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What ifs and 'vrrr phaas' - the differences between racing and road driving

2017-03-16 11:56

VERY DIFFERENT RULES: Racing driver Clare Vale says on-road driving and racing is not the same thing. Image: Clarevale.com

Clare Vale

Clare Vale races a Mustang in V8 Supercars and she drifts her Subaru BRZ too. She says: "I see so many amateur racing drivers on the road every day. They think they drive like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, but I can promise you that most of these traffic light heroes would not survive turn one in a real race."

Johannesburg - I recently watched a video of a tragic motorcycle crash that occurred at Cape Town’s Killarney race track. A lot of questions surround this accident, why it happened, how it could have been avoided, but at the end of the day, a very talented and popular competitor lost his life and all the answers in the world won’t bring him back.

Watching the horrific footage of the incident, however, made me think about the differences between racing and driving on the road.

A racer can never spend time thinking about the “What Ifs”. If you spent time thinking about what could happen, you would never race in the first place. “What if I crashed?” “What if the track is slippery and I lose control?” “What if someone else loses control and puts me in the barriers?”

Imagine being in the thick of a race and thinking, “What if the gap I see isn’t big enough?” “What if my brakes lock up coming into this fast corner and I can’t stop?” Racing drivers who hesitate are a danger to themselves and to other drivers.

What ifs

In motorsport, it’s the job of the authorities and the marshalls to consider the “What Ifs”. It’s up to them to inspect the circuit and ask, “What if a bike doing 200km/h plus goes off at this corner? How best can we protect the rider from serious injury or death?” It’s also their job to ensure that marshals are on hand to assist when things go pear shaped and to react instantly with medical assistance when incidents occur.

In theory, this is how things work on the track, although even on the track accidents can happen and competitors can get seriously injured. This tragic incident is a perfect example of how easily it all goes wrong, despite all the precautions and help on hand. However, you’re still more likely to survive a crash on the track then a crash on a public road.

Driving on the road is a different story. On the road, it’s a driver’s responsibility to ask, “What if?”

“I’m doing 120 in an 80km/h zone. What if a car comes out of that side road ahead? What if I can’t stop in time?”

“I can make the green light if I dive between those slower cars up ahead. But what if one of them makes an unexpected move?”

I see so many amateur racing drivers on the road every day. Many of them do drive VRRR..Phaas, but others drive Beemers, Audis and double cab bakkies. They race the red lights, they race against each other, and they duck and dive in the traffic. They think they drive like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, but I can promise you that most of these traffic light heroes would not survive turn one in a real race.

                                                Clare Vale with racing V8 Mustang. Image: clarevale.com / Caryn Miles

In a race, all the drivers are hell bent on getting ahead or at least holding their positions – no-one gives an inch! Our traffic light heroes depend on other road users being compliant – getting out of the way, taking evasive action, moving over. This puts us all at risk, as the margins for error are slim, and there is no way of knowing if other drivers are even aware of our heroes. They might be on their phones, thinking about what to make for dinner or distracted by kids in the back seats.

Of course, aggressive manoeuvres are also a great way to inspire road rage! Some drivers will react aggressively too, unexpectedly pushing back and refusing to give way…

The authorities who make the rules of the road are not there when things go wrong. There are no marshalls on hand to summon the medics when drivers misjudge a corner and wrap themselves around a tree. Road cars don’t have roll cages and fire extinguishers to protect the occupants when a driver crosses a solid line and meets a truck head on.

The essence of defensive driving is to constantly ask yourself, “What if?” What if that taxi up ahead stops suddenly to drop off a passenger? What if that approaching car decides to run the red light? I never ask myself “What if” when I’m racing: when I race I’m in the moment and decisions have to be made in the moment. When I drive on the road, I ask myself constantly, “What if?”

I understand the Need for Speed, but speed comes with responsibility. Rather take the racing ambitions to the track. You want to race head to head? Get to The Rock Raceway on a Wednesday night and join over 200 other street racers for some real drag racing.

Fancy your talents against the clock? Go to Zwartkops Raceway for a Super Trax Sunday and see how good your lap times really are.

Join the BMW Club and try your hand at organised track racing, or test your driving skills in the Gymkhana series. That way you can earn real respect while making the roads a safer place for everyone.

What if you find out you can REALLY drive??

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Read more on:    johannesburg  |  racing  |  safe driving  |  motorsport

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