Pointing fingers

This incident happened at the AER race last weekend at Watkins Glen.

The Facebook thread about this is long and entertaining with people taking both sides. Some think that the POV car did nothing wrong: it stayed on line and got punted by the Miata. Others says that the POV car turned in on the slower car. Who is at fault? Let’s take a look at the AER passing rules to see if they shed some light on the situation. Red text is me making editorial comments.

  • 9. Passing
  • 9.1. Every competitor has the right to racing room, which is defined as sufficient space on the paved racing surface that under race conditions a driver can maintain control of his car in close quarters. There was plenty of track on both sides of both cars. Neither car was forced into this situation.
  • 9.2. The car entirely in front has the right to choose any position on track, so long as it is not considered to be blocking. Blocking is defined when a driver makes two or more line changes in an attempt to prevent the trailing car from passing. The slower car was not blocking. One key word here is entirely. The only car that was entirely in front at any point was the slower car.
  • 9.3. A driver who does not use his mirrors or appears to be blocking another car attempting to pass may be black flagged, and may be penalized. The slower driver certainly didn’t appear to be using his mirrors. If he had, he might have signaled a pass or moved over a bit when the POV car went outside.
  • 9.4. Ultimately, the decision to make a pass and do so safely solely rests with the overtaking car. The car being overtaken should be situationally aware of the fact that they are being overtaken, and not make any sudden or unpredictable moves or blocks to impede the ability of the overtaking driver to pass. The slower car didn’t make any sudden or unpredictable moves to impede the other driver. He drove a very predictable line. The responsibility to make a safe pass rests very much on the POV car.
  • 9.5. When possible and when it becomes apparent that a pass is going to occur, it is a courtesy and strongly suggested that the car being passed to indicate to the passing car on which side they would like to be passed on. Sadly, never happened.
  • 9.6. Cars who are not racing in the same class are strongly encouraged to work with each other to effectuate a prompt and safe pass. Drivers should be aware that they may come upon a situation where two other cars are in a heated battle in their respective class and should try to accommodate any passing required without holding up that battle. It should be noted that this applies to classes faster and slower than you. There was no attempt on either cars part to work with the other. 

Rules shmules. You know what matters more? That two cars ended up crashing, creating a waste of time and money for themselves and all their competitors. If you get tangled up with a much slower/faster car because you can’t figure out how to give each other enough racing room, it’s your fucking fault. If you hit a patch of oil, dude that’s on you. If the other guy hits a patch of oil and smashes into you, sorry, but it’s still your fault.

If lightning strikes the car while you’re in the car it’s your fault. — Doc Bundy

In a race with large speed differentials and driver experience, everyone has to be extra careful. AER cars have huge speed differentials. These two cars in question were lapping 20 seconds apart! AER doesn’t require that much experience to race with them. Some drivers may be professionals, others may be relatively new to the sport. The POV driver is a very experienced racer. But apparently he’s not used to dealing with large differences in speed and ability. As he drove up to the inner loop and saw the slowpoke Miata take a very cautious line, he should have been thinking “this dude is way off pace and may do something unexpected. I had better leave him a lot of room.” Instead, he drove inches away, even though there was a huge amount of track on either side.

In life, sometimes you go looking for trouble. Other times trouble comes looking for you. When that happens, you’ve got a split second to choose your role: hero, villain, or innocent bystander. Being a hero isn’t easy. Making other peoples’ safety part of your responsibility is a pain. It would be a lot easier to take out Doctor Octopus without having to protect Aunt May at the same time. But that’s what heroes do. Villains would try to use Aunt May to improve their chance of winning (which makes most racers villains). And innocent bystanders? Oh, screw them. Anyone not part of the solution is part of the problem.

OK, I’ve gone off track. Here’s the tl;dr. Slow, insecure driver appeared to be unaware of fast driver. Fast driver should have seen those signs and driven accordingly. I lay fault at 40/60 slow/fast.

With great power comes great responsibility — Peter Parker

Stay the fuck home

Last weekend I was working at the Lemons race at Sonoma. I’ve stopped racing Lemons events at Sonoma because I can’t afford the risk to my car. There are lots of walls, the weather is often rainy, it’s always crowded, and there’s something in the air that makes people drive like ass idiots. Like take this one for example.

