Track Etiquette: Safe Passing

With the August 13th DE day at Lime Rock for novices in mind, here’s a look back at an article that appeared in the Summer 2009 edition of the Air Cooled Advertiser in which chief track instructor Van Svenson describes how to pass other cars safely on the track…


PCA drivers’ education has earned a reputation for being one of the safer venues for gaining on-track experience due, in part, to very clear rules about passing. There are strict guidelines that must be followed by both the overtaking (following) car and by the overtaken (leading) car. This way, “both” drivers know what is expected of them, and both drivers understand the steps needed to complete a safe pass.

One such example is knowing the locations of the “passing zones” – the straight sections where the pass will occur before entering the next corner. The crux of the passing scenario is the: passing signal. This is a physical gesture from the leading driver to the overtaking driver, and it accomplishes two goals. First, it tells the overtaking driver that the leading driver is aware of his or her presence and will play an active role in the pass (more about this part in a minute). Second, the signal is an indication of which side of the car the leading driver wishes the overtaking car to go.

A signal where the driver in front sticks his or her arm out of the window and points with a finger over the roof towards the right (passenger) side of the car is a gesture that means: Hello car behind me. I see you and would like you to overtake me on the passenger’s side of my car. I will adjust my speed accordingly so you can complete the pass and be in front of me for the next braking zone. Boy! That’s quite a mouthful for a movement that doesn’t take more than a second or two to complete! But, in actuality, hand signals are a very effective way to communicate with others in a loud environment where things happen quickly.

Let’s pause for a moment and revisit the last part of the hand signal translation – the “I will adjust my speed accordingly” bit. This is very important, and, along with giving the passing signal, it is the most important responsibility of the driver that’s being overtaken. Due to a variety of factors, ranging from car capabilities, tire selection, suspension setup, driver ability, and so on, the car that is overtaking might not have the horsepower to pass the front car without the front driver easing off the throttle a bit.

The majority of tracks we use for DEs have more turns than straights – a car that can go faster around the curves will have a lower lap time, and thus will need to pass at some time, another car that has higher straight line speed, but less cornering speed. Along with a clearly executed signal in the correct passing zone, the driver in the leading car also has to plan ahead to determine “which” side the overtaking car should pass on (a reminder: over the roof for a pass on the right, and straight out the window for a pass on the left). The car that is being passed should stay “on line” coming up to the next corner – and should allow the overtaking car to pass “off line”.

For example, if the passing zone ends with a right hand corner, the proper “turn in” point will be at the left edge of the track. This means the leading car should stay to the left – and the overtaking car should pass on the right. If the passing zone ends in a left hand turn, then the overtaking car should pass on the left to allow the first car to stay on line at the right edge of the track. Remembering and understanding these guidelines will maximize safety and give everyone the opportunity to have a great event.

I’ll meet you at the apex!

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