Tech Feat.: Race Start Technique by Pete Olson

It is often said that ‘Races are not won at the first corner but are often lost there.’ I disgree. In my years of coaching and watching hundreds of races in various categories, I’ve seen far more races lost at the first corner by lack of aggressiveness than by the feared crash at the start. Fact is, especially in the shorter duration races in Asia of ten or fifteen laps, losing even just a few positions on the start often means the difference between the podium and finishing mid-pack. Some basic strategies:

    1. Drive like an ass. This is the simplest way to put it. On the start, anything and everything goes – during the start and first lap, everyone is jockeying for position. It is your first job to protect your position by any means necessary, short of driving someone off the track, and secondly to pick up a few positions. There are NO rules about blocking at the race start – anything goes – so take advantage of this.
  1. Standing start technique is normally to hold a high rpm, up in the power band, then drop the clutch when the red start lights go off. When you see the 5second board, get the rpm up and be ready, especially for a short start light – sometimes, they only put the start light on for a couple of seconds – don’t be caught off guard. By the time the lights are on, you should be ready to launch, with the clutch as far out as you can go without actually engaging it until its time to start. When you do start, drop the remainder of the clutch travel fairly quickly while increasing rpm, then feather the throttle to prevent wheel spin. If you are starting the rain or a slick track, a somewhat lower rpm may be better. (Rolling Start will be featured soon)
  2. When you start, be ready to pass the car in front – its not unusual for a car to stall on the grid, or maybe the driver in front will simply get off to a slow start – so prior to the start, get an idea of where you want to go if this happens so you don’t wind up driving into the car directly in front of you.
  3. Now that you are off, protect your position going into T1, again using any means necessary – be aggressive. Also have an idea of where you want to brake for T1 – though the braking point will often be dictated by the car in front [unless, ideally you are on pole], you may have clear space directly in front of you – in this case, you want to have a good late brake point in mind for the speed that you will be at going into T1. If possible, during a quiet testing day, you could slow down on the straight then come into T1 at start speed, to get an idea of where your brake point should be for the race start a the circuit. Also, left foot braking is very useful on race starts as when you are going into T1, you can quickly switch from throttle to brake and back and forth if necessary when blocking and dicing for position.
  4. Now that you’ve gotten through T1, on the remainder of that first lap, you still want to keep an eye on the mirrors as you will likely need to protect your position while you fight to gain positions. Again, keep up the aggressiveness and be looking for any opportunity to pass drivers in front, as there will be an accordion effect of cars having to brake early because of the cars in front of them – this can offer you an easy pass on the car in front of you as he has to brake early because of the car in front of him. But keep in mind, people behind you will be looking to do the same to you – so keep an eye on the mirrors and again, be ready to protect your position during the first lap mayhem.
  5. By the end of the first lap, things will start to settle out – this brings us to restarts, which are normally done as a single file rolling start. Keys for the restart:
    • Leave some space to the car in front of you during the safety car laps in order to weave and ride the brakes to keep heat in the tires and brakes in preparation for the restart. BUT, if you see the safety car lights go off towards the end of the lap, this means the safety car will pit in and the restart is about to occur. When you see the safety car lights go off, get directly on the rear wing/bumper of the car in front and stay there – the biggest mistake people make on restarts is leaving too much of a gap on the car in front of them. It is not against the rules to stay close to the car in front – while it is actually against the rules to leave too much of a gap. As you come onto the front straight, downshift if you need to in order to keep the rpm up in the power band, and start to drag the brake with your left foot while increasing throttle, using the brake to hold the car’s speed. When the green flag comes out and the car in front of you suddenly accelerates, pop your foot off the brake and go to full throttle to get a sudden burst of acceleration, and pass the car in front of you or if you can’t, try to set up a pass for T1. Keep in mind that normally, on the restart, you cannot pass the car in front until the green flag station or start/finish line – find out in the driver’s meeting.
    • If you are the car leading the pack for the restart, you can often come onto the straight at slow speed then suddenly accelerate even before the green flag drops, to get an advantage over all the other drivers. Though the officials may decide you will have to start all over again, typically you are allowed one restart without being penalized, if a second restart is caused by you being too far ahead of the other cars – check the rules for your race series. In this case, simply be a bit more cautious on the second restart to make sure the officials don’t call a third restart and slap you with a penalty.

Hope this helps you take some positions and get on the podium!

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