value of using track knowledge to your advantage, alongside the element of surprise.

After a lengthy battle with a well-matched and defensive opponent around Oulton Park (Chris Shepherd), I just can’t seem to find a way through. We’ve gone side-by-side on several occasions but I’ve been unable to obtain a successful overlap at any point.

Moving onto the final lap, I use the slipstream to move alongside Chris, forcing him to take a defensive line. However, bearing down on Britten’s chicane I know I have one last chance to make a clean move.

I realise I can gain a lot of time if I aggressively cut the kerbs as close to the immovable tyre stacks as possible, giving me a good run over Hilltop towards Hislop’s. With it being the final lap, I also have a hunch that the leader will drive through here more conservatively, as you’d naturally expect (it’s always worth considering how desperate your opponent is to hold onto their position: consider whether they are in a championship battle or are going for their first victory, for example. This can drastically affect their attitude).

Beautiful photo of a TCR racing car

I get a good run out of the chicane, pull into the leader’s slipstream as he defends heavily, and just before the next chicane I aggressively pull alongside and send a clean out-braking move around his outside – the only time I attempted this manoeuvre in the whole 40-minute race. The element of surprise can sometimes work very well.

Using a little track knowledge and anticipating my opponent’s actions combined to give me the race lead and victory, demonstrating how being flexible with your tactics and maintaining patience can help you come out on top.

Final move

The best way to master switchback overtakes boils down simply to practise. In every online race, analyse your opponents’ actions and try to think about where you want your car to be in one or two corners’ time.

Where does your opponent brake? How do they react when they have to defend? Can they be trusted to run side-by-side? Would it be easier to simply wait for them to make a mistake? Are there backmarkers ahead that can distract them? All of these questions should be considered before making your move

Classic “must watch” video: Martin Brundle & Mark Blundell Demonstrating F1 overtaking

Eventually, you’ll be able to process all this information in the blink of an eye, helping elevate you up the grid without damaging your Safety Rating.


How to Pull off the Perfect Overtake / Pass in Sim Racing