Preparing for your first race is very important. Remember – when you are racing, it’s not just about your goals. You’re going on the track with other drivers and you’ll be a hazard to them if you’re not prepared properly.
Being prepared for your first race is not just in your best interests for performance – but everyone else’s for safety. Make sure you’re correctly brushed up on rules, regulations and driver etiquette.
If it’s your first race, people are going to cut you some slack – just remember to do as much as you can on your part to prepare.
Racing Edge teamed up with Canadian professional race car driver Parker Thompson to bring you five great tips ahead of your first race.
Preparing For Your First Race
Do Your Research!
First and foremost – do your research ahead of your first race. Read the rulebook for what category you’re racing in – specifically the sections that directly apply relevant to the driver. What you need to safely race, what type of helmet you wear – making sure you have the proper racing and personal equipment.
Making sure your vehicle is up to spec for your first race. Sometimes that’s an easy change – sometimes it’s pretty advanced. If you’re club racing, usually you have to have ‘X’ tires on, or you have to have ‘X’ car to compete in ‘X’ category.
A really good tip: if the track you’re racing at is a significant distance away, get a hotel close to it the night before. Don’t be getting up at 3am to drive four hours across country. Limit your distractions – no phones in the paddock!
Your First Race: Driver Procedure
Knowing the driver procedures for your first race will stand you in good stead. Be familiar with the race weekend schedule, learn the track procedure inside out.
Don’t let simple things catch you off guard, like where to get gas ahead of your first race. Some circuits will provide on-track services. Others won’t have that available so you might have to fill up at the nearest station – which could be 50 kilometres away. Knowing where to get the fuel you’re expected to run is key: some racetracks might have a partnership with certain gas providers or require you to get fuel from a certain station. Always look up where to get your fuel.
Checking the weather before your first race is another thing that catches people off guard. If you only have slick tires and it’s meant to be 100% rain all weekend, your first race will finish before its started!
“You don’t know how many people I’ve seen turn up to track with just slick tires and it’s a wet day,” Parker Thompson said. “They’re just sitting on the sidelines eating hot dogs and watching their friends drive.”
Don’t be late for your first race. If it’s your first drivers’ meeting, get there ahead of time. Introduce yourself to the race director and technical director if you’ve not met them before. Being pro-active will help things run smoothly.
Remember – a lot of these times, these people are volunteers. They’re not earning big bucks to do what they’re doing so they won’t necessarily go above and beyond for you.
Parker Thompson said: “They’re doing it out of passion. So if you show up 10 minutes late and they’re already engaged in something, they’re not required to do you any favors.”
Learn The Starts
Once the green flag drops on your first race, everything is pretty straightforward until the chequered flag comes out. But there are a few things to be aware of.
Understanding grid procedure and how you start your first race is essential. Whether you do one or two warm-up laps, and if the leader bunches the pack up ahead of the green flag. Whereabouts the group packs up. You don’t want to start on cold tires.
Start procedures vary between series. How you start will come up in the drivers’ meeting. Going up and personally asking the race directory what to do during the start procedure is a great way to meet them.
Parker Thompson said: “I’ve seen this happen before. At a lot of these club tracks, everybody knows everybody. Sometimes they treat the drivers’ meetings as a chore. They push the race director to get on with it. Sometimes they don’t notice the new person, so they don’t go over the specific start procedures because the other drivers have been there for years.”
Another thing to be aware of – does the waving of the green flag mean go, or does the pole sitter have to accelerate before the green flag comes down? In some series, the onus is on the lead driver.
Are you allowed to break your lane and pass another vehicle if they have a bad start? How you start is the most complicated thing to understand in most series. That can be a real curveball ahead of your first race.
“That’s why 90% of crashes happen on the first lap. It’s so easy to cause an accident. If you don’t go when you’re meant to, or you do go when you’re not – it’s so easy to hit the car in front,” said Parker Thompson.
Another arm to starting procedures is knowing when the start comes after a safety car period. This may not crop up in your first race but it’s important to know.
Half the time, the start under caution will happen when you’re in single file. And the other half, the leader accelerates ahead of the green flag. You need to understand where to accelerate – it’s these finer details that some professionals forget, too.
“I’ve seen numerous occasions where a professional has made themselves look like a novice because they didn’t know the rules, and they’re penalized for it,” Parker Thompson said.
Your First Race: Have Fun!
It sounds incredibly basic but it’s so easy to forget. No matter what you’re racing, your first race should be fun. It should be an absolute blast! If you don’t go into it with that mindset, you won’t last in motorsport very long – because there are a lot more lows than highs.
Motor racing is not like your average sport, where you might win half of your games. Most professional drivers are lucky to win once a year.
Parker Thompson said: “In the field of 30 IndyCar drivers, there are probably only five or six drivers who will win that season. In Formula 1, that’s even more scarce. To win a race, it’s a pretty low percentage. So if you don’t start by having fun in your first race, you won’t finish your career having fun either.”
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