“You can’t ever win a race on lap one, but you can certainly lose it.”
Well, yes, I understand the intention behind this cliché and yes, it is true in a sense, but it’s not that simple.
Often, lap one of a race is the single most important factor in determining the final result. This becomes even more relevant if the race is short in length, or the track isn’t the best for overtaking. Of course, you can never guarantee a race win based on the first lap, but you can certainly put yourself in a strong position that may end up leading to a great result.
So, with that in mind, here’s how to get the most out of your race starts on Assetto Corsa Competitizone, and crucially, how to manage the opening lap.
Your first lap can be affected way before you even hit the track. Once the game advances you to the race session, you normally have a little bit of time to prepare yourself for the start. Of course, when you are racing offline you can start the race whenever you like, but if you are racing online you will have a limited time to get yourself on the grid for the start.
Make sure you check this waiting time at the top of the screen before you run off for a pee and miss the formation lap. The next step is to use this waiting time to sort your setup. Your car should be on exactly the same setup as it was previously, so just make sure this is your race setup and you have new tyres on the car, as well as the correct amount of fuel.
Your next step is to hit drive or start race and line up on the grid, and straight away we have another potential mistake waiting to be made…
Formation lap timing
This won’t affect you if you are racing AI offline as the session doesn’t begin until you click start race, but when you are racing online there is this short waiting period before the formation lap gets underway as I mentioned. If you line up on the grid too early, your simulated tyre blankets will come off too early and your tyres will be stone cold and low on pressure at the start of the formation lap.
Wait until there are less than 20 seconds to go before clicking drive to ensure your tyres keep their heat. I should also mention at this stage that this doesn’t apply to GT4 cars, as they never use tyre blankets meaning the tyres are always cold when you leave the garage or start a race.
As you wait on the grid for the final few seconds, make sure your engine is running. Then, when the game allows you, begin your formation lap.
Sometimes the formation lap is just a few corners so be ready for a quick getaway, but other times you will be doing a full lap of the circuit.
You can use this opportunity to get some temperature into the tyres and brakes. There are many ways of doing this, but I’d recommend using the accelerator and brake at the same time, essentially riding the brakes to heat them up. Doing this as well as some gentle weaving will increase your tyre temperature and you can manage these things with the hud at the bottom right.
For those who don’t know, the four big tyre shaped symbols are your tyres and the four smaller bricks on the inside are your brakes. Ideally, you want these to be as close to green as possible when the lights go… well… green.
It’s also worth remembering that on the formation lap, your car will ghost through others if contact is made, so don’t worry about avoiding other cars.
It’s now time for the race start procedure. When racing offline things are simple, the game holds you in place and when the race starts, you gain full control. Online is a little more complex, however.
Follow the on-screen instructions to line up on the correct side and hold your car within the green area of the graphic. If you fail to do this properly the game will give you a penalty so be careful to follow it closely. You will then be asked to maintain your speed (70kph max), until the green flag flies and you can nail the throttle.
It’s also worth noting that in some cars, the maximum speed in a specific gear might be perfect for this phase of the start, so if that’s the case just keep your foot planted and shift up as the race begins. In terms of the timing of the start, it will happen when the pole sitter crosses the start line, so be ready when this is about to happen.
Hopefully, you managed to react quickly, avoid any penalties and now you should have warm tyres and warm brakes as you hurtle towards the first corner.
Often, you will need to pick a side heading into turn one, although you may be railroaded depending on how packed the grid is and which side you started on. If you do get the chance to choose, it’s a matter of risk versus reward. Usually, the best line to take is the one where there is the most space available in front of you, as this allows you to maintain your momentum and avoid being forced into braking unnecessarily.
I find when racing online, that this is often the outside of the corner. What tends to happen is that drivers queue up on the inside heading into the braking zone in order to protect their track position, but because the queue is long and everyone is bunched up, the drivers behind have to brake very early to avoid a collision and make it through safely.
This has a knock-on effect that is exaggerated the further back through the field you go. If you avoid the bigger trains of cars and find a little bit of space, you can brake closer to the regular braking point and carry the speed through the corner with less compromise, even if the line isn’t ideal in theory.
