Track-day enthusiasts and racers alike will agree that it’s easier to catch someone than it is to pass them. The difference is that to catch a rider you only need to be split-seconds quicker than them per lap, but to pass that same person you need to be patient, keen and able to adapt your riding line as necessary. Not everyone can make the basic adjustments, which generally leads to unsafe passes and/or multiple laps spent following slower riders. Learning how to overtake riders in a quicker, safer manner will save you from the frustration that ensues.
First some housekeeping; the amount of aggression that you use to complete a pass should vary drastically depending on the environment. Passes at a track day, for instance, should be friendlier than a pass for position on the last lap of a race. Some track-day organizations drive this point home by enforcing “passing rules,” which ultimately determine where and how you can pass at certain tracks and in certain groups. In various beginner groups, for example, passing is only allowed on the outside to prevent overzealous riders from entering a corner too hot, tucking the front tire and taking out the rider they’re looking to pass. Most track-day organizations will also ask you to leave a generous gap between you and the rider you’re passing so as to promote safe and fun riding. If you’re participating in a track day for the first time or with a new provider, make sure you understand the rules and that you abide by them on track.
We’re not trying to suck the fun out of passing and on-track dicing, but there are a few more responsibilities to bear in mind when it comes to overtaking. The most important thing to remember is that it’s the person making the pass who’s responsible for getting by cleanly. Thus if you’re making a move on a slower rider, it’s your responsibility to overtake without making contact, swapping paint and sending the rider in to the pits quivering. And while we’re sure you’d appreciate it if the riders up front simply moved over and let you by, the reality is that it’s not their job to make extra room for you — you’ll have to play to your strengths and use your head if you want to get by.
Housekeeping aside, there’s a lot to enjoy about planning and executing a perfect pass. Think of it as a challenge, one that requires skill, forethought and some wits to accomplish. Start first with being patient and by not forcing a risky pass out of excitement, as this generally ends up putting you or the other rider in danger. Take your time and consider a few things like: Where are you quicker than the other rider? Is there any one corner that’s less dicey to pass in than the others? Will the subsequent section of track allow the rider an opportunity to re-pass? If so, how will you react? Making a pass that can stick is about more than dive-bombing the succeeding corner, and it’s important that you remain patient as you look toward each pass.
Every good overtaking maneuver requires a plan of attack, which could take anywhere from two corners to two laps to formulate. To expedite the process, try to recognize where you’re stronger than the rider in front of you and what your advantages are. If you’re at a track day, for instance, maybe your advantage is that you’re on a larger displacement bike, at which point you can simply rely on your horsepower advantage to make a pass on the next straight. In other cases, the rider you’re looking to overtake may be on a faster bike but unable to carry as much corner speed as you, which will ultimately allow you to make a pass in a tighter section of track. Recognize whatever advantages you have, and play to them as best you can.
Things get a bit trickier in a race scenario because odds are you’ll be racing against people that are equally as skilled as you and on similar displacement machinery. There will always be a difference between your strengths and theirs however, and capitalizing on these differences can open up multiple passing opportunities. You may be better on the brakes for instance, or perhaps better off the corner. If it’s the previous of the two cases, set up your pass by getting to the inside of the rider at the entrance of the corner and holding a tighter line through the braking zone. Brake a bit later and harder, and then focus on getting the bike turned and holding your line so that you can make the pass stick. If you’re better at the exit of the corner, in contrast, try to hold a wider line on the entry and try to pad the gap between you and the other rider so that you have room to accelerate harder through the middle of the turn. As you square the corner off and begin to stand the bike up, look for room toward the inside of the other rider and do your best to put the power to the ground and get by them.
If you’re unable to make a quick pass or end up stuck behind a rider through a certain section of track, try your best to alter your line so that you’re not following directly in tow of their rear tire. Moving over a few inches here or a foot there will not only open your line of sight up so that you can better see what’s ahead, but it will also allow you to look for passing opportunities on either side of the rider. When stuck behind a rider but looking to pass, it’s important to also look at the track ahead rather than remain deadlocked on the rider in front. In short, look where you’re going, which in this case is to the front of the pack!
Catching a rider is, and will always be, easier than passing a rider, but with a little bit of patience and a good plan of attack, overtaking can be accomplished without as much frustration. Recognize your strengths and capitalize where you can; sometimes one pass here and one pass there could be the difference between a fourth place finish and your first trophy.