Interview with Andretti’s lead engineer Graham Quinn, on winning the Global Rallycross title and his role in iRacing’s Rallycross

We sit down with Irishman Graham Quinn, lead engineer at Andretti Autosport’s Global Rallycross team, the team that has now won the Global Rallycross championship three times in a row, with Scott Speed behind the wheel. Graham sheds his light on iRacing’s Global Rallycross and his role preparing it, as well as his experience as an engineer on both sides of the Pond.

Graham, how did you get into racing?
My whole life has been about racing. My dad owned a motorsport business, and before I was ten I was racing in karts. I spend my college years running a karting team all over Europe. My younger brother, Niall, also started karting and eventually got picked up by Red Bull as part of the junior team.

After karting, I rallied on a national level, but in 2007 I quit racing, and got a job as an Engineer in Prodrive’s WRC team, who were racing Subaru’s. I thought I was good, but when I joined a team like Prodrive, I got to see how a team like that works, and the level of skill of their drivers. I noticed they had completely different skills than I had.

I competed at the top national level of rallying, but no way I could compete with drivers like that. So I think it was a relief, the disappointment of not racing anymore became a closed book very quickly.

In 2012 I moved to a private team in Belgium called First Motorsport, who ran some Mini Cooper’s and Subaru WRC’s from ProDrive, which were then driven by Stephane Sarrazin and Robert Kubica. My role was much broader there, engineer as well as assistant team manager. Which showed me the other side of motorsport as well, how difficult it is to get logistics and finance in order. There’s an incredible amount of stress involved when you’re trying to raise money to go rallying. Then in 2014 I made the jump to the US with Andretti when the Volkswagen Rallycross program kicked off.

You’ve had the driving as well as engineering experience. Which one is more nerve wracking?
I think as a race engineer I’m even more nervous, because you’re just waiting for something that you had control over to go wrong. Even when your driver is leading by ten seconds, you’re always thinking about what could break down. As a driver in the car, you know what you have to do. But as an engineer it’s out of your hands.

Do you miss racing? And is that were iRacing comes in?
No, I’m not really one of those former drivers trying to get back into the car, proving I’m also quick behind the wheel. I got as much pleasure winning rallies and championships, as an engineer, as I would have as a driver, maybe even more.

That said, iRacing is a lot of fun. Last month, Scott and me did a Blancpain race, and we won! But on Saturday my brother and an ex-Champcar driver did another race, and I was supporting them from my basement, checking their fuel consumption and tyre strategy, and they also won. I enjoyed that just as much. So yeah IRacing gives me something, but it’s not just the driving, I enjoy the setups, strategy, everything.

Maybe some people think I’m strange that I take my work home, spend another two hours in the sim, but it’s just an addiction really.

As an engineer, do you understand Scott better now that you’re sharing the car in iRacing?
Well yeah, I can see his skill levels for sure. Whatever I do, I can’t really get close to what he does. And he’s exactly the same in the sim as in real life. From the first lap he gets it, he doesn’t overdrive, and it seems to come so easy to him. And I enjoy driving with him, it’s also bonding between an engineer and a driver.

What was your role in iRacing Global Rallycross?
It started over a year ago, and it’s been almost a daily involvement. Even today I corresponded with them again. It just blew me away how closely they model the car. They have a great model for the chassis with many kinematic points. We worked on weight distribution, the centre of gravity, damping. And we used our real life data to match that in the sim, matching torque levels with acceleration rates, turbo response, all of that.

It’s so close now that I could even send them a few request to make modifications in the sim so we can test them for real life racing. I believe iRacing has that service for Nascar teams too. It’s just like an F1 sim, really.

What makes Global Rallycross unique in your view?
The variation of surface really. It’s basically a rally car chassis like in the WRC, with perhaps differentials and transmission a little less sophisticated, but a better, more powerful engine. And then you’re trying to make it work like a touring car at some parts of the track. So it’s a balance on which parts of the track you want to be fast.

