In the previous article, I spoke of the awareness needed when being passed. In this article, I talk about facilitating that awareness with patience and strategy when passing. When I talk about the etiquette of passing, I’m talking about creating low-risk passing situations by being predictable and communicating intent. Passing in traffic is vastly different from passing competitors. The former involves cooperation to ensure a safe and timely pass. The latter requires strategy to pass or to prevent being passed. Minimizing the time lost to other competitors is the one thing that they both have in common.
The most important consideration is closing speed. As you approach a slower car, you should have your eyes far ahead to determine how long it will take before you catch up. If you catch a car in just a few corners, then you have a substantial speed advantage. This is good and bad. On the one hand, you can pass pretty much wherever you want. On the other hand, you will lose significant time if you get held up. Therefore, it’s important to be patient but assertive. When catching up so quickly, consider that the driver in front may not have seen you. Making a dive-bomb pass at the first opportunity is not a good idea. If you’re unable to get alongside or ahead in the braking zone, there’s a good chance the car in front will turn down on you. Also consider whether going two-wide through the corner will hurt your lap time more than waiting until the following straight.
If it takes half a lap or more to catch the traffic, then you can be more patient. Following behind this car for a few corners will have minimal impact on your lap time. Take some time to learn your relative strengths and weaknesses. Trailing for a few corners also gives the leading car time to see you and facilitate the pass. If you find yourself stuck behind for more than a lap or the leading car gains on the straights and holds you up in the corners, then you’ll need to get creative. When traffic is uncooperative, you need to treat them like a competitor and weigh the time lost in making a risky pass against the time lost by being stuck behind.
The greatest difficulty arises when it takes more than a lap to catch up to traffic. However, this also means that you can afford to run nose-to-tail for a bit. It might even be a good opportunity to cool tires and brakes in preparation for the pass or save a bit of fuel depending on race duration. It’s also important to consider whether it’s worth the risk. Learning where you get held up the most is a good indication of where you’ll be able to pass. If you have the handling but not the power to pass, create enough of a gap entering the corner to get a run on the traffic without getting held up at exit.
If you find that you are losing too much time lap after lap and you are not able to get around, then it may be necessary to force going two-wide through corners to let the other driver know that it’s more detrimental to fight for position than it would be to facilitate the pass and continue on. Don’t attempt a pass where there’s a good possibility of getting re-passed. This just ends up costing time without gaining anything.
Most importantly, communicate your intent to follow or to pass. Following directly behind another car communicates your intent to stay in-line and work together in a draft. Presenting in either side mirror communicates that you are likely to attempt a pass. If this happens in the braking zone, the leading driver might over-slow to assist the pass or he might late-brake in an effort to hold his position. In either case, this can be detrimental to your exit speed because an over-slowing or overdriving car is likely to hold you up midcorner or exit. This is compounded when entering a series of corners. If you are able to anticipate what the driver will do in response to presenting in his mirrors then you can use this to your advantage.
In summary, a driver attempting to pass slower traffic has a lot of control over the passing. When you can communicate intent, both drivers can work together to make a safe and swift pass. Working with out-of-class drivers builds trust and a reputation that will carry from race to race.
A mechanical engineer and driving coach, Joshua Allan has worked in the design offices of Ferrari’s Formula 1 team and has been a vehicle development driver for Maserati in Italy. He is a five-time Performance Touring National Champion in a Mazda MX-5 with Robert Davis Racing. Send questions for future articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.