To me, the best part of racing is, well… racing. In other words, it’s the wheel-to-wheel passing and being passed that is the most fun – it’s the racecraft that makes racing so enjoyable. It’s better than simply (I say simply in a somewhat joking way) driving fast, turning fast laps. And that’s one reason I love endurance racing so much – because there’s more passing and being passed in one endurance race than many drivers who only compete in sprint races experience in an entire season. One of the best drivers, especially in endurance racing, that I know is David Murry. He’s also a great driver coach. So I asked David to put some of his thoughts together about racecraft in endurance racing. -Ross
We all want to win and making the right decisions is as important or more important than driving a fast lap. Yes, we need to drive fast, but we also need to drive smart and be good at the chess game of racing, remembering that the only lap that matters is the last one; in endurance racing, that is a long time from the start of the race. I remember the start of many 24-hour races like Daytona and Le Mans and they felt like sprint races – everyone was racing hard. I remember the race at 2 a.m. and thinking how insignificant the start seemed, then (and how it was even less significant near the end of the race, when it really mattered).
When a faster driver/car catches a slower driver/car they should not expect the slower car to just allow them to pass.The faster car needs to find a safe way to pass that other car. That can be incredibly frustrating to do, but it does not allow the faster car to punt the slower one. Sometimes you just can’t get a pass done. That doesn’t mean the slower driver is a jerk, he just played the chess game well.
I was racing at Watkins Glen once with a good friend who was also a club racer. I drove inside to pass him, he turned down, and we hit. He asked me if he had done anything wrong, because as he understood it, in club racing there is a defined point on the pass that dictates whose “corner” it is. That’s when it really hit me that a lot of folks don’t know you can share a corner.
We need to stop thinking,“It’s my corner or your corner.” The track is wide enough for two or even three cars abreast, so there is no reason for contact with another car when challenging for a corner.
When you attempt a pass, try to get a run off the exit of a corner and get far enough beside the car you are passing. Then there is no question that you will go into the corner first and not have to worry about the car you just passed challenging you for it. Sometimes that’s not a problem, and other times it’s very difficult – for instance, if that car is faster down the straight or a comparable driver/car to you.
Say a driver attempts to pass you on the inside and they’re not as far up your side as you think they should be, so you slam the door on them and get hit. You think it’s their fault, but in reality you share the blame. If you see a car that is trying to pass you, even if they are not far enough up, you should still give them a lane to drive in. Now you are side-by-side, and it’s now a race to the next corner for position – but you didn’t crash. That’s great racing.
In endurance racing, it is even more important to ensure your pass has a very low percentage of having an incident. It may take twenty minutes or even longer to get around a car in front of you if they are a true competitor to you. I remember driving in the old Firehawk series when we ran long races without cool suits. I really worked out hard and did a lot of cardio exercise in hope that it would pay off in long races. It did. I would run against competitors and couldn’t pass them, but after about forty-five minutes to an hour, they would begin to make a few small mistakes and that would allow me to pass them.
Sometimes, you don’t have to even try to make a pass; you just have to wait for others to make mistakes, then you can benefit. NASCAR is a really good example. If you watch their races (which are about four hours long and constitute a short endurance race), you will see how they don’t take many chances for position early in the race, but near the end of the race become really aggressive when the time is right. But you also have to be patient when it’s required. The "aggressive" time doesn’t come until the end of the race.
Most endurance races are multi-class events. That’s another variable you need to consider when making passes. Use those other class cars to help with passing. For example, if a faster class car passes you and your competitor in front of you, try to follow them through before your competitor can pull back in front. You just have to think of it as a long chess game and how you’ll position yourself to move up.
The faster class cars use the slower class cars as blockers. That really makes the choices tough. An example would be if the lead prototype makes a pass on a GT car just before the esses that puts a gap between him and the other prototypes. Now the second-place prototype has a choice to make: try to pass the GT car also and stay with the leader or wait behind the GT car. The risk is high to pass that GT car, but he can’t let the lead car get away. That choice is also affected by whether it’s near the start or the finish. It also is affected by that GT car: who’s driving, whether they put the car in a position on the track that sends a message “I see you and will let you pass” or “I see you and I don’t want you to pass” (those messages might be the GT car staying wide on entry to say, “Pass me” or turning early to say, “Don’t pass”). As you drive more endurance races, you will learn to read this car language (like body language) to see what they are saying about passing.
Think about the big picture and evaluate the risk/reward of a pass before you attempt it. We hear it all the time (but maybe don’t absorb it) – you don’t have to pass everyone on the first turn, first lap, or even the first five laps. You need to plan your passes and strategy, so you end up as far up the field as you can by the end of the race. Be patient!