The Clean Pass

by George Cosgrove


In road racing, a good clean pass under braking is a beautiful thing to behold and a minor triumph for the driver who can pull it off successfully. It's a simple and obvious sequence of events: The overtaking car stays tight behind the car in front wihle accelerating smartly onto the straight, follows behind and slipstreams (or "drafts", as they say down south!) down the straight. At just the right moment, the driver pulls out, takes the line away on corner entry and leaves the other guy in his wake. It's the quintessential racing move. It is seen several times in any racing film like McQueens's "LeMans" or Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix". Not so long ago, you could see many such terrific and delicate overtaking maneuvers in Formula 1 races. Now, the aerodynamicists' dominance has changed all that and the proliferation of wings has made that type of pass almost impossible. When following close behind, there is no downforce, so, the pass is not possible! Carbon brakes and pads have played a part as well - shortening braking distances by over fifty percent. So, in Formula One, at least, the passes are made in a rather odd place - in the pits during fuel and tire stops!

Adding to the problem, the great Grand Prix tracks have been sanitized and made much less challenging. Chicanes have slowed the straightaway speeds and the safe but squiggly track designs of today have very few places to overtake. Those of us in New England have to satisfy ourselves with tracks that have exactly one turn each where such a pass can be attempted. Lime Rock had Big Bned, of course. A daunting, huge and very complex double apex turn with a sweeper in the first half and after that, a considerably tighter, sharper right with its own apex. Cook down that straight as 100 or 120 mph and have at it. But, take note: you best make your move well before the turn-in point and complete the pass before that first apex if you expect to make it through cleanly.

At NHIS, we are blessed (we are?) with the famous Turn Three, a rather tight ninety degree right hander which is flat and not a little bumpy. Since the landscaper brought only rows of tires and concrete jersey barriers, staying on the black part is highly recommended. To make your pass here, you need to carry substantial speed out of the oval section at Turn Two, intimidate your adversary by ducking right then left in his mirros - then dive a bit deeper on the right, hold the brakes a tad longer and take the line away. If you go too deep, the other guy will cut across behind you and take the inside line going up the hill. The spectators - all of them - will be watching from the little grandstand just there to your left and a good pass is soundly applauded and loudly cheered by all.

Now, take a look at the neat drawings lifted from George Anderson's splendid book "Winning - A Race Driver's Handbook". The passes described above fall under the heading of "Controlling the Corner Entry" seen in Diagram 1. The critical thing, especially in an open wheeled car, is to COMPLETE THE PASS BEFORE THE TURN-IN POINT! This is an important and essential part of the move. Clearly, you want to reserve your own portion of the turn itself as early as you can. You do that under braking while approaching the turn. An important and rather essential result is that it almost completely eliminates the possibility of a collision. You make the pass at the end of the straight, the other driver sees you make the initial move out of the slipstream and observes you pulling along side into his line of sight. He has not choice but to surrender the preferred inside line. Mission accomplished!

CleanPass-Diagram1_256.jpg CleanPass-Diagram2_256.jpg


Making the pass much later, after the turn-in point or at the apex, will assure that you are in the other driver's blind spot when he turns in. It will also almost always guarantee a struggle for the small part of the pavement known as "the apex". Take a look at Diagram 2 - "Crashing at Corner Entry". A flawed process clearly shown. Since fundamental reality dictates that two cars cannot occupy the same piece of the track, disaster awaits. Bent metal, shredded fiberglass, frayed nerves.

In club racing, as you may have noticed, the winner's purse is quite small! A little silver cup, a ribbon, a tidy piece of polished mahogany maybe - with the date inscribed thereupon. The rewards in this form of the game are found elsewhere - in the friendly competition, the camaraderie, the pure beauty and speed of the sport. So the very late braking move, the bonzai pass at breakneck speed setting up an inevitable confrontation - and thus the bending of metal - is a move accompanied by far more risk than warranted. Sure, it may be fine for Michael Andretti or Paul Tracy. They do it all the time - often edging their opponents over into the tire barriers or worse, into the jersey barriers. God knows what they were thinking! But remember, they have spare cars back in the trailer. They have multi-million dollar sponsors to foot the bill. And, you know hot they always say, "I was pretty sure he saw me!" ... "He should have left room for me" or "That idiot! I guess he wasn't watching his mirros - he just slammed the door shut". Oh, how stale and worn-out those lines are by now! So often used. So clearly bull...

Lately, I've seen the messy results of quite a few moves like that shown in Diagram 2. Yes, in the friendly sport of Club Racing. (Remember our Region's motto is "For the fun of it") The outcome can be pretty wild to say the least. If the cars have fenders, the results are perhaps of less consequence. When the wheels get together on open wheel cars, it can be devastating. Maybe $1,000 down the drain. Maybe $5,000 or, say, $10,000. The real possibility of injury. Why go into that gap so late, inviting trouble? Why consider it a door left open for you to go through? Is that very high-risk move really worth it? I don't think so. Makes more sense to try making clean passes - as in Diagram 1. If you're too late, well past corner entry going for the pass, forget about it. If you're that fast or so much more skilled than your competition, if your car is that well tuned, you'll get another chance. Next lap!