Racetrack Passing Mastery
By Ken Condon
In this article, I will cover passing rules, technique, responsibilities and etiquette. Faster track day riders can often feel frustrated about not being able to pass effectively and efficiently, while newer track day riders may be anxious about passing and being passed. In this article, I will discuss these topics as they pertain to track day riders of all levels.
New riders need time to become acclimated to the racetrack environment, which means that they will ride slower for the first couple of open sessions. This “get your feet wet” pace is encouraged. New riders who fail to take the proper amount of time to get used to the track are more likely to get into trouble, feel rushed or overwhelmed and have a bad day. New track day riders often find themselves riding around the track in clumps with faster riders who are being held up behind slower riders in the front of the pack. This is most likely to occur in the first two sessions of the Red (novice group). Thankfully, the late morning and early afternoon sessions flow much better. Why? Because people start passing.
Getting Used to Passing
Since many of Tony’s Track Day’s customers are primarily street riders, experience at passing is limited to the occasional overtake of a slow car on a straight section of road. The racetrack offers many more opportunities for passing, but new track riders must convince themselves that passing is not only okay, but is encouraged, as long as the pass is safe and adheres to the rules of the group.
Part of the reason some riders are hesitant to pass is the absence of familiar indicators found on the street that define passing zones, including painted lines and signs telling the rider that it is safe or okay to pass. Once the rider learns the legal passing zones and has made a few passes on the track, this apprehension disappears and most riders learn to enjoy passing as much as they do cornering.
Before I begin to talk about passing technique, I want to discuss Tony’s Track Days’ passing rules. Passing rules provide a safer, more comfortable environment to have fun and practice riding skills. Rules also remind riders that this is a track day, not a race and discourage aggressive, race-style passing.
Passing Rules- Red Group
TTD has two sets of passing rules; one for the Red (Novice) group and one shared with both Yellow (Intermediate) and Blue or Black (Advanced) groups.
The Red group rules limit passing to the straights. The exception is turn 8 in New Jersey, which is a long right-hand turn with plenty of room to pass on the outside. Limiting passing to the straights minimizes anxiety and intimidation for new riders. We’ve experimented with allowing passing in other areas for novices, but we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback for our current system.
Passing Rules- Advanced Groups
Yellow and Blue group riders have many more areas in which they may pass: all straights, and on the outside of most corners. Allowing only passing on the outside prevents riders from “stuffing” the rider being passed and causing him or her to alter their course in order to avoid collision. Yes, passing on the outside is more difficult, but we’ve found it to be an acceptable trade off, resulting in many fewer mid-corner crashes than when inside passing is allowed. The rules allow you to pass on the “inside” only at the corner exit, well past the apex. To make the pass legal the passee must be past the apex and drifting to the outside of the track as they exit the corner.
There are some corners where passing is not allowed, no matter what group you ride in. These are corners where bikes are crossing from one side of the track to the other in a short area, like in a chicane.
Enforcing passing rules can be difficult, but we do a pretty good job through the use of cornerworkers and circulating staff trained to spot passing infractions. A gentle reminder from a staff member is all that is necessary to get the guilty party to conform with the rules.
Make the Pass!
You’ll hear instructors encouraging new track day riders to “make the pass”. This not only allows riders to maintain their pace, but it also prevents a train of riders to accumulate into a long procession. If one rider chooses not to pass, then the rider behind may not pass, creating a line of three riders. Three riders isn’t a train, but soon a fourth and fifth rider joins the group and a conga line begins to form. The more riders in a line, the harder it is for anyone to pass, so the line grows exponentially longer and before you know it, there is a line of perhaps 8 to 10 bikes riding at a pace set by the slow person at the front. This leads to frustration and potentially risky passes as faster riders in the back desperately try to get by. I’ll talk about ways to avoid the need to make risky passes in a bit.
Passing is a skill that is just as important and satisfying as most other aspects of track riding. Ask any racer what aspect of racecraft has allowed them to achieve success and they will likely put passing near the top of their list. Once you learn to pass well, you are able to maintain your pace and maximize the flow that leads to finding the “zone”.
The trick to passing well is to look well ahead. You must evaluate the person you want to pass so you can make a plan; is he demonstrating a slower exit speed that you can take advantage of by accelerating a bit earlier and harder at the corner exit? Or perhaps he or she exits wide, which may allow you to cut up the inside (well past the apex) and accelerate away.
Passing on the Gas
Passing can be done in a number of ways. Often, the best way to pass is on the gas as you exit. One trick to use when you want to pass a rider who is only a little slower than you is to hold back a bit before accelerating. This gives you space behind the slower rider for you to increase speed and gain on the rider as you both begin to exit the corner. Yes, you give up a bit of mid-corner speed, but it gives you the ability to “run up” on the rider you want to pass. Be sure to look well past the rider you are passing to reduce the risk of passing too close.
You want to avoid following too closely to the rider ahead of you. If you attach yourself to the slower rider’s tail, then you are locked into his or her (presumably slower) pace through the corner and exit and you’ll lose the opportunity to catapult by.
