Speed Secrets: How to Win the Race Start

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I July 30, 2019

Before a race, think about where you’re starting on the grid. Who is starting around you and what are they like to race with? Can you trust them to run wheel-to-wheel with you? Are they fast starters? Do they run a few fast laps, then begin to fade?

Analyze those factors and have a plan well before you head out for the start of the race.

During your first pace lap (or the first lap of a practice or qualifying session for that matter) your first priority is to get the tires and brakes up to operating temperature. Many drivers will weave back and forth across the track to heat the tires. This is great, but be careful. Often, you will end up in the "marbles" off line with cold tires. Many drivers have spun out doing this. Also, it has been known to happen where two drivers get so caught up trying to warm their tires, that they actually collide. Watch very closely for what the other drivers around you are doing. Don't be surprised by someone accelerating and then braking very hard.

In fact, race tires will heat up quicker from hard acceleration and braking than just weaving back and forth from side to side. Remember that.

On pace laps, I like to weave back and forth mostly to warm up my body (get my arms moving with the steering), while using the brakes with my left foot to heat them up. I'll also accelerate hard in a straight line (getting some wheelspin), and then brake heavily. If possible, I'll hang back a little when approaching a corner, then accelerate to take the turn quickly – even trying to work the steering wheel back and forth to scrub the front tires. At the same time, I'm taking one last good look at the track surface, in case some oil or whatever was dropped in the previous races. If it's raining, I'm really working the car around to feel how slippery it is. I want to make sure I'm comfortable with what the car is going to feel like during the opening laps.

At the start, look far ahead, not just at the cars around you. If possible, watch the start of other races to see where (approximately) the starter drops the green flag. And if you are using a two-way radio, have a pit crew member watch the starter and radio you as soon as he sees the flag drop.

Sometimes you can hang back just a little from your grid position, then begin to accelerate just slightly before you think the green flag is going to drop. If you've timed it right you will have a slight advantage on the others around you. If not, you're going to have ease off the throttle. You don't want the flag to drop just as you're backing off the gas.

In fact, depending on your grid position, once you have started to accelerate, don’t lift. If you do and the green flag drops, you’re going to lose positions. If you try to anticipate the green and begin accelerating, stay on it (within reason, obviously). If you do this, one of two things will occur:

  1. the flag drops just after you begin to accelerate and you get a jump on the field; or
  2. the starter doesn’t drop the green flag and there will be a second pace lap (don’t try jumping the start the second time).

Be careful going into the first turn on the first lap, as more crashes happen here than anywhere else. Having said that, it is very important to get a good start. If you start too conservatively, and lose contact with the lead pack of cars, you may never be able to make up for it.

SPEED SECRET: Races are not won in the first corner; however, they are often lost there.

It's usually best to run as quick as you can for the first few laps, then settle in to a comfortable, consistent pace – all the while ready to take advantage of any opportunity to pass. Never turn down an opportunity to pass – you may never get it again.

SPEED SECRET: Most races are decided in the last 10% of the race.

Being a great race starter is as much about your mindset as it is about any technique or skill. If your attitude is “I’m going to the front” or “I’m staying at the front,” the odds of you doing that are much higher that if you’re thinking “I’m going to try to protect my position.” Make a decision to be decisive and make the most of every start, and you’re likely to do that.

Ross Bentley

For more information about Ross’s tips, coaching, eCourses, newsletter, Virtual Track Walk videos, and other resources to help you drive at your best, go to www.SpeedSecrets.com


The Guide to Road Racing: Winding Road Magazine's ultimate guide to getting your start in racing.

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