This guy has no business being on a race track. Stay the fuck home until you learn how to drive. The event is better off without you. OK, that’s not entirely true. The more the merrier. But honestly, it’s a lot of property damage and an opportunity for serious injury. I’m sure the driver will be much safer next time. It’s too bad the lesson had to be so expensive.

Speaking of the event, I was working at track-out giving drivers a final check before letting them on track. What exactly does this mean?

  1. Check that the car has the correct event sticker. Most people tech their cars properly, but some small fraction forget to put the sticker on, or put it somewhere we can’t see it. It also sometimes falls off in the middle of the race.
  2. Check the driver’s wristband. Some people forget to put it on or don’t realize you have to register the driver as well as tech the gear. I doubt many people are trying to sneak onto the track, but I have to check just in case.
  3. Check the helmet for tech sticker. This indicates the safety equipment went through tech inspection. That doesn’t mean the safety equipment is worn properly…
  4. Check the helmet strap and HANS tethers. Sometimes the helmet strap is loose or completely off. About 2% of drivers don’t have their HANS connected properly. I saw harnesses under HANS, incorrectly installed posts and one or zero tethers connected.
  5. Quick scan of other safety stuff. I’ve seen people wearing plasticky running shoes, helmets that don’t fit at all, drivers too tall for their cages, fire systems with the safety pin still in, drivers without gloves, etc.

If everything is in order, it takes about 10 seconds to check them out, but if I have to have a conversation it can take a while to sort out. We try to keep the traffic flowing on track as quickly as possible, which may mean shuttling cars with difficulties off to the side. It’s a fun way to spend the weekend. Not nearly as fun as driving though.

Passing Thoughts: Part 2 (Rules)

Every racing organization has its own set of rules about passing. Let’s take a look at some of them in order from brief to verbose. Next week we’ll talk about how the rules are actually used and some best practices as a result.

Lucky Dog

Lucky Dog prides itself on its brief rulebook and the passing rules are no exception.

  • 12. h. Passing. The passing vehicle is 100% responsible for the careful and safe preparation, planning and execution of the pass…period. If you are about to be passed, it’s most helpful to give the passing car hand signals as to which side you will allow them to pass on. But most importantly, you need to hold your line and remember that the other car is responsible for safely getting around you.

Lemons

Lemons is tongue-in-cheek as usual. They don’t specifically define passing rules. The arbitrary nature of the rules and penalties turns off some drivers.

  • 6.0: Penalties: Black-flag penalties are assessed for dangerous behaviors and/or being a douche. These behaviors include, but are not limited to, contact for any reason; wheel(s) leaving the pavement; speeding in the pits; missing/ignoring a safety flag; racing to the yellow or red flag; overly aggressive driving; hitting a wall, cone, tree, safety vehicle, the track restaurant, etc; lack of car control; thinking the line has a deed and you own it; unsportsmanlike conduct; annoying the hell out of us; annoying the hell out of everyone else; etc.
  • 6.1: It’s Always Your Fault: Lemons is an all-fault environment. You are 100% responsible for what happens while you’re at the wheel. Think you’re the hittee, not the hitter? We don’t care. Think you’ve been wrongly accused? See the part where it says “we don’t care.” Your job is to stay out of trouble. If trouble finds you, take responsibility like a grownup and figure out how to avoid it the next time. This ain’t the damn SCCA.

SCCA

Despite being a rather large and complex entity, the SCCA rules are quite brief.

  • 6.11.1 On Course Driver Conduct
  • A. Drivers are responsible to avoid physical contact between cars on the race track.
  • B. Each competitor has a right to racing room, which is generally defined as sufficient space on the marked racing surface that under racing conditions, a driver can maintain control of his car in close quarters.
  • C. Drivers must respect the right of other competitors to racing room. Abrupt changes in direction that impede or affect the path of another car attempting to overtake or pass may be interpreted as an effort to deprive a fellow competitor of the right to racing room.
  • D. The overtaking driver is responsible for the decision to pass another car and to accomplish it safely. The overtaken driver is responsible to be aware that he is being passed and not to impede or block the overtaking car. A driver who does not use his rear view mirror or who appears to be blocking another car attempting to pass may be black flagged and/or penalized, as specified in Section 7.