Passing on the Brakes
Another way to pass is to do so while on the brakes, well before entering a turn. Passing while braking can be tricky, since you want to ideally get past the slower rider before beginning to turn. To avoid cutting off the rider you just passed, you will likely need to start turning from the spot where you passed, not from the ideal line near outside edge of the track. This means that if you pass on the right before a right-hand turn, you will need to enter the corner from the center of the track to prevent cutting in front of the rider you just passed. You may think that you have plenty of space to move over, but consider that the rider you passed will likely be entering the corner at a slower speed, which allows him or her to delay braking. The rider will end up braking earlier than they expected to, and will have to brake hard to avoid hitting your rear tire, because you cut him off. HERE is an example from a Moto2 race of a rider who cuts in front of a rider he passed and causing a crash.
Avoiding Risky Passes
If you find yourself at the back of a large pack of slower riders, it may be tempting to overtake the whole group all at once. Oftentimes, this leads to anxiety about not completing the pass in time. Also, slower riders may become startled by the much faster “closing” speed as the passer zips by. Another common situation is when more than one faster rider attempts to make a big pass, so that there are fast bikes passing on both sides down the straight, making passing zones a bit chaotic.
Another example of a risky pass is when a passer chooses to overtake in an area where the person being passed might drift across the passer’s front wheel. An example is if you try to pass a slower rider on the left before a right-hand turn. You must predict that the rider does not know that you are coming up his side and will likely move slightly to the left to set up for the corner. Yes, he is pinching you off, but you must take responsibility by predicting that this might happen.
There is one rule for being passed and that is to do nothing but stay on your line. By being predictable, you allow the riders who are passing you to do so without drama. When being passed, do not move abruptly to the left or right in a way that might pinch someone who may be passing. Sometimes, riders unconsciously move to the outside edge before a corner to set up for the turn, even though it is not necessary to use the entire pavement. Be aware of whether you tend to do this and train youself to give some room just in case someone is making a late outside pass.
How do you know that someone might be ready to pass you? You don’t, but you can predict that there may be a faster rider wanting to come by you at any time, which means that you should avoid going to the very edge of the track when possible. This applies to both entering turns, as well as exiting a corner where a faster rider may be coming around the outside on the gas, (past the apex), so avoid drifting to the very edge of the track. It is good for you to come as close to the apex as possible, since there is no passing on the inside at TTD events. Just keep in mind that a faster rider may be coming around the outside at the exit, so leave a little room. Sometimes, the passer can’t adjust quickly enough and an unintended close pass occurs, or worse, contact is made.
It's important to keep your eyes looking ahead if you hear a motorcycle coming up from behind. Most people will drift into the direction they look, so that if you look over your left shoulder, you are more likely to drift to the left, possibly into the path of a rider who is traveling much faster than you are. Keep your eyes ahead and stay on line and the risk of a passing incident becomes a non-issue.
Letting People Pass
Sometimes, it makes sense to take a quick look behind you to see if you are holding up a group of riders. It’s not unusual to have a line of fast riders on slow bikes being held up by a slower rider on a fast bike. The slower rider will likely want to accelerate hard on the straights (it is fun after all), leaving the slower bikes behind only to hold them up in the corners. This leads to the faster riders feeling the need to take greater chances to try and get by the faster bike, since there is no way this will be possible on the straights where the fast bike rockets off. While we do not require faster bikes to slow down on the straights, we do encourage riders to take a look back to see if perhaps they are creating a frustrating situation for faster riders on slower bikes. If you look behind and see several bikes in your wake, consider not accelerating as hard to let them by. Don’t veer out of the way or chop the throttle- that would be dangerous, just accelerate out of the corner, onto the straight as normal, take a look over your shoulder and then don’t accelerate quite as hard once you are on the straight to give the slower bikes a chance to get by. You can then follow them through the corners and perhaps learn a thing or two about how to corner faster.
One caveat to this is if you cannot look over your shoulder without causing the bike to drift to the side, then do not attempt this. Also, if you just don’t feel comfortable looking back at speed, then don’t. Just keep your eyes ahead. You may want to accelerate less in case someone is behind you if you suspect there is a group there, but don’t feel obligated. If you don’t want to slow down on the straights, another option is to pit in and let the group get past and then re-enter the track.
If you are one of the fast riders on a slow bike and are frustrated because a slower rider on a fast bike is holding you up, then consider pitting in, rolling down the hot pit, and re-entering the track once the slower rider is well enough ahead that you will not likely catch up to him during the remainder of the session. This is smarter than attempting a risky pass to get by. Yes, it will disrupt your flow, but it is often a minor interruption that you can quickly put behind you.
Every session provides opportunities to practice passing. Instead of thinking of passing as a hassle, think of it as another skill to master. Not only will you be rewarded with many more flowing laps, but you’ll discover how satisfying clean passes can feel.
If passing has you stumped, ask one of our trained staff how they make it look so easy. You might also consider signing up for Personalized Instruction where we can help you to master passing.