That’s a balance and you’ve got to get through it quickly, because in race weekends there’s just one hour of practise before you go into qualifying. That’s why we do a lot of simulations, so before the track we know what the base setup is going to be like.

Scott said mainly the differential is important, the rest isn’t so much. Do you agree with that?
He has a point. Even in a WRC car, the first thing you look at is the wheel speed and how the differentials are working. The second thing is dampers, they play a massive part as well. You’re looking for traction on dirt, and support on tarmac. Very difficult to make a damper do both. But I do think we have a really good damper package. But diff’s are something Scott is very sensitive to, he can feel the difference between 5Nm of preload. But after the differential and dampers, the rest of the setup comes quite easy.

So now with iRacing Global Rallycross, you’re driving your own car. What surprised you?
Not anything in particular. I watched so much videos and data so I think I was already aware of the limits of the car. And those limits are way below than what most people would think! To be efficient in this car, you need point to point driving, and I think that’ll surprise everybody. It’s just a car that’s really really difficult to drive, well, easy to drive but difficult to be fast.

Our car has evolved that way from a typical rally car, into a more touring car. I think it’s mainly because of Scott’s input, even though our other driver, Tanner Foust, has a rally background. But we always improved the car on the tarmac section, so it’s a really efficient car, but not easy to manipulate. It takes a specific driving style, and you have to learn it, basically by copying what Scott does. He has really set the standard in rallycross, he has changed the way people drive. It even crossed over to FiA rallycross now, I mean Mattias Ekström and Kristofferson, Solberg etc are now doing the same thing: driving straight from curb to curb, not sliding anymore. Just searching for that limit of grip.

What do you think VRS will be most useful for?
Driver inputs. To see when Scott brakes, when he’s going back on the gas, when he’s sliding and feathering the throttle. The interesting thing is that on most tracks, it’s less than ten percent full throttle for the full lap. That’s how much is coasting and feathering. That’s where you see a lot of Rallycross cars smoking their tyres, and after after three laps they’re just finished.

Actually, VRS might give away too much in this! What might be difficult is to see the state of the gravel or dirt, because that changes every lap, so you can’t compare your laps one-to-one because you can’t tell what the condition of dirt was in at that time. But you can still see how tidy and efficient good drivers are.

How comparable is VRS to real life data and telemetry?
And VRS is quite comparable. VRS is a little bit simpler, and I really like the interface and layout. You don’t have to be a data engineer to be able to read it, but you still got everything there you need, even on the very first page. You can see where you’re losing time, and it’s easy to alt-tab out of iRacing, check and try again. It’s a really useful tool, and I think you can’t do without it, if you’re taking iRacing serious.

What makes a good engineer in motorsport? 
In my experience the best ones are very hands-on, they think quickly on their feet, and don’t rely too much on only their education.

I usually find that some of the interns we have gotten over the years are very green when they come out of the university. They only think about looking at the data, physics or electronics, but being an engineer is also about working together with the driver. Maybe the motorsport specific education is the problem, it really puts blinkers on young talents.

As an engineer, if you can’t interpret or communicate with the driver, understand what he’s talking about — well, it doesn’t take very long for the driver to lose his respect. As soon as that happens, you’re done.

But do you mean drivers are very difficult to work with?
Yes, and the truth is that the better they are, the more difficult they are to work with. I’ve worked with some of the best rally drivers and F1 race winners, and they’re different characters than what we’re used to be dealing with day to day.

Do you mean ego behaviour?
No no, they’re just very passionate. Their mind is so much focussed on what they’re doing, that they don’t have any bandwidth left to think of something out of that box. Sometimes you hear a driver and engineer argue with each other, and you’d think they’re going to hit each other. But then two minutes later, they settle on what they’re going to do, and it’s all fine. But you need that, you need the engineer to be as passionate about it as the driver. And to be assertive, that’s when you work well together. But like I said, if a young engineer comes in and doesn’t know how to handle that, it’s easy to lose respect.

