Online racing is a complicated mess of unwritten rules and gentlemen’s agreements. There’s no other way to say it. If you race online, you may or may not already know this.
If you don’t, hopefully this article will help you become a better racer, and make the other drivers around you want to race with you more.
The most important "rule" is being clean. Everybody talks about it, but what is it, really? The simplest facet of the rule is not running into other drivers -- that part should already be common sense.
Luckily for this article, there’s more to it than that.
Putting yourself in a bad position, or forcing other racers to check up or alter their lines unexpectedly due to you jamming your car into a place it really shouldn’t be, is just as bad.
For example, if you’re chasing down a car and you come to a corner where you can take the inside position, only do so when there’s enough time to brake sufficiently to hold that inside line. Too many times a driver will try to push it a bit too far, smoke the tires, and drift up into another car.
You should be cognizant of the fact that the other driver owns the rights to the outside half of the corner. In addition, he may even come down into your half if he doesn't know that you are making a last-second move to the inside.
That’s the overall objective anytime you’re around other cars: let them know where you’re going and do so in a predictable manner. Think about how your potential mistake may take out the other car, or whether or not you could recover if another driver chooses to do something crazy.
And you need to know the basics because forcing a bad position is the number one cause of people getting kicked from races and leagues.
There are times when you don’t want to be predictable (especially if you're racing against very quick competition), but when that time comes, if you already know the basic rules, then you’re already set.
And you need to know the basics because forcing a bad position is the number one cause of people getting kicked from races and leagues. Of course the actual collisions with other cars are a “bigger” problem, but those are (again) caused by somebody putting his car in a position where he can’t control the outcome.
In addition to choosing a safe line through a corner when near other cars, a lot of online drivers don’t seem to grasp the concept of distance. Online racing is not reality, even though it feels incredibly realistic.
The car you’re tailgating may actually be a couple of feet beyond or behind where you see the car on the track due to Internet latency. When you see yourself inches off of his back bumper, that driver may actually feel you slamming your bumper into his rear deck lid all the way down the straight.
That’s a good way to make enemies.
This also carries over into brake points. If you’re behind another car, brake earlier. It’s that simple. You have a couple of extra complications when you’re directly behind another car, but that’s the rule of thumb if you want to avoid issues.
The biggest problem is that you may not know the other driver’s braking points. He may brake a full second before you do, and if you’re right on his tail that leads to the infamous “corn hole effect.” If you race online, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don't race online, you should still know what I mean. Just think about it for a second, I'll wait...
Now, returning to the etiquette handbook, plan for the other driver to brake before you would. Assume that you’re following a grandma out on a Sunday drive and brake a bit earlier.
This allows you to take a more precise entry into the corner, and carry a much higher exit velocity out the other side. I can’t tell you how many drivers “push it” just a bit harder when there’s a car in their mirror. The truth is, more often than not, a simpler corner entry will allow you to blast past a car that pushes it too far. You’ll be carrying so much more speed on the next straight that you’ll just zip right on by.
If you ARE the car that made that mistake of pushing it, don’t weave around the track or “block” incoming drivers. A lot of racers don’t seem to get this.
You do not have a God-given right to a position on the track. Therefore, you do not have the right to swerve all over the track and run the other competitors off into the kitty litter simply because you screwed up.
You don’t need to hit the brakes and give the driver a free pass; but, much like the process of passing drivers, you need to recognize which portion of the track is yours and stick to it.
If you really are a better driver (like we all think we are), giving up a position won’t be a problem, since you can collect yourself, hit your marks, and get it back in the next few corners.
If a car has a run on you, hold your line. The driver typically takes the inside line (naturally), so you’ll need to adjust your lines on the fly to make sure you’re using the outside half of the track. You don’t need to hit the brakes and give the driver a free pass; but, much like the process of passing drivers, you need to recognize which portion of the track is yours and stick to it.
Once you understand how to keep your car out of a bad situation, you can start thinking defensively on a track. If I had a dime for every time a competitor asked me, “How did you make it through the lap one pile up?” I’d be rich.
This is because control only accounts for one quarter of the online battle. The other three quarters are all in your head.
And, that’s the biggest thing that separates a “hot lapper” from a “racer.” The hot lapper can lay down blistering times, but he only pays attention to his own car and the corners ahead.
The racer, conversely, can lay down some good times, and he can adjust his line on the fly to accommodate other cars around him, as well as continually predict where the other cars are going to end up.
If I see a car go whizzing by on the low side at the start of a race, I can very easily back off and creep down to the inside. More often than not, you’ll see a pile up in turn one as the cars slam into each other. Everybody’s trying to win the race in the first corner.
If you just give a bit of room and stay low, you can very easily cruise around the inside of the field and pass half of them with regularity. This is more common with random drivers and less so with leagues, but even with the best league drivers, the first corner of a race is usually the biggest problem.
Use your situational awareness through each corner, though -- not just at the start. If you enter a situation where you see a driver buzzing down beneath your line and you're both coming to a corner, you must expect him to cook it too hard on entry, and that he’s going to drift up into you.
If you realize this, you can back it off just a hair and give him a car length on entry. Then, if he ends up flying up into your lane, you'll feel brilliant. The added bonus is that you can “scissor move” him and dive to the inside and take a faster exit line.
It’s like a square dancing Do Sa Do at 150 mph.
That’s the essence of online racing. You want to give the other car respect, but all the while attempt to give yourself an advantage. You can actually be a faster, more respected driver by giving up track position, yet still end up with a faster corner due to a better exit speed.
But at the end of the day, you want to avoid the turn one pile up, and when you make a mistake, you want to make sure you're the only casualty. If you’re going to experiment in a corner and push it a bit harder, make sure there aren’t any other cars around you that may end up being collected in your mess.
And for the love of all that is good in this world, if you do spin out, don’t pull out head-first into a train of oncoming cars. Wait for the traffic to clear, chalk that race up as a lesson learned, and reload for the next one.
It may take a while for some people to learn these things, and that’s OK. What you want to do is make steady progress each session. The more races you go without touching another car via your own fault or his, the more respected you’ll be.
And even on the simulated race track, respect must be earned.