How To Drive And Survive:
An Illustrated Guide To Race Driving
(Professional driver, closed course. Models shown cost more money than you have)
PART TWO: ON THE ATTACK
The Racing Line Is Sacred Real Estate. All Hail Jay.
Unfortunately, many races in our sim environment are not marshaled properly. Drivers get away with barging, diving, weaving, brake testing and corner cutting, all at the expense of learning how to race properly. From this point on, we will assume that unethical tactics are being marshaled as they should, and so the only way to attack or defend a position is fairly.
But what is "fair"? The answer is that in any duel, the car in front has the right to continue making progress along the racing line however best he chooses until he is no longer the car in front. Love it or hate it, if you are the chasing car, you are not allowed to interfere with the line of the car in front, and any collision will be your fault by definition. The racing line is your opponent's to take, and you are not allowed to impede it or stick your nose in it such that your opponent must take avoiding action. However, the car in front must also obey certain important rules. While he may choose a particular line that blocks a car from overtaking, he cannot choose a second line before the same corner in order to block a second attack. That is what is meant by saying "You can only move across once" or "You are only allowed one blocking move" and to block more than once is known as the illegal tactic of "weaving". The car in front is also not allowed to brake or lift in unusual places in order to intimidate his opponent away from following so closely, an unethical trick known as "brake testing". (Note that brake testing is not the same as driving more slowly at certain times in order to control the pace of the car behind, which is a legitimate tactic of defense that will be covered later.)
"How The Hell Can I Overtake Under These Restrictions?"
That's exactly the question you should start to ask when your face is full of Jordan, and by that I mean his car. If you think it should be easy, you just haven't been racing very good drivers. Most likely you've been racing against AI for too long. When the car in front is within 1 second of your own lap times, overtaking it is not going to be a snap. In fact, you may never get ahead of him by the time the race is over. But the race isn't over yet, and you've got a plenty arsenal of ideas, tricks and tactics to throw his way before you give up the gauntlet. Let's discuss a few now.
Fig 13.1. F1Addict gets wheelspin exiting Indy's Turn 7 that
allows Last_Place to catch up and find a tow
Fig 13.2. L_P approaches from the left in preparation to accept
Fig 13.3. L_P is now in F1Addict's slipstream, but notice the
attitude of his car which continues to veer to the right. A move
back to the left side would count as a change of direction and
cause the suspension to absorb some of the car's momentum.
Keeping a steady progression to the right (effectively to pass
under the car in front) ensures that L_P finds every kph
available in this critical moment of challenge. This left-to-right
progression is timed to ensure the maximum time in F1Addict's
slipstream before the car drifts into clear air
Fig 13.4. This is where your car should be when it slips out into
the clear air - in line with the plane of your opponent's rear wing
Fig 13.5. And the superior momentum carries Last_Place ahead
into Turn 8
Figure 13 illustrates the classic overtake, the one that we hope is going to take place each time, where you easily reach the rear wing of your target out of a particular corner and get a tow along a nice long straight. You move out of his air stream, make sure that you're last on the brakes and the apex is yours for life. Now suppose that the corner before every straight is taken in 4th or 5th gear such that every time you get close to the car in front there, you are hampered by just enough aero understeer to upset your exit and remove the chance of slipstreaming your opponent down the straight. Is the game over? You bet your diffuser it's not.
Fig 14.1. Last_Place sticks to the traditional racing line around
Indy's Turn 1 while F1Addict enacts a bold move the long way
around the outside. Even if F1Addict emerges equal to the
other Ferrari, he will hold the advantage heading into Turn 2
because the track switches direction
Applying Pressure Is Free
Before you make a grab for the next apex from your opponent like some ripe, juicy melon and hang all consequence, remember our equation of risk. You don't want to put your car in a compromising situation until it is necessary, which means until you have tried all the other safer tactics. This safest tactic to overtaking is to play mind games with your opponent. It's free because it doesn't put your car at risk, and it could win you the prize of his position.
You can begin your mind game as soon as a car is on your horizon. Catch up to him really fast and he might just think you are either so fast as to not be worth fighting, or so crazy that any duel he enters will end in tears. If that doesn't work straight away, you can always back off again and catch up as if you are on a four-stop race strategy. You'd be amazed how many drivers miss their apex or braking zone because they have been mesmerised by the apparent speed of the car in their mirrors. I'm sure it has happened to many of you.
Fig 8.6. Projecting yourself into the mirrors of the car in front
like this is just the kind of direct message you want to send to
your opponent. Not only does he have to watch the road ahead,
but now he has two little television-like objects on either side
telling him his days are numbered
You can increase the effectiveness of your legitimate intimidation tactics by driving to the right or left of your opponent in places you have no actual intention or means to overtake. This makes your car more visible in one of his mirrors, causing him to wonder if you are actually trying a move. By apparently trying to overtake in places not normally known for such moves, you send a clear (but falsified) signal that you have a much faster car and that he is in imminent danger of losing his place. If he starts blocking your feint moves, this will indicate that you are winning part of the mind game. (In fact, this is the very tactic to use against backmarkers you are anxious to lap: make yourself as large as possible in one of their mirrors, and it creates an almost irresistible psychological urge in them to lift and let you by. By doing the same to your rival, you signal a lack of respect for his pace as if he is a virtual backmarker in your eyes.)
