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To battle, or not to battle: that is the question
When racing, whether virtually or in the real world there are times when you should consider not racing an opponent. This sounds sort of counter-intuitive, but often it will prove not only safe but sensible. Experience will dictate how often and when you should yield to other drivers as well as when you should drive defensively, even if it slows your lap times considerably.

Early on in a race you can often make up positions as certain drivers will be fairly cautious as a consequence of trying to preserve their car for the later stages of the race. Having said this, in the early stages of a race you will quite often come across drivers that are driving as if there is only one lap to go - these are the drivers that you don't want to defend against. Not only will driving defensively slow you down, but it will usually end in a nasty, possibly race ending incident due to the other driver's over aggression. Just let these drivers go, inevitably they will either take themselves out of the race or they will come across another driver who is willing to defend against them and quite often due to this you will make two positions without having to battle with anyone.

In long races you have to be in the race on the last lap to be able to win it. This is a fairly obvious statement but many times during the early or middle stages of a race you'll see other drivers driving with far too much aggression, especially in a pack of cars. Again when you see this type of driving don't ignore your gut feeling telling you that trouble is brewing, back off, give them room and let them hang themselves and hopefully the other drivers around them. To use a poker analogy,

"You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them."

It's the same in racing, you've got to know who to race and when to race. Like poker you should also listen to your gut instinct, invariably it will be correct a large percentage of the time.

Video clip : Early on in a long race it's correct not to battle with other overly aggressive drivers

Sometimes it's better to follow and work with with an opponent for a section of the race rather than trying to battle - it will be quicker for both of you - also it allows you to see their weakness so you can pounce on their shortcomings towards the end of the race.

The video below above is a great example of when to work with another driver. When the clip starts look how close the two cars ahead of the next competitor are. The driver with the onboard camera attempts to make the pass and succeeds, but then gets re-passed almost immediately. He can see the two cars ahead getting away and so quickly realises that battling with the other car is not a sensible option - at this stage of the race - and so encourages the other car to work together and stop battling with his, "forward chopping motion". You may not be able to make this motion when sim racing, but you can take heed from his actions. Furthermore, instead of battling for a position and losing ground on the cars ahead, you can refrain from battling and work together to try to gain on the cars further down the road, once you've caught them resume your "squabble".

Video clip : When to work with another driver, rather than battling

A situation where you shouldn't defend your position in a race is if someone catches you up from a fair distance back, say 5 seconds or more. Maybe the pole sitter had an early spin or was spun, maybe they had to take avoiding action that cost them a large chunk of time. Whatever the reason - most of the time - it's not worth defending against them as they clearly have superior speed, hence their pole position. As mentioned earlier, if there are two laps to go, defend like hell! However, if it's not the end of the race you are likely best off letting the faster driver past you in this situation. Use their superior speed and hope you can draft behind them - let them pull you along to the next competitor. Use their superior speed to your advantage and hopefully make a place up on track once they have passed the next driver. If you've been able to stay in their draft try and remain in it when they pass the car infront - if safe to do so - and then rinse and repeat - although this technique is quite often easier said than done.

Having taken in what I have said above, you also need to realise that there are obviously situations where you shouldn't give up your position easily, even if the car behind you is clearly a lot quicker than you.

An obvious situation where you should defend your position for all you are worth is when there are only a few laps left. The only exceptions would be on draft tracks where being in the lead on the last lap makes you a sitting duck. For example Daytona road course or even Charlotte Road course.

When racing on a track where passing opportunities are difficult or few and far between, defending your position is a highly desirable and necessary skill. The clip below shows how good car placement even whilst on fresh cold rubber can keep an opponent at bay. The key to defending well in a battle is to only move your car into a defensive position enough to put the driver behind you off making the move. You don't ever want to defend fresh air, or move your car into such a defensive position that you yourself are unable to make it through a corner, or you compromise yourself too much, this is a mistake that many people make with their attempted racecraft. Notice in the following clip how the defending car is aggressive enough in their car positioning without moving off line too early or too much. Great defending in a battle can be quite a subtle art and a good driver trying to gain a position will not only realise this, but also respect you for how you posit your car. Generally good drivers will understand what you are communicating to them. Even if you leave them a car's width gap on the inside line, most of the time they will realise this gap has been left as it will compromise their corner entry and so negate to take you up on your offer. Remember though, this is what good drivers do, so pick your battles wisely, know who to race.

Video clip : Defending

Sometimes when racing it actually makes sense to battle with a faster car and slow yourself and them down. This isn't often the case, but in juxtaposition to the previous example, if the person you have been battling for most of an endurance race (or any race that requires a pitstop) makes their stop before you and has fresh tyres, if they come out behind you it makes sense to defend against them to stop them maximising their tyre advantage. Hopefully your defensive driving will wear their tyres down quicker from being in dirty air. It might slow you down for a bit but if you're on old tyres and they are on fresh tyres by slowing them down you will benefit when you yourself have fresh tyres. Hopefully you won't be held up after your pitstop with fresh tyres and will gain a greater time benefit by having clean air and new rubber.

Video clip : Battling at the end of a race

The video above shows some really good defensive driving that frustrates the "faster" car, so much so that they initiate contact on more than one occassion. Personally I am all for battling hard, but I am vehemently against contact when racing.

The lead driver does a fantastic job of clean defensive driving, eventually the car trying to make the pass gets too aggressive and pays the penalty. At the very end of the video where the incident/crash occurs, the second placed car should have initially not made contact, but once the contact was made, he should have realised that the gap he was going for was going to get closed. Yes the finish line was only metres away, but still he had to realise that the wall and a severe contact were beckoning. He chose the wrong option, he could and should have braked, given up the battle despite a valient attempt and taken second place - which he gained anyway - rather than wrecking himself and potentially getting injured. When sim racing quite often people will attempt a manoeuvre like you've just witnessed probably due to there being no risk of physical harm. However, if you are trying to simulate reality, perhaps being somewhat more careful and cautious would make a lot or races cleaner, but also more enjoyable.

If you run the same series with regular participants you will soon know who to race and who to avoid, however, over time and with experience you learn not only to recognise wreckless and dangerous driving so you can avoid incidents early, but by trusting your gut instincts quite often you can predict incidents before they occur. Listen to your instincts, drive smart and think about the whole race rather than just the lap you are driving and your results should improve.

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