Bert Olson SCCA Major at Gingerman. Saturday Race, Lap 1 from Ryan Wise on Vimeo.

One of the most difficult things to learn in racing is the start. When do I go? What part of the track can I use? How can I get a good jump? Why do I always lose one or two spots on the first lap? Lap 1 can often be a ma-lay. Drivers fan out at the flag looking for a clear run into the first corner. Side by side thru the first couple corners until the pack settles out into a more organized single file train. Those first corners can make or break the rest of your race. Do you get to control the pace, fend off the challenges from behind, or try to run and hide? Or do you have to spend laps trying to gain spots or track position lost at the beginning?

In the last couple seasons I have slowly gotten better at getting a jump at the green flag. Not only getting to the gas quicker than the other racers, but making use of track that normally isn't used. Everything that is paved becomes racing surface, and sometimes grass and dirt do too. My last two race weekends have had bipolar starts. One day I'm caught napping and the next I jump everyone else asleep. The Saturday afternoon race at Gingerman, back in July, was a case of jumping my competitors and I did it by using racing surface that normally isn't ideal. In this case I was able to run around the outside of the corners and pickup spots from Turn 1 all the way thru Turn 2, and then almost make a pass around the outside of Turn 3. It may seem obvious, "duh....asphalt is always racing surface", but after an entire day of races there is a very defined line based on where all the debris and marbles have been gathering versus where the cars travel. But in cases where the inside lane is slow you might be able to drive right around the outside even though the total path is longer and the line covered in marbles. The other possibility is to plan on using all of the curbing. There are times when you can climb over the inside curb or plan on using the entire exit curb to get yourself a little bit more room.

The downside to running around the outside is that the driver on the inside gets to control your racing room on the exit. He can easily squeeze you and run you off the track. Or if you're driving across the curb run the risk of running out of curbing. The key I have found is to be aggressive. If making a passing attempt make sure the other driver is fully aware you've made it alongside. He's busy enough trying to get by the guy in front of him, so he has to know you're doing the same to him. If you're too tentative he's not going to have a clue you're there and in return not leave you room. That can be said for any passing attempt, but I think even more so for the start when everyone is the busiest. You can see that in the video above. I've been aggressive for the first four corners, but get too tentative later on and it costs me a spot.

There are a few more upsides to a good start. First, if you're the one attacking at the start it's likely you have less to worry about in your mirrors. Second, the boost in confidence will help keep you motivated thru the rest of the race. Plus, it's fun to pass people. Why not add three or four right at the start!