The key to the mirror game is that the more your opponent looks in his mirrors while he drives, the more chances there are that he will make a mistake by misjudging or hitting something in front of him. So do what you can do dance your car around and distract his eye from the front. It doesn't matter in the short term that you're not making progress as long as you are continuing to play games with his mind and make him second guess each decision that he tries to make. If ever there was a time to flash your headlights, rev your engine and toot your horn in a brazenly rude manner at the car in front, this is it!
The Definition of Cunning
The situation now is that you are stuck behind a car that is lapping similar times to you. You tried to find a tow somewhere and couldn't get close enough, and still he holds you up in certain places. The key to success lies in the fact that although your lap times are similar, all this says is that your average speed is the same across the distance of a lap. While this is true, there are still certain places where he pulls away just as there are certain places where you are able to catch up without much effort. If only you could stay close enough in the spots where he pulls ahead, you could then take advantage of where you are quicker to pull a surprise move, and that, my friend, is the genesis of an attack plan.
You'll probably have to overdrive a section or two of track where he is quicker in order to stay in striking distance, but that is what is required, and you have saved up all your bravery for this moment. You have weighed the risk and decided that he's not going to give up his position without a fight, he's not going to pit, and a stray goat is probably not going to wander into his path before 5 o'clock. It's time to give him the surprise of his life. But be warned: if he is a good racing driver, you won't get a second chance to attack in the same place. He'll drive defensively there for the remainder of the race, and you'll have to pick another corner to make your assault. So when you get ready to do it, give it everything you safely can, because it's a one-time deal.
Fig 2.1. After closing the gap to F1Addict's Ferrari over 10 laps
at the Nurburgring, Last_Place begins his attack precisely
where he is weakest compared to his opponent, on the downhill
turn into Ford, and struggles with the resultant understeer
Fig 2.2. Both men push their cars to the limit under braking,
F1Addict runs wide as an added bonus, and the fight is on
Fig 2.3. Last_Place knows he is stronger into Dunlop, and makes
sure to brake in time for a good exit up the hill
Fig 2.4. F1Addict overshoots the apex of RTL Kurve, bringing the
cars to touch
Fig 2.5. It took 6 corners for L_P to get to this point, but they
scream out of Bit-Kurve together and the tow is on!
Fig 2.6. F1Addict switches to the outside while L_P remains on
the inside, and as they brake at the 50m mark, L_P knows the
corner is his and prepares to block F1Addict from turning in at
his optimal point
Fig 2.7. With F1Addict unsighted, they collide but he rightly
concedes the position, and Last_Place takes 2nd in the race for
a move that initiated 8 corners back
Depending on the track and where you decided to push, your bravery may earn you a tow down a straight as in Figure 2.5. It is possible that he won't even be checking his mirrors, which means he may turn in to his apex and hit you because he does not even know you are there. You can avoid that by overdriving the entry to make just a bit more space, or else be prepared to use the grass to avoid a collision. Don't spoil your exit though, or he'll retake the position.
If your boldness of car control puts you closer than you've been before in a medium-speed section of track where you normally outperform your opponent, he will probably seem to jump backwards at the point where the speed differential is normally greatest, and so you don't want to follow too closely in the same lane or you will smash into his rear wing. Again, he may not expect you to be there, so try to pick a line that avoids trouble entirely.
I Feel A Feint Coming On
However you reach the promised land of your rival's rear wing, be prepared for the worst and assume that he will see you and try to block your attack. One classic method of fooling an opponent's blocking tactics is to begin your attack down one side of the track but quickly switch to the other. If your opponent tried to block the first direction of attack, he will not legally be allowed to move over again because to do so is weaving. More importantly, your feint will trick him into to vacating the part of the track you actually intend to steal. Timing your feint is all important because your opponent will only be vulnerable while he is moving to block. Generally your direction switch should occur as you reach your opponent's rear wing so that you can push alongside him before he realises he has been fooled, as demonstrated by F1Addict in Figure 11.
Fig 11.1. F1Addict slipstreams Last_Place down the main
straight of the Nurburgring
Fig 11.2. He attacks to the right
Fig 11.3. As L_P moves right to block, F1Addict has already
changed direction to attack the left hand side of the track
Fig 11.4. F1Addict is now alongside thanks to his perfectly
Fig 11.5. ...and takes the corner
Fig 11.6. L_P is ahead again on the next lap, but has learned
from his mistake. Rather than try to defend the whole track,
he sticks to his preferred line and offers F1Addict the inside
Fig 11.7. Sticking to the outside line worked a treat. F1Addict
could not stop in time, and the corner was successfully defended
The Reverse Feint
We can define a reverse feint as when the pursuing car is expected to move to the outside of the track to follow the racing line, but instead takes a direct route to the inside of the apex to steal it. This idea is demonstrated in Figure 12 below.