So what would be your advice to young students?
I’ve told many students this. If you have the choice, you shouldn’t go to a F1 team, but rather to a F3 or even Formula Ford team. There you’ll be hands-on and actually working on the car, from building it in a workshop and getting it to the track, and doing the data and dealing with the driver. It’s a much broader range of tasks. Whereas if you go to an F1 team, you become an assistant’s assistant and you get the shitty jobs the engineer doesn’t want to do, and you won’t even overhear the conversation with the driver and engineer. So you’re getting no experience.

— Thanks Graham!

Read the interview with Graham’s other-half in racing, Scott Speed, here.

Scott Speed on iRacing’s Global Rallycross

Scott en route to victory in Atlantic City – Photo by Peter Minnig

He has driven in British Formula 3, GP2, A1 Grand Prix, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Formula E and Formula One, and he’s now driving for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team as a three-time Global Rallycross champion. His career consists of successes in nearly all forms of motor racing, be it on ovals or road, powered by petrol or electricity. Hence, it’s a great honour for us to sit down for a chat with Scott Speed.

Scott, first thing; you’ve raced in so many series and you’ve achieved success everywhere. What makes you such as versatile driver?
I don’t know, I think I’m a good driver. And the versatile aspect of my racing has more to do with my desire to try new things and the opportunities I got to try out lots of different types of race categories. But I think a driver who is very good, given the opportunities I had, would be just as successful.

But surely there’s the aspect of adaptability you are really good at?
Yes, but that’s something all the best drivers have — they’re good because they can adapt. That’s what racing is all about. I mean, tracks are always changing, cars are always changing — and drivers really have to learn how a particular car wants to be driven. That’s the key to being the best. You can obviously change a car to fit the driver, but at the highest level, your goal as a driver is to figure out how a car wants to be driven to go at its fastest. That requires adaptability.

Is this why you’re so successful in Global Rallycross? I mean, it’s a kind of combined form of racing.
Yes. I think I got lucky that my natural driving style fits very well in rallycross, apart from making one adjustment to driving on gravel. You know — when a rallycross car goes from tarmac onto gravel, to me it feels like it’s entering a whole different law of physics. Suddenly the car wants to be driven differently, and I had to adapt to that, and I was able to. Without that, you’re not going to be successful in rallycross. You really need to be able to drive very different styles to be fast overall.

So are there drivers that are only really fast on tarmac or gravel but not both?
Exactly.

Sliding in Seattle - Photo by Peter Minnig
Sliding in Seattle – Photo by Peter Minnig

So what makes driving on gravel so different. Is it that sliding is suddenly acceptable?
No, all the general principles of racing still apply, and sliding isn’t optimal. If you’re going sideways, you’re not going forward. That said, rallycross uses four wheel drive, and that presents a different aspect of motor racing, and you can slide a little bit more than “normal” on road.

Another thing is that a rallycross car brakes really well and it accelerates really well, but it just doesn’t corner really well. So you want to shorten the corner, and extend the braking zones and straights. So as a rule of thumb, you want to get the car to come off the corner a little narrower than normal, because it likes to go on throttle straight. So it’s a more ‘point and shoot’ kind of driving style.

What level of car contact is acceptable and “normal” in rallycross? Is rubbing doors OK?
Well, because of the 4WD nature of the cars, the racing is really tight and they run door-to-door really well. It’s a category that has to got a bit of contact. But obviously, if you hit someone out of the way to pass, they are going to hit you back or you’re going to get a penalty. So in the end of the day, racers govern themselves. Everybody has a reputation, and you are not going to have a good championship if other drivers don’t like you or don’t respect you. You know, eventually they’re gonna hit you back.

Serious airtime in LA – From @Scott_Speed Instagram

And then there’s the flying — is that how you think motorsport should be?
Well, motorsport needs to be entertaining, that’s the bottom line. So in the United States, nobody watches F1. People watch NASCAR, but that’s on a pretty steep decline right now, because it’s hard to pay attention a full four-hour race. Times are changing in motorsports, also with the introduction of electric racing. Within the next five years we’ll see a major shift in motorsports worldwide, as manufacturers start to develop electric cars and want to move into that direction.

