Leapfraud

One of the things that I espouse is that when you go to the track, it should be to train. While it’s important to have fun, you should also spend some time working on your technique. So when YouTube suggested this video of cars doing a leapfrog passing drill, I nodded my head in approval. The video shows 4 cars taking turns passing each other as they work around Laguna Seca. The video is sped up 2x probably because it was sprinkling.

And then I started watching the video and the head nodding turned to head shaking. The drivers all seem to think that you’re supposed to crawl around the outside of the track and let the faster cars pass on the inside. I checked my library and the Internet to find the source of such wisdom. Finally I found the source. NOBODY FUCKING EVER. Apparently they’re trying to perfect this technique because they keep dive-bombing each other again and again. In some corners, they are driving around with their point-by hand still out the window. For crying out loud, there could be kids watching!

And what of the POV driver? The last time I saw this much pinching was at a shitting convention.

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

Passing Thoughts: Part 3 (Best Practices)

Last week I blogged about the rules for overtaking/passing in a variety of racing series. This week let’s talk about best practices.

  • Assume the other drivers are incompetent
  • Prefer passing on straights
  • It’s not about being right, it’s about being on track
  • “I didn’t see” means you shouldn’t be on track
  • “I didn’t expect” means you make poor decisions
  • When in doubt, stay in your lane
  • Take control of the corner

Back to NASA examples

Let’s go back and look at the NASA examples from last week. This time I’ll give my thoughts on how I would handle each situation. This is the perspective of an amateur endurance racer whose priorities are (1) keep the car in perfect running condition for the next driver (2) drive consistently fast laps. YMMV.

Figure 1: Punt

  • This is probably the #1 most common case of car-to-car contact.
  • Car A: You’ve done nothing wrong per se. As the lead car, you “own” the right to choose your racing line. Furthermore, you’ve left enough room on the inside just in case. But you got hit anyway. You have to expect the car behind you is an ass-idiot and will hit you if you let him. Yes, the rules state that you’re supposed to “drive the line”. You know what, the jackass behind you might not follow the rules. Protect the car! Move left and block car B well before the corner. Don’t let him pass you on the inside.
  • Car B. You’re an idiot. The only way this isn’t your fault is for driver A to give a point-by to the inside and then drive the inside anyway. Unfortunately, stuff like that happens sometimes. The driver ahead may have been adjusting a mirror and you thought it was a point-by.

Figure 2: CDFS

  • This is basically the same as the punt except that the reason car B hits car A is more physical than mental. Yeah, driver B can’t drive for shit.
  • Car A: The problem occurs at point (1). You’ve given an invitation to the driver behind you to pass you in the corner. You’re supposed to give racing room to other drivers. Give room on the outside of the corner.
  • Car B: Don’t pass in corners until you learn to drive.

Figures 3 & 4: Slamming the Door

  • There are two reasons driver A gets into this situation (1) isn’t watching mirrors (2) is sending a message to driver B. If the reason is (1), driver A has no business being on a race track. It’s your job to see other drivers. “I didn’t see” is an admission of incompetence. If you’re so wound up in keeping the car on course that you can’t keep track of the other cars, slow the fuck down. If the reason is (2), you’re a dick.
  • Although the rules state that the car ahead of you must give you racing room, getting hit isn’t worth being right. It’s much better to take position on the straight BEFORE the corner.

 

Figure 5: Attempted Murder

  • If you slam the door on a driver in a dangerous area, you should probably go to jail, not the penalty box. Here’s a video of such.

Figure 6: Punt Redux

  • Car A is well ahead of B and assumes it is therefore okay to take the typical outside-inside-outside maximum radius racing line. That assumption could get you into trouble. If it’s physically possible for the person behind you to ram you, it’s a possibility.
  • Car B, you’re an idiot who can’t drive for shit. Someone let you on the racetrack anyway. Sadly, there are many others like you. What goes around comes around. Enjoy the karma.

Figures 7 & 8: Control Drag Races

  • You’re SUPPOSED to pass on straights because it’s safer. That doesn’t make it always safe. Cars jockeying for position on the way to a corner make contact all the time.
  • If you’re in car B the safest thing to do is maintain your lane and match speeds with car A. If you do that, you control the entire corner. Driver A can see you but can’t turn into the corner until you do. If you drive a slightly later apex than normal, driver A, will be forced to slow up mid-corner while you’re accelerating.

Figures 9-11: Maintain Your Lane

  • Driving door to door with other cars on a racetrack is truly exhilarating., but door to door in a corner is 10x as dangerous as on a straight. When in doubt, maintain your lane. The incidents below occur because someone changed lanes either on purpose or by accident.

Figure 12: Tricky

  • This example is tricky because the aggressive car possibly driving beyond capability is not the one given fault!
  • Car A is not in control of the corner. It could be had it taken the inside line. The time to turn into a corner is when it’s safe, not when you normally do.

Those best practices again

  • Assume the other drivers are incompetent
  • Prefer passing on straights
  • It’s not about being right, it’s about being on track
  • “I didn’t see” means you shouldn’t be on track
  • “I didn’t expect” means you make poor decisions
  • When in doubt, stay in your lane
  • Take control of the corner

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.

Passing Thoughts: Part 1

There are basically 3 kinds of passing: HPDE, endurance, and sprint. HPDE passing is generally done with a point-by even if not required in the run group. Cars aren’t supposed to be racing and the drivers may not have full safety gear (e.g. HANS devices) or roll cages. That said, there are crashes that occur in HPDE sessions due to poor passing etiquette. If you’re the faster car, wait until it’s safe, like on a straight. If you’re the slower car, you’re supposed to drive predictably, which means staying on the racing line. Let the faster car work around you. You can make some room or lift, but not so much that you become unpredictable or put yourself in a dangerous situation. Here’s my favorite video of HPDE passing gone bad.