Fig 12.1. Last_Place chases down F1Addict into Indy's Turn 9...
Fig 12.2. F1Addict (left) makes room to take the apex and
follow the normal driving line, while L_P is busy initiating
a surprise by staying on the outside of Turn 8 that is soon
to become the inside of Turn 9
Fig 12.3. Surprise moves can catch the unaware. F1Addict does
not realise he is being challenged, and crosses L_P's bows
Fig 12.4. F1Addict bounces off and goes wide, for L_P to take
They Also Swerve Who Only Stand And Wait
(The Endurance Game)
While you watch the car in front hold you up and ponder the injustice and bad luck of it all, remember what we said about cars aging from lap to lap. You don't? Cars age from lap to lap. The tyres lose a little bit of life, fuel is consumed and critical components risk failure (if this feature is enabled in your sim). If you are starting to think that your best chance to overtake might be in the next round of pit stops, you ought to make damn sure you are playing this game of endurance better than your opponent. Every lockup of tyres he makes that you do not will put you in a stronger position further down the road. Every slew of understeer he induces by pushing too hard across the apex will punish his tyres more than yours. Every time he over-revs due to your frightening proximity will risk engine failure and upset his fuel strategy just a tad. Every time he stands on the brakes later and harder than you will increase the chance that when you attack, his brakes will be in poor position to respond.
By definition and as we have discussed (we haven't? we will...) the car in front must occasionally overdrive to ensure he stays the car in front. By making sure that you are the one who does not overdrive, you create a better situation for yourself in 10, 20 or 50 laps time. You will grip better out of corners than your rival. You will be able to brake later. If he is burning his fuel more rapidly, he may be forced into an earlier pit, or overlook the crisis entirely and run out of fuel somewhere in sector 3. In other words, by driving intelligently while behind, you are making your car faster in the future, and although you are losing some time now, the racetrack is effectively only borrowing some of it. Always take advantage of the times when you are not able or allowed to drive as fast as you would like by protecting your tyres, brakes, engine and fuel, and you'll have better results in races. Your opponent may experience understeer (or better yet, oversteer) just as you attack, and will curse his car for its inability to fight back at you. But your guile and forward thinking is what really won your position.
Fig 22.1. In this online race at Barcelona, GTI leads Last_Place
but pays for using the wrong tactics. Although he is the
slower car on the day, he tries to compensate by overdriving.
In this shot, he overshoots the entrance to La Caixa and runs
wide, allowing the Ferrari to catch up
Fig 22.2. GTI doesn't go off at La Caixa this time, but locking
things up and rushing in under full steering lock is murder on
Fig 22.3. As his front tyres begin to deteriorate, GTI is
hampered by understeer at Repsol and runs wide, allowing
Last_Place the chance to mount an attack
Fig 22.4. Under imminent threat, instead of slowing the pace
of the two cars and making sure he gets a clean exit,
GTI overdrives the entry to Seat and runs wide again
Fig 22.5. This time Last_Place secures the racing line and
takes the lead
Fig 22.6. GTI overdrives the next corner as well, removing the
pressure from the new race leader and handing him an easy
drive to the finish
As you continue to protect and preserve your car, it can be a lethal combination to your opponents to time your attacks with the moments you feel your car is strongest with respect to theirs. In Figure 22, when Last_Place realised that it would not be easy to overtake GTI, he drew back by about 1 second which is a much more sympathetic distance in terms of tyre wear. Ten laps later, GTI's Williams was no match for the Ferrari, and the combination of pressure from behind together with a car that was becoming less and less obedient meant that GTI's lead was not destined to last.
In actual fact, such techniques of mechanical sympathy are actually the subset of a mindset that should never leave your conscious thought in a race. Whether leading or following, or in clear air entirely, your decision to spend the life of your tyres and brakes should be measured and deliberate at each turn. Like a paycheck, you will spend it all in the end, but where and when you do it is at your discretion, and you should use your discretion wisely. It can take many seasons for a driver to learn to protect the wearing components of his car while still driving quickly, and the time to start your training is now.
Remember that following a car too closely wears out your tyres and brakes more rapidly. You will experience understeer following through long and medium speed corners. You will be forced to brake when your opponent brakes and not when it is best for your own car. In places where you have no hope of overtaking and where imminent pressure has failed to pay off, you may want to drop back to just about 1 second behind, and this will protect your car very nicely. Come back at him every so often though, or he might forget he is in a race.
In the third and final part of this series on racing technique, we will discuss how to defend your position from a car behind, come to understand why driving slower can win more races, examine how to hinder your opponents in perfectly justifiable and legal ways, and once again conclude that the racing line is God.
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