Race fans love to watch Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton battle in their Formula 1 cars. Occasionally, like Monza in 2021, an attempted pass goes very wrong. In vintage racing, we want to avoid collisions, wadded up cars, ambulance rides, etc. Here are my thoughts on how to pass safely in vintage racing.
A mea culpa. I have bumped into other cars and will certainly bump into someone again. By passing the right way, the inevitable will be infrequent, light, and inconsequential.
How to Pass
Obvious (but often forgotten in the heat of battle) is that the easiest and safest way to pass another car is to simply drive past on a long straight. Get a good launch off a turn and use that momentum to drive by.
It is equally obvious that a pass on a straight is not always an option. Out braking another car into a corner is in road racing’s DNA. Max and Lewis race each other hard all the way to corner apex. In vintage racing, we can pass safely by meeting these two conditions at turn-in:
- Be alongside (in the other driver’s peripheral vision) or ahead of the other car, and
- Be on a line and at a speed that does not require the entire width of the track at corner exit (track out)
If both conditions are not met at turn-in, you are in too late and/or too hot for a safe pass. Let’s unpack why:
- A good race driver is going to turn in when it is time to turn in. If you are not alongside, you must assume that the car ahead is coming over on the racing line to the apex.
- A good race driver is going to resist a pass attempt. If you are alongside, you must assume that he or she will drive a higher line around the turn to try to stay ahead.
If you force a pass with a dive bomb at corner apex, you are betting that the other driver will get out of your way. “He moved over” and “I thought he saw me” are the two lamest excuses in racing. They are admissions that you lost a bad bet.
Race hard to turn-in, not all the way to the apex.
How to Be Passed
Let’s revisit the two safe passing conditions, this time from the perspective of the lead car.
Situational awareness is imperative. Know where other cars are around you before the braking zone. Get in the habit of checking your mirrors often. Be alert for blue passing flags.
If the passing car is close but not quite alongside at turn-in, choose a line that is slightly wide of the apex. That small adjustment will give the other driver an extra split second to get his or her nose out of somewhere it doesn’t belong. But not too wide…this racecraft courtesy is not an open door for the passing car.
If the passing car is essentially alongside at turn-in, choose a wide line that leaves room for the passing car. Don’t squeeze down…the other driver has earned the apex.
If ahead or even with the passing car at the apex, you may well have defended the pass! Continue your wide line on corner exit. After a tight corner entry, the other car is going to need a lot of road to make the turn. Your wide line will not only leave some room for the other car but it will also maximize corner exit speed and keep you ahead.
If the passing car is ahead at the apex, the pass attempt is probably successful. Let the passing car clear yours. No need to risk contact corner exit out for nothing. Get a good launch off the corner and start thinking about setting up a re-pass. Do this just right and you have “over/undered” the passing car…nice!
You may find yourself in a race group with much faster cars. Large speed differentials can be uncomfortable. Mirrors and blue passing flags are your friends. Stay on the racing line…be predictable. And give a point by to an overtaking car.
Where and Where Not to Pass
Less obvious is that there are turns where it is very difficult to meet these two conditions. Therefore, to pass safely in vintage racing requires not only the knowledge of how to pass but the experience and judgment on where to pass.
High speed turns, one-line turns, and any turn where mistakes are punished are risky places to attempt a pass. Let’s compare two famous turns: Turn 5 and The Kink at Road America.
Turn 5 is a tight 90-degree left hand turn at the end of the Moraine Sweep, a very fast straight. The long braking zone and low apex speed are the perfect set up for a safe pass. The track is wide enough for two cars and there is a generous run off area on the outside.
It is not an easy pass. In fact, many pass attempts at Turn 5 are successfully defended. Drivers with good racecraft can race each other hard into Turn 5 lap after lap.
The Kink is a daunting, high-speed, right-hand bend. In a Formula Ford, The Kink is flat out in top gear at well over 100 MPH. Get off the very narrow line and concrete walls are there to collect their due. The Kink commands respect.
Meeting the second safe pass condition at The Kink is problematic. The line is too narrow to make it through side-by-side at full speed. A car on the inside will need all the road on exit. So will a car on the outside. Someone must give.
At The Kink, a pass is very difficult to pull off and the consequences are severe if it goes wrong. Passing at The Kink is a risky, all-in bet that is often lost. Far better to wait.
The wait won’t be long. Right after The Kink is the long blast through Kettle Bottoms to Canada Corner, a passing opportunity almost as good as Turn 5.
What to Remember
How to pass safely in vintage racing? Race hard to turn-in but not all the way to the apex. Know where other cars are around you before the braking zone. Give each other just enough room.
On early weekend practice laps, put some thought into where it is safe to pass and where it might not be such a good idea. Don’t put another driver into a bad spot that you would not want to be in.
Spread the vintage spirit through good racecraft. Everyone wins when cars roll onto trailers at the end of the weekend.
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