 

Endurance races are sorted out over many hours. Position doesn’t matter nearly as much as running consistently fast laps. Cars running at different paces should make way for each other. A slower car can help itself by orchestrating a pass and then holding on to a fast car for as long as it can. Passing in endurance races is not that different from HPDE. The main differences are (a) more traffic (b) more driving off line.

Sprint races are very much about position. Passing is aggressive. You see a lot more dents in sprint races than endurance or HPDE. I’m an amateur driver who pays for everything. So I’m not inclined to do much sprint racing. Turn 1 is often an adventure, but the jockeying for position can lead to wrecks even before you get there…

In the next few posts, the focus will be on how to pass and be passed. In the past 5 years, I’ve done over 20 endurance races and there’s only 4 times I’ve had contact with another car. I recall each one. No real car damage, and none were black-flagged, but they could have been.

  1. Driving an MR2 with asymmetric suspension (a quick paddock repair with the wrong model year parts). It lurched to the right in every left-hand corner. It lurched into another car and swapped a little paint. Avoidable by not going 2 wide through corner.
  2. Passing on the outside of a corner, the slower car tracked out to set up the next corner and we rubbed doors. Avoidable by making myself more visible.
  3. Rear bumper hit when I slowed for a yellow flag and the person behind me did not. Possibly avoidable.
  4. A car behind me went off track and drove into my side. Not avoidable.

Upcoming… rules vs. best practices, the inside line, favorite strategies

Bad driving tip #9: expect right-of-way

Do you know the rules for right-of-way? Most racing organizations have similar rules but each has its own specific standards. One good source is National Auto Sport Association. Here’s a link to their current rules. The rules for overtaking start on page 81. They are followed by 12 excellent examples (which not all racing organizations would agree on). Here’s an important excerpt from their rules.

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.

Given that statement, watch the following video and try to determine who is at fault.

The driver coming in from the pit is well ahead and turns into the corner well before the POV car. The POV car then punts the incoming car. Whose fault is this? You could blame the incoming driver because it’s not a good idea, and sometimes against the rules to cross the blend line. But this isn’t a universal rule. You could also blame the incoming driver for not leaving enough room for the trailing car. Alternatively, you could say the trailing car had no right to be there because the lead car had already turned in. My guess is that the POV driver had listened carefully at the driver’s meeting earlier in the day where the official said “don’t cross the blend line” and therefore believed he had right-of-way. Sorry, but rules don’t protect your car from damage, you do.

Let’s take a look at another clip. In this one, the POV car gets punted as it turns into T1. Watch the mirror.

Has the car attempting to pass on the inside established its position for a safe pass? Has the POV driver left the other car enough room? Did the POV driver even see the other car? He doesn’t appear to move his head up or right to check his mirrors. Does the driver behind expect he has priority because he’s established position? All of these questions require some interpretation. Fuck interpretation. Take care of your car and keep it out of danger.

If you see a car entering the track from the pits, expect its driver to cross the blend line. If you see a fast car approaching from behind while you’re setting up for a corner, drive a defensive line. That is, set up on the inside of the corner. Taking a large radius (either by taking a racing line or allowing lots of room on the inside) puts you in danger. If they lose control, you want them hitting your rear bumper, not the side of your car.

Overtaking/Underaking

The various racing organizations define rules for when one car overtakes another. There are subtleties in some situations where it takes a real expert to sort out fault. But in general, there are two important rules.

  1. It is the responsibility of the overtaking driver to make a clean pass. If there is contact in the corner, all else being equal, it is the fault of the overtaking driver. A clean pass shouldn’t affect the other driver very much. A driver who darts in front of another car and slams on his brakes isn’t making a very clean pass.
  2. To gain right of way in a corner, the overtaking driver must present their car alongside the other car. How much of the car and how far into the corner varies from ruleset to ruleset. But it’s safest being nose-to-nose in the braking zone before the corner. It’s tricky determining right of way in the middle of a corner, so it’s best if the cars sort themselves out before any cars turn in.

If there are rules for the overtaking driver, surely there should be rules for the driver being overtaken. Let’s call these the undertaking rules and let’s keep it simple with just 2 rules.

  1. Drive predictably. Keep your pace and drive the typical racing line. Trying to be too accommodating may find you turning into a road block or going off course.
  2. Leave 3/4 car width on all sides. Take the typical racing line, but leave enough room for a car to squeeze around you on either side. Leave room at the entry, apex, and track out. Don’t leave too much or you’ll be in violation of rule #1.

While overtaking rule #1 says it’s the overtaking driver’s responsibility to make a clean pass, this shouldn’t give slow drivers the impression they can drive however they want. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and if you’re off pace, you’re a hazard. Impeding faster cars annoys them and slows the pace of the race. It’s much better to let them by with as little fuss as possible and then follow them as long as possible. In return, you may find yourself setting your fastest lap.

Overtaking rule #1: the overtaking car didn’t make a clean pass. It apexes early and turns into a road block at the exit. Screeching tires in a pass is never a good sign.

Overtaking rule #2: the overtaking car must present itself alongside the other car before the corner. Not here.

Undertaking rule #1: the slower car must drive predictably but swerves here. Of course, the overtaking driver is responsible (as always) but this could have been incident free if the slower driver did their part by being predictable.

Undertaking rule #2: the slower driver should leave 3/4 car width. Again, responsibility for the incident rests with the overtaker, but the undertaker can prevent car damage by leaving a little room.