Q: “I’m struggling with how to find reference points and maintain good vision (and stay calm!) when starting a race in the rain. I’m usually pretty far back in the pack, and the spray/mist thrown up from the other cars sometimes completely obscures my vision (regardless of windshield wipers, Rain-X, etc.). Here’s my in-car start from a recent PIR race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWwsea8PXts. In this case, I backed off way early because I just plain couldn’t tell where I was or when the chicane was coming up. Plus, I didn’t want to come in too fast if there was a pileup. Do you have any advice for how to handle this kind of situation?”
A: That looked like both a fun and a bit scary race start! Yes, the biggest challenge of driving in the rain is dealing with the lack of visibility.
In the rain, it’s important to have multiple reference points for things like brake markers, turn-in points, etc. – particularly some off to the sides so you can see them in your peripheral vision when you can’t see anything in front of you. Heading into the first corner in a pack, the first challenge is seeing where you should begin braking, and if you’re only relying on your usual references, that’s not good enough. So, when it’s not raining – or when it’s raining in practice and you’re not blocked by other cars – make note of other references off to the sides. I highly recommend writing or drawing those references down on a paper track map, as that’ll help ensure they stick in your mind for when you need them most.
Next, the other references you use to judge when to brake, turn, etc. is memory and timing. You sense it’s “about time” to begin braking based off of how long you’ve been on the straight. Actually, the memory is part of your mental programming. Obviously, once everyone slows down it gets easier to see, so it’s mostly the reference for when to begin braking that is most difficult and important. Some of that you can estimate based on the length of time on the straight. That takes experience and lots of laps, but also trusting that it’s there. If, before you go on track, you close your eyes and imagine the amount of time you spend on the straight, that will help. Again, you’re programming your mind.
Finally, there’s a big risk versus reward decision you need to make in the rain. Some drivers will take bigger chances, driving blind for some amount of time because they know it will give them an advantage over others who back off. But there’s a gamble with doing that. I can’t tell you how much of a risk you should take – that’s a personal thing. What I know is that most drivers back off more than they need to, and I usually take advantage of that! I’m not being any braver – and I don’t think I’m taking bigger chances and being stupid. I’m just taking advantage of the situation, trusting my memory (mental programming), timing, and the extra references that I’ve filed away in the back of my mind for days like the rainy ones.
By the way, I created a video about racing in the rain, and it’s on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/3t4l_4z99sw