ChampCar (formerly ChumpCar)

The ChampCar rules are very similar in wording and spirit to the SCCA rules. But they add a few specifics about driving on the racing line and blocking. They also further define what a complete pass is.

  • 7.2. ON-TRACK DRIVER CONDUCT
  • 7.2.1. It is the responsibility of all drivers to avoid physical contact between cars on the race track. All competitors have a right to “racing room” on the marked racing surface. “Racing room” shall be generally defined as sufficient space on the marked racing surface to allow a competitor to maintain control of his/her car.
  •  7.2.2. The responsibility for passing another car and accomplishing that pass safely rests with the overtaking driver. The driver that is about to be overtaken has the responsibility to be aware that he or she is about to be passed, give hand-signals and shall not impede the overtaking car.
    • 7.2.2.1. The driver being overtaken should, at all times, remain on their racing line unless the car is impaired and is unable to maintain an adequate racing speed.
    • 7.2.2.2. The driver being overtaken shall not block. Any driver who fails to make use of their rear view mirror, or who appears to be blocking another car seeking a pass, will be black flagged and/or penalized.
    • 7.2.2.3. It is the responsibility of the overtaking car to prepare for, plan and execute a FULL and COMPLETE safe pass. The definition of a full and complete pass is when the overtaking car has extended a lead of approximately one car length ahead of the vehicle being passed.

World Racing League

WRL is similar to those above, but adds specific language about the order of precedence when defining fault. They also further define racing room.

  • 2. Racing Rules:
  • a. Contact: World Racing League is a non-contact racing club. To avoid contact, all drivers should maintain racing room at all times and in all situations. “Racing room” is defined as allowing all competitors room to maneuver their car on the racing surface, or more simply put, giving your competitor a lane to race in.
  • b. Passing: Safe and drama-free passing requires that everyone adhere to the following rules. For the purpose of defining at-fault contact while passing, the passing rules are weighted in the following order:
    • Making a pass: It is your responsibility to plan and execute a safe pass, maintain racing room at all times
    • Being passed: It is your responsibility to check your mirrors, hold a consistent line, be predictable, use hand signals and to maintain racing room at all times
    • Position: For the purpose of determining position, a car attempting a pass is considered to have established position once it’s front axle has pulled even with the rear axle of the car being passed.
  • c. Safe pass: A safe pass is defined as a pass where no contact takes place and no car involved in the pass spins or leaves the racing surface, because all parties maintained racing room at all times. If a car is next to you and you deprive him of racing room by causing contact or “squeezing” him off the track, you have violated safe passing etiquette and will be Black Flagged

American Endurance Racing

AER rules are pretty similar to those above, but add that the slower car should indicate which side they want to be passed on that cars in different classes should not interfere with each other.

  • 9. Passing
  • 9.1. Every competitor has the right to racing room, which is defined as sufficient space on the paved racing surface that under race conditions a driver can maintain control of his car in close quarters.
  • 9.2. The car entirely in front has the right to choose any position on track, so long as it is not considered to be blocking. Blocking is defined when a driver makes two or more line changes in an attempt to prevent the trailing car from passing.
  • 9.3. A driver who does not use his mirrors or appears to be blocking another car attempting to pass may be black flagged, and may be penalized.
  • 9.4. Ultimately, the decision to make a pass and do so safely solely rests with the overtaking car. The car being overtaken should be situationally aware of the fact that they are being overtaken, and not make any sudden or unpredictable moves or blocks to impede the ability of the overtaking driver to pass.
  • 9.5. When possible and when it becomes apparent that a pass is going to occur, it is a courtesy and strongly suggested that the car being passed to indicate to the passing car on which side they would like to be passed on.
  • 9.6. Cars who are not racing in the same class are strongly encouraged to work with each other to effectuate a prompt and safe pass. Drivers should be aware that they may come upon a situation where two other cars are in a heated battle in their respective class and should try to accommodate any passing required without holding up that battle. It should be noted that this applies to classes faster and slower than you.

NASA

NASA has the most detailed rules on passing as they have several examples and rulings in the appendix. It’s very useful to read this section even if you have no interest in racing with NASA.

