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The importance of learning how to crash

WRC 9 crash

It sounds like madness, but one of the absolute most important things you can do in a racing game is learn how to crash properly. Why? Because accidents happen to every racing driver at one point or another, and for most players just getting started, such incidents occur rather frequently.

But you don’t need to be a novice to benefit from learning how to crash properly; everyone can improve their handling of bad situations, in order to minimise lost time.

Before we start, it should be pointed out that there is no good way to crash a very delicate car. If you break a suspension rod, it’s effectively Game Over, so you’re much better off learning how to use the brakes and understand how your car’s relationship with the tarmac of the track itself affects your grip levels so that you don’t crash in the first place.

Not crashing will lose you less time than crashing in any racing sim. But if your car is robust, or damage is turned off, these tips will definitely help you.

Wreckfest crash

Always try to avoid the crash in the first instance

There are racers out there who will always think ‘nah, I’m OK – I can make this’ even when the car is clearly heading towards a wall. The softer your impact with the wall, the less likely it is to destroy your race. So if you feel the car getting away from you, simply slow down.

Normally lifting off the throttle is enough to reign the car in if you’re straying too far from the inside of the turn, but sometimes brakes are needed.

Should you brake too hard with ABS switched off and your wheels lock up, you won’t be able to stop or turn and you’re skidding towards the scene of the accident, so if you absolutely have to stop and there’s not enough grip to do so, pump the brakes. That means brake, let off the brakes and turn, brake, let off the brakes and turn and so on, maximising deceleration and turning angle in the hope of avoiding the wall.

Accept you’re going to crash

This one’s the next most important. If you have resigned yourself to the fact that contact with the wall is inevitable, you’ve got a split second to decide how best to hit it. The best way to hit the wall in most racing games is to bang the side of the car flush into the wall. As long as the wheels don’t break off, this avoids damaging your front and rear spoiler and has the added benefit of avoiding spins and bounce-backs. So you need to ascertain what your car is actually doing. Is it…

VW Golf GTI understeer

Understeering?

Understeer usually happens when you’ve come into a corner too quickly and can’t slow down enough in time to make the turn. The car goes straighter than you’re asking it to with the steering wheel, which means you’re likely to hit the barrier at a less acute angle. If the front corner digs into the wall, the back will be forced to come round (or break off if you’re Romain Grosjean), causing the car to turn and face the wrong direction.

Obviously, that means time spent turning around again, so do all you can to turn the car. In low-traction disciplines like rallying, it could actually be beneficial to accelerate while turning, to encourage the back to step out. Anything to keep the car facing forwards.

Oversteering?

If your car is oversteering, it means the back end has stepped out, as if the back wheels are trying to overtake the front wheels. Under acceleration, this can be known as fishtailing, but simply trying to take a corner too fast or changing gear mid-corner can result in the back coming round.

A four-wheel power drift also normally sees the back step out, which is normally totally fine (not to mention fun), but if that means contact with the barrier is imminent, you need to get straightened up.

So the advice here is to deliberately turn towards the barrier. It takes a little practice, but turning into the wall just enough so that you don’t catch the back end of your car on it first will make a huge difference to what happens next. Contact at the rear first means the front will snap around, and likely push you into a spin as it subsequently hits the wall. So instead, try to line your car up with the wall and then let go of the steering.

If all goes well you should be facing the right way and the car won’t be then trying to take new steering instructions into account, which almost always ends badly.

NASCAR Heat 5 spinning

Spinning?

If you’re completely out of control because someone’s hit you, then there isn’t much you can do to minimise any impact and you’ll soon know whether you’ve hit a wall or not. But in the meantime you can at least keep a mental note of which direction ‘forwards’ is and where you should rejoin when you do regain control. If you’re using manual gears then get yourself into a lower gear, which should be fine for most restarts. And if you don’t hit the wall and you are spinning, never give up hope.

Wait for the car to come around to the right way and just have a go at steering into the spin (so left if you’re spinning clockwise) and see if you can just carry on without waiting for the car to come to a halt. Nigel Mansell used to be the king of this kind of recovery.

Finally, it must be said that you should own your mistakes and learn from them. If the game has a rewind function, the advice here is simple: don’t use it.

Every time you do, you’re eroding your own learning process. The whole point of racing a car is the balance between risk and reward. Drive too safely and you won’t be very fast. Drive too quickly and you’ll end up in the wall. If you take away the consequences of that wall, you’ll never be the brave stuff of legend. Do it the hard way, and learn how best to crash if you do make a mistake.

That way when you’re racing real people – online or in real life – you’ll have an all-important respect for the boundaries and just how close you should get to them.

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