Now of course I am aware that this isn’t how things will play out every time. Maybe you can’t find any space, maybe the outside line is busier than the inside line, there are never any guarantees at the start of a race. However, if you are prepared for these situations, you will be in a better place to capitalise from them.
Risk vs reward
Of course, going where the space is and carrying higher speed carries increased risk. If someone misjudges their braking or makes contact on the inside, naturally they will head towards the outside, and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may get collected. This is why it’s risk versus reward. You must make a quick decision as to whether you aim for the space and hope to make it through safely, or stick with the pack and keep your nose clean.
It’s also worth noting that towards the front of the grid, things can be a bit different again. As drivers aren’t in a queue of cars all needing to brake before the one in front, it’s often recommended to try and hold the optimal racing line and take ownership of the corner positionally. In fact, if the leading two cars are side by side heading into turn one, it’s crucial you try and hit your apex flawlessly because if they end up trying to out-brake each other, they could both run wide and hand you the lead.
The goal isn’t always to make up as many places as possible. In the long run, it can be beneficial to sacrifice a few positions at the start in order to keep your nose clean and your car in one piece. You need to think about each race individually and consider what you want to get out of it. Is this track difficult to overtake on, and therefore will I benefit by taking extra risks?
Or is it a long race on a track that’s good for overtaking and my pace is strong, in which case it might be worth playing it safe. It’s all about creativity and adaptability, if you can differentiate yourself from the others, chase the space and think outside the box, you can gain places but it’s a risk and you will inevitably pay the price for it on occasion.
Get your head in gear
Finding your rhythm as quickly as possible is key to avoiding falling out of sync with the other drivers. If a rival manages to force you away from the optimal line, this can compromise your exit speed and before you know it, the next car will be alongside you. You try and defend from them but then at the next corner you are on the outside line again. Before you know it, you are losing more and more positions and unable to stop the backwards momentum. The ultimate slippery slope.
Avoiding this is about accepting defeat at the right moment, and it’s also about confidence. Sometimes, you must accept that the position is gone, and you will be better off letting it go and getting straight back into the train.
However, in some situations, attack can be the best form of defence. If you are focusing on passing the car in front rather than staring at your mirrors, it can help you avoid those situations where you get taken advantage of. This is why confidence is important. If you are the one making the moves and positioning your car on the optimal line, it will be your rivals that are falling back through the pack.
Avoid a pile-up
Another common first lap scenario is a pile-up. We have all seen them, we have all been in them…
When drivers have cold brakes and cold tyres, they can often misjudge things early on, so it’s your job to avoid the carnage and pick your way through the melee. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and often, cars movements are unpredictable, but what you can do is look as far ahead as possible to prepare.
If you can read the situation before you get there you will have a better chance of avoiding the incident. This may sound completely counterintuitive, but if there is a car losing control at high speed, a good piece of advice is to actually aim for the car – initially at least.
If you aim for one spot, it’s highly likely that the car won’t be there by the time you arrive, whereas if you try to aim for the space it’s quite often the case that the out of control driver will end up there. Of course, this doesn’t apply if the car is fully straight or indeed stationary, so take that advice as more of a general concept than a literal instruction.
The finer details
So you have made it through the formation lap, race start, first corner queue and the first lap pile up. Hopefully, you have made some good progress and kept your nose clean, which will set you up perfectly for the rest of the race. Is there anything else to consider?
Well, it could be raining, and in these situations, it’s even more important that you aim to use alternative lines and try to find space. Not only will this allow you to carry more speed on the way into a corner, but you may also have more grip off of the racing line which then adds to that advantage. Crashes may be more likely so you will need to be as vigilant as possible and leave bigger gaps than usual to avoid getting collected.
It’s also important that if you are racing in an independently organized league, you read the rulebook and know what is expected. Maybe they don’t allow overtaking in certain corners on the opening lap for example. The main thing is although you will want to maximize your progress, remain respectful of others and think your way through the field rather than forcing it.
So that’s going to be it from me today, do you have any tips for navigating race starts? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.