Global Rallycross seems to be the motorsport with youngest demographic because it has short and exciting races. And it also seems to be the form of racing to which electric racing applies really well. With short races, lots of acceleration and deceleration, it fits really well. It’s much harder to make an electric car for Formula E, for example. It requires so much energy and batteries to run a formula car around for an hour. Whereas Global Rallycross events are roughly twenty minutes.

What was your role in iRacing’s Global Rallycross project?
My race engineer Graham Quinn and myself, we’d both drive the car in the sim and comment back and forth on what we thought. Graham from a technical perspective, me from a driving perspective. And we aimed to get everything as realistic as possible, driving on the gravel, the jump, basically the whole feeling. Graham used real-life data and lap times to match the car as well, so now especially around the Indy circuit it now matches up exactly.

iRacing has really hit it on the head as far as how the car feels and how you have to drive it. You notice right away that the car handles very differently on tarmac and gravel. You’ve to do very different things to it. It’s great that I can now show my family, my friends how a rallycross car drives, it’s very unique.

So now you can finally drive the competitor’s car? Can you tell the differences?
Well I don’t know how close the Fiesta feels to the real thing, I’ve never driven one. But ours, the Volkswagen Beetle, is really close. The Fiesta stops and accelerates really well. Point and shoot really, but it understeers on cornering a bit. Ours rolls into the corner a bit better, it behaves more like a sportscar so to say.

Do you think VRS will be a useful tool for Rallycross iRacers?
I really enjoy VRS. The fact that my real-life racing engineer is also my simracing partner is really fun, and Graham is quite fast in the sim. My whole life I’ve looked at telemetry data, but Graham has always worked with it. Between the two of us, we can really use VRS to a pretty big advantage between ourselves. It’s a real fun thing to do during the week. I just flew to Las Vegas for SEMA, and sent about three-hundred messages in our little iRacing team’s WhatsApp group, back and forth about the data and the car.

As for rallycross, I think it’ll be a big tool. Telemetry is so useful, especially for the wheel spin, it’s important to limit that. You can’t really see wheel spin from inside or outside the car, but the VRS software will make it visible what you’re doing with the pedals and what’s happening with the wheels. So it’ll fast-track a lot of people to get on pace with limiting that.

So wheel spin is more driver input or setup?
Driver input, for sure.

Then, how important is car setup for a rallycross car?
It’s very important. And because it’s a 4WD car, the setup relies heavily on the differentials, so making them work is key. But outside of the differentials, nothing is as important really.

Graham Quinn & Scott Speed.

What’s it like to finally share your car with your engineer?
Graham has never driven the car in real-life, but the funny thing is that in the sim he’d comment on things he thought were unrealistic. And I’d say ’No no, that’s exactly as it is in real life!’, and Graham would be hiding his face, ‘oh no!’. When I was back in the real car, I’d ask ‘Hey Graham, that big understeer you got in the sim, can you fix it now?’.

Graham is actually quite fast in the sim. We’re doing the Blancpain Endurance Championship, and we have fun doing it. It’s a very unique relationship, as he has been my engineer for the past three-and-a-half year. It’s just a really important relationship, and iRacing is a fun part of it.

Does it surprise you that the iRacing competition is so fierce?
Not really. Like anything, if you do something long enough, practice long enough, you’ll be good at it. And there are just lots of really good drivers out there.

Does iRacing relate well to real life racing?
Yes. If you can drive a car really well in a simulator, your brain is doing the same as in real life. You’re figuring out braking markers, braking pressures, limiting wheelspin, apexes, nothing different than real life, except maybe fear, adrenaline, nerves, etcetera.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been good at being able to control the emotion side of things. And my nerves never had effect on my decision making in a real race car. But I think part of it is also preparation. Whether it is iRacing, or any video game, or racing an RC car, I spend a lot of my day competing, with myself or someone else. My brain is very used to high levels of competition and high levels of stress. My whole life I’ve been putting myself in that kind of environment, and so when I get into a race car, I’m very relaxed.

