The Next Step Episode 9

on .

Episode 9: Clean vs. Dirty Racecraft

 

Dear Aaron,

I recently read your article regarding racecraft and found it to be very informative. I myself am a relatively inexperienced amateur racer, and recently I was pushed off the road when another driver hit my inside rear tire. The race stewards did not assess any penalty to the other driver even though it seemed that he was clearly in the wrong. My question is what constitutes crossing the line from good, aggressive racing to low percentage, “dive-bombing”?

Keep up the good work and good work and best of luck with your own racing!

Daniel Page
Stamford, CT

 

Wow, Daniel – have you ever touched a nerve. This is a subject very close to my heart that I have some very strong opinions about it!

At the crux of this discussion are three issues:

A) The difference between hard and fair vs. unfair.

B) The fact that too examples of dirty driving go un-punished.

C) The fact that as time passes and more and more dirty driving goes un-punished, it sends the message to new drivers that it’s okay to race dirty. It’s a very slippery slope which I fear we are already quite a long ways down.

Fair vs. Dirty

When I first started racing I was told that if someone had their front wheel up to your rear wheel you had to make racing room. To me, this is pretty much the starting point and the golden rule for good, hard, clean racing. It doesn’t mean that you have to give much room – leaning on each other a little, tearing off the odd wing mirror, denting the odd door panel is all good – but you must leave enough space so that both cars can make it through the corner. There is, however, a ton of grey area here so let’s look at a few examples

Dive bombing: Refer to rule one. If you can’t get a wheel inside by the turn-in point, then you’re shouldn’t be there. Occasionally you will see mismatched cars fighting it out where one of them is much faster to the apex than the other (think Miata vs. well, just about anything else…). In these instances, there is a little leeway for stretching the bounds of what’s fair, but if you’re using your opponents’ brakes to make the turn, then it’s considered bad!

Closing the door: When another car is beside you and you turn in taking your normal line to the apex, and force the other driver to either back down or hit you, it’s called closing the door. Closing the door can be okay – but it goes back to rule number one – how far alongside was your competitor? Slamming the door is normally not so good. I remember a certain fellow pro driver and I had a big battle for 4th place in a Grand Am race last year. Each time I got alongside he slammed the door to the point where I had to go into extreme accident avoidance mode so as not to tangle (putting ¾ of my car into the grass and nearly spinning myself out in the process). Yes, I could have just allowed the contact to happen, and had it been the last lap, sure – he’d have probably gotten spun, but those types of heavy impacts can easily cut a tire or damage MY car. That’s not something I’m interested in doing with an hour still to go in a race – very frustrating. The point here is don’t slam a door so hard that you are then forced to rely on the skill and level headedness of your opponent to save you both from crashing.

Weaving back and forth: This is a big no-no. Doing so reeks of desperation, is dirty and can be down right dangerous. Fair play to move once and force an opponent to take the long way around but I agree with F1 on this one – one move only. There is an art to SLOWLY moving over to defend a position – if you time it just right, your opponent might need to lift off. But weaving back and forth is just ugly. It takes ZERO talent to look in your mirrors and zig zag up a straightaway! I did it once in one of my first-ever pro races and have carried the guilt with me ever since!!! (Father, I have sinned. Let this be my public confessional!) Formula Ford pro races at Mosport used to have an INSANE amount of these moves. I remember my first race there and being blown away by the amount of weaving and inter-wheel locking. On the fifth lap, two cars tangled, got airborne, took out a good 200 feet of guard rail and left one driver clinically dead for a few minutes. He survived – thank god – but it pretty much ended his career. Like I said – weaving is a big no-no.

Bump and run: This one’s easy to do and falls into the dirty category. If you hit a guy from behind or in a rear quarter panel so hard that you move him up the track and drive by him with ease, it’s dirty. On the other hand if somebody is obviously slower than you and defending like mad, well, a gentle push so you can pull along side and try an out-braking move into the next corner probably would be understandable. The context of the situation in these instances does matter. The Bristol races in NASCAR are famous for bump and run and it has been witness to both some ridiculously blatant smash and grabs and some “artistically gentle persuasive nudges”. I think my favorite example came a few years ago when Jeff Gordon finished behind Jimmie Johnson. Both cars were very evenly matched. Gordon tried moving Jimmie a little, but it was obvious he would have to execute a smash and grab to get by. Gordon resisted the temptation, finished second and I, for one, saluted him for being man enough to not take a cheap shot. In this case, finishing second earned more respect than had he won the thing through unfair means.