  • 25.4 Rules for Overtaking 25.4.1 Passing General
    The responsibility for the decision to pass another car, and to do it safely, rests with the overtaking driver. The overtaken driver should be aware that he/she is being passed and must not impede the pass by blocking. A driver who does not watch his/her mirrors or who appears to be blocking another car seeking a pass may be black-flagged and/or penalized. The act of passing is initiated when the trailing car’s (Car A) front bumper overlaps with the lead car’s (Car B) rear bumper. The act of passing is complete when Car A’s rear bumper is ahead of Car B’s front bumper. “NO PASSING” means a pass cannot even be initiated. Any overlap in a NO PASSING area is considered illegal.
  • 25.4.2 Punting / Passing in Corners
    The term “punting” is defined as nose to tail (or side-of-the-nose to side-of-the-tail) contact, where the leading car is significantly knocked off of the racing line. Once the trailing car has its front wheel next to the driver of the other vehicle, it is considered that the trailing car has a right to be there. And, that the leading driver must leave the trailing driver enough “racing room.” In most cases, “racing room” is defined as “at least three quarters of one car width.” If adequate racing room is left for the trailing car, and there is incidental contact made between the cars, the contact will be considered “side-to-side.” In most cases, incidental side-to-side contact is considered to be “just a racing incident.” If, in the case of side-to-side contact, one of the two cars leaves the racing surface (involuntarily) then it may still be considered “a racing incident.”
  • 25.4.3 Right to the Line
    The driver in front has the right to choose any line, as long as they are not considered to be blocking. The driver in front loses the right to choose his or her line when the overtaking driver has their front wheel next to the driver. Note: This rule may be superseded by class specific rules. As an example, once the lead car loses the right to choose the line that driver cannot “squeeze” another vehicle off of a straight away claiming the “three- quarters of a car width.”
  • 25.4.4 Blocking
    A driver may choose to protect his or her line so long as it is not considered blocking. Blocking is defined as two (2) consecutive line changes to “protect his/her line,” and in doing so, impedes the vehicle that is trying to pass with each of the two (2) consecutive movements. Drivers are encouraged to check with the Race Director for a full explanation before the start of the race.

YRAR: control under fire

At the amateur level, most crashes can be attributed to bad judgement. But not always. Sometimes you’re the victim of someone else’s stupidity, and the worst you can say about your part in it is that you decided to get in the car. So what do you do when you find yourself in a mess that someone else made? Nobody rises to the occasion. We all fall back on our training. But who trains for getting hit?

Well that was pretty impressive! Controlling a skidding car through a pack of parked cars after a massive rear-end collision is no mean feat. Well, he is a pro-ish racer (slumming in a Lemons race). Has he done this so many times that it’s become second nature? Doubtful. What he has is years of experience controlling an out-of-control car. How does one acquire such skill? Skid pads and simulators. I’ve talked a lot about simulation in the past, so let me say a few words about skid pads. Any parking lot can be a skid pad, but that doesn’t mean you should head to your office parking lot on a rainy Christmas Eve when nobody is there. I’ve never done that…

I coach mostly for Hooked on Driving, and part of their novice curriculum includes skid pad drills. When I coach, I often use the time between sessions driving on the skid pad. I find it so useful that I often choose training on the skid pad over training on the track. What? Skip a track session on a twisty ribbon of asphalt for a flat parking lot and cones? Yep. The reason is that the an HPDE session is not the place to throw your car into massive slides. It sets a bad example and potentially endangers other cars.

So what do I do when I get to the skid pad? Figure 8s and switchbacks. Not many tracks feature 270° 30 mph corners, so it may seem figure 8s drills are pointless. But the extra rotation of the wheel is something that may happen in a tank-slapper. Normally, I’m a dedicated 9-n-3 driver, but I’ve learned that I have to break out of this at times. So I practice one handed, hand-over-hand, shuffle steering, and even letting go of the wheel. The thing I don’t like about figure 8s is the low speed. So that’s where the switchbacks come in. It’s basically a slalom course, but unlike an autocross, the cones are much farther apart. This allows me to get a lot of speed and turning through each cone.

If you’re spending a day on the skid pad, put cheap all season tires on the rear. This helps FWD cars oversteer and saves cash on RWD cars.