So it’s professional fun?
Definitely. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on a bicycle, and I enjoy trying to race that. Relatively it’s the same thing as car racing, the differences are, that the food I eat is the fuel and my body is the engine. It’s not just about tuning the bike and making it lighter, it’s how I train and how well I sleep, all of that is my horsepower. And I really enjoy that aspect.

Then there’s also RC racing. I’ve just built a car and a racetrack, we race there quite often (Speed RC Raceway). Kinda like iRacing with real life physics. I think it still helps reflexes, concentration ability, eyesight. In this way the brain is no different than a muscle and I like to keep practicing it.

Thanks Scott!

Dr. Kathryn Richards from Mercedes AMG Petronas and Dare To Be Different on women in (sim)racing

At Virtual Racing School, we’re convinced that anyone who has the determination and access to training tools can be a successful racer, whether that’s on the track or in the simulator, whether they’re male or female. While men have dominated road racing since its inception, we think that simracing could and should be the big equaliser. Simracing has extremely low entry costs, and literally anyone can enter the competition from anywhere of the world. Yet why are there still effectively no women competing in simracing?

This is why we contacted Dr. Kathryn Richards, who’s a senior wind tunnel technician at the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team, as well as ambassador for Dare To Be Different, which is a non-profit organisation, spearheaded by Susie Wolff, to help to inspire, connect, showcase and develop women who either currently work in, or want to work in motorsports.

Kathryn Richards at the Mercedes AMG Petronas at Brackley, England — © Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Kathryn, why are we seeing so few women in racing? What’s the barrier?

I think it’s primarily a cultural barrier. The prevailing preconception was, and still is, that motorsport is something for boys. However since the formation of the D2BD community, I’ve realised just how many young girls there are out there, trying to get involved in many forms of motorracing and engineering. I just think that when these youngsters get older, that’s where the problems arise. Are there the opportunities? And are they overlooked in place of their male counterparts?

As it stands, I certainly see somewhat of a chance, and more success for female engineers then female drivers, but hopefully one day this will change.

 

Perceptions and prejudices are very difficult things to change. How do you do that?

We break perceptions down quietly, and without people really knowing about it. D2BD is a perfect platform to do this. We just need to help and encourage the younger generation to follow their dreams, and where possible provide the opportunities for them to realise them. In this way, more girls will start to filter through into all aspects of motorsport and engineering. The key is the reassure young girls that it’s OK to get into motorsport, and that actually the boys really don’t mind us being here.

 

Apart from perceptions and prejudices, are there things that need change for women to succeed? 

To be honest I don’t think there is. I believe in equal opportunities both ways. If you’re good enough and earn the right to be there, you will succeed.

 

F1 drivers are now using simulators at their factories. Do you think simulators can be a form of training at home? 

Obviously there is no substitute for reality, but practise helps. In Formula One, our simulator is an essential tool for preparing both driver and engineers for all the eventualities of a race. You see the same in other industries, for instance airline pilots and astronauts also use simulations as a vital part of their training.

While I’ve never myself used a simulator, I can only imagine that they’re good for training the reflexes, hand-to-eye co-ordination, as well as learning the track. If simulators give young girls the edge in racing, then so be it. I think as individual we should all do whatever we can do to improve ourselves and get ahead.

Dare To Be Different with Susie Wolff and a Williams FW36 at Knockhill, Scotland — © Dare To Be Different

You can read more about Dare To Be Different and their activities on their website, www.daretobedifferent.org.

Frederik, Jeremy and David on ‘offline’ racing at the SimRacing Expo

Last month, the world of simracing gathered at the SimRacing Expo at the Nürburgring, with some of the top of them competing in the 2017 ADAC SimRacing Trophy. With ten rigs from the organisation, forty gamers battled it out locally, with an audience at the venue, as well as viewers online. VRS coaches Jeremy Bouteloup and David Williams came second and third in the final, with Frederik Rasmussen of CoRe SimRacing taking the victory. We catch up with all three of them here.