Generally, there are probably a million different instances in wheel-to-wheel combat where it’s acceptable to bump and grind, so here’s my line in the sand on the subject – if you hit a guy with so much force that a monkey could then drive by the poor fellow, then you’ve taken a cheap shot and it’s a dirty move. Go see your local holy man and repent!

Let’s look at two poignant examples of both clean/hard and unfair:

Go to YouTube and search “Sebring 2007 GT2 12hr race battle.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUmaOd2z8HM

This is a textbook example of dirty driving going unpunished. The Ferrari driver basically chokes under pressure several times and then fights dirty to win. It makes for great drama and viewing, but he should have been handed a 10 second penalty. Let’s look at the details. Going into turn 7 (.28 sec on the video) Melo defends the inside line for no reason and throws away a 5 car length lead. You can tell by how he starts “panic defending” unnecessarily, and that he’s cracking under the pressure. What he does at turn 16 should have cost him the win (1:18 on video). Defending into turn 16 is suicide and counterproductive. It is not a passing zone, and compromising your speed onto the longest straight is the last thing you want to do in that circumstance. Bergmeister takes the lead going into the last turn only to have Melo smash into his rear quarter, and then continually hit him to the wall to finish him off. What’s worse is that it the incident went unpunished. I fear that by not punishing such a high profile example, it sends a very bad message to young and amateur drivers who look to pros to show them how it’s done.

Keeping with ALMS and Mr. Bergmeister, search:

“Exciting GT2 finish at Laguna Seca” (the 10:21min version) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brNtbaMadX4&feature=related

Right up to the last corner of the last lap Bergmeister and Magnussen put on an epic display of great, hard racing. Notice how, despite the immense pressure from the Corvette, Bergmeister keeps his cool. No unnecessary blocking, no cheap shots - even when Magnussen illegally uses pit lane to pass! Notice the times when Berg does cover a line it’s only by a little – hence maximizing his run off the corner. When there are side by side, the rubbing is gentle and to quote the announcer “the paint stays on the car”. Staying that focused, hitting your marks, leaving doors open to maximize your run off a corner, under such pressure takes huge mental strength and ability. Bergmeister is one of the best and those 5 laps really show it. Admittedly, it all goes bad on the final corner when Magnussen tries a bump and run and Bergmeister simply gives it right back to him, with the Corvette sadly ending up in the wall. I’m pretty sure Bergmeister was likely thinking ‘not this again”.

In the final race of 1989 Alain Prost slammed the door on Ayrton Senna crashing both cars and Winning the F1 World Championship in doing so. In 1990, Senna crashed Alain Prost out of the Japanese GP – and with it won the F1 World Championship. He even publicly admitted to doing it in blatant fashion. In the final race of 1994 Michael Schumacher crashed into Damon Hill to secure his first Championship. All of these crimes went unpunished.

In 1997, I found myself racing formula cars at Thruxton in the UK and the kid in front of me weaves, locked wheels and put me off the track at 140mph every lap. At the end of the race my crew needed to restrain me because I pretty much wanted his throat. The kid, not realizing I was even mad comes running over offering a high five and saying “jolly good mate – great scrap!!”

The officials did nothing and I walked away thinking - wow, the little brat probably watched Prost turfing Senna, Senna turfing Prost, or Schumacher turfing Hill or any other of the high profile acts of dirty driving and grew up thinking it was totally acceptable.

Let’s be a force of good on this issue.

To my respected race organizers, officials and corner workers – when you see dirty driving, please take a stand, give a penalty and helps us all to promote and encourage good, hard, clean racing.

To my fellow racers – let’s all race hard and fair and do it with dignity. If somebody gets inside you give him room, race him hard and pass him back on the next corner! Wheel to wheel combat is, after all, one of the most exhilarating elements of our sport. Put on a good show for the fans! Let me take it a step farther – if any of you have any great in car video of yourself racing hard and clean – email me the link and I will publish it here and post it on the PRN website. (Best example gets a free subscription to PRN and whatever other goodies I can talk the editors into!)

Cheers friends!

Aaron

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