Competitors ahead of the huge audience — © SimRacing Expo

Do you feel a different kind of tension when you’re racing in front of an audience and not in your own home? 
David: “You certainly feel the atmosphere, which is very audible while driving, even though we have headphones on. There were moments during the final when Jeremy was fending off Frederik where I could barely hear the car, such was the noise level of the crowd and the live commentary through the speakers above the stage. In addition you have cameras moving in and out of the rigs, sometimes in your face, which can be very distracting! I have to say though, the excitement is something you don’t get at home, which you can feed off to fuel your focus.”

Jeremy: “It’s definitely different. While at home it’s only you and your rig, on stage it really feels like you’re in an arena. You generally hear the crowd, the commentators, and that can be quite distracting if you’re not used to it. You really need to focus on what you’re doing because when you start thinking about who’s watching you, or see the cameraman trying to get good shots of you, then that really can lead to on track mistakes. But it’s a great experience if you’re performing well, because everything you feel is amplified as you can share it with the crowd!”

Frederik: “It was definitely different to race with everyone watching, but after a few laps I forgot about it and was able to focus on the driving only. Yet when a camera man comes over and films you it can be very distracting, making it hard to concentrate.”

Do you miss your own rig and the software you have installed at home? Or you just quickly learn cope with it?
Frederik: “I didn’t miss my rig, because it was the same for everyone. But I must say it was quite hard to have only a short time to get used to a brake pedal that’s twenty times harder than what I have at home, and the seat was moving a bit!”

David: “The software is exactly the same as at home, but the settings (no changes allowed) and hardware are very different. Fortunately I’ve got decent experience with unfamiliar rigs and so adapting wasn’t too much of an issue, however it’s always difficult and seemingly minor differences can throw people off what they’re comfortable with and what they have muscle memory with. This year, each rig had slightly different wheel and pedals, which made things even trickier, because after each heat you’re in a different one. Yet the format was great and forced everyone to adapt.”

Jeremy: “It depends on the rig that you have at the event. It’ll never be the same so you always need to adapt, but with experience you’re able to adapt quickly and perform decently with equipment you’re not familiar with. Depending on the event, that’s sometimes the key to a good performance because you have limited seat time to get accustomed to the rig you have to use.”

Rigs for the competitors
— © SimRacing Expo

How does it work with setups? Do you quickly make the changes you memorised? 
Jeremy: “In these events you generally have limited setup options available, as the difference is only supposed to be made on driving. For this competition, only the brake bias was available but that was a key one since the Porsche doesn’t have ABS. So setting this, I went on the safe side because I didn’t feel as confident with the equipment as at home.”

David: “As Jeremy said, the SimRacing Trophy event only allowed adjustments to the brake bias. If the setup was open, I’d probably bring a photo of the garage screen or a USB stick to copy settings across.”

You have your headphones on, but do you hear anything from the audience behind you or the commentators? Do you ever look to your left or right to see what other competitors are doing?
Jeremy: “Despite having headphones, you definitely hear what’s going on around you! You can hear the crowd applauding when there’s a nice overtake, the commentators shouting a drivers name, and so on. You can have a sideways look at other competitors, but there’s not really a point in doing so as you need to focus on your own race. Obviously, this is much harder to do in this type of environment because you have a lot more distractions than at home.”

David: “As Jeremy said, the noise levels are so loud at the event that it’s still difficult to hear the sim clearly at times, and cues such as tyre noise which we rely on at home can become very difficult to sense. Technically you can see the rigs immediately to the sides of you, but the best strategy really is to try and block out external distractions as much as you can.”

Frederik: “I could hear audience and commentators well, but I don’t really ‘listen’ to it. And yeah I tried to look to the persons next to me sometimes, but you couldn’t really see very clearly, heh.”

How’s the whole event? Does simracing need more local events?
Frederik: “The whole event was just epic, I wish there would be a lot more of these events to meet people and race with them.”

Jeremy: “The whole event is definitely a nice showcase for simracing. It’s great for the drivers, for the teams involved, and for the public. It’s a unique experience to see online racing being on-site and it makes it much more engaging for everyone. From a drivers’ perspective, it can be really stressful but also enjoyable to perform in front of a crowd. There aren’t so many events like this one and simracing being a rather small e-sport, it definitely helps bring more attention around it. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people you are racing with or against all year long and put faces to name.”

David: “I really love live events like this year’s SimExpo. It’s an awesome chance to put faces to the names you find yourself racing against online, not to mention friends and teammates you’ve gotten to know so well, and whom you get the chance to share drinks with in the evening (and early morning!). The atmosphere and passion you feel in person watching the races in my opinion surpasses even real racing, given how accessible the drivers are to spectators, and I really see this as being the best chance for simracing as an e-sport to grow. I’d love to see major online championships conclude with similar in-person live finals, as it warrants the kind of buzz and excitement such high level competition deserves.”

David, Frederik, Jeremy — © SimRacing Expo

 

The 2018 SimRacing Expo is again held at the Nürburgring boulevard, at 15 and 16 September 2018.

4.2: Surviving the first corner

“You can’t win a race in the first corner, but you can lose it in the first corner” is one of the oldest racing adages (another being ‘To finish First, you first have to finish’). And it’s one of the most valuable (and least adhered) lessons, as merely surviving the first lap can ensure a points finish, especially in the lower splits of road racing. But does first-corner-survival come down to mere luck, or is there some skill or strategy involved? We catch up with some of the VRS coaches.

Martti Pietilä:
“The most important thing about starting a race (and the first corner) is also one of the most fundamental concepts of racing overall: look where you want to go. When driving alone, this is quite natural, and most of the time we just need to think about how far we look, at either the apex or the exit. However, at a start there’s so much going on around us, we tend to forget this very basic requirement, and start to look at the cars around us. Especially if there’s a crash in front of us, we get so fixated on that and continue to plow in to the mess, even though there was plenty of time to avoid. The key here is to be aware of whats happening around you, not just looking at the cars around.

Lastly, if possible, I try to stay away from the middle of the track, so that an ‘escape’ plan is available if things go wrong!”

Jeremy Bouteloup:
“The best way is to think of all possible scenarios during the approach of the first turn, different racing lines and how you’ll have to position the car. This will help anticipating what will happen and will allow you to react in due time. A second thing is; don’t do anything unpredictable because that will increase the chances to be hit. Other than that, there’s no magic for this and with experience, you’ll learn when and how to react, and it’ll come naturally.”

Olli Pahkala:
“Keep up situational awareness, stay sharp and smart and try to avoid any sudden movements in a steady flow of cars.”

Martin Krönke:
“Heh, the easiest thing is just to qualify on pole. Less issues then! But still you can’t really prevent people running into the back of you. Perhaps if you notice in time that someone is going to overshoot the corner, you may prevent contact by not turning in. But if someone is messing up real bad, chances are you can’t do much at all. So really, if you’re in the pack, just expect the worst and be ready to react. Be prepared to brake and not run into the carnage. If the worst case doesn’t happen, good. If it happens, at least be prepared for it.”

David Williams:
“Regardless of where you start, your initial focus should always be on having a clean, disciplined launch. If you’re on the front row, try not to be distracted by drivers behind you. Be prepared to defend into turn 1 if necessary, and try and visualise the line you wish to carry through the corner before you get there. However, if you find yourself starting in the middle of the pack, it’s important to realise that you must give yourself the opportunity to react to, or take advantage of situations which will change and develop quickly. Be willing to brake much earlier than normal if closely following another car, as it’s likely they’ll be reacting to cars ahead and the pack will be backed up. Avoid erratic or aggressive inputs which may catch other drivers unaware, potentially causing a collision with you. At the same time however, be ready and aware of opportunities which may present themselves to you, and remember how much later you can brake if you choose a line with no cars immediately ahead.

One more thing, I consciously balance risk versus reward on tracks where it’s hard to overtake, or for sprint races compared to endurance races. But it’s also important to be aware that the rest of the grid are more likely to take extra risks as well, and to make allowance for mistakes from others to be made and ultimately capitalise on.”