Randy Pobst: How to pass when you have the slower car

By Randy Pobst
Mar 22, 2024 | Column, Randy Pobst | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Hey-lo, GRM car and competition crazies! I am thrilled to see you here in Grassroots Motorsports magazine, which featured my VW Cup Golf racer on the cover at the very start of my career, way back in 1985. Congrats to Tim, Tom and Margie Suddard, David, J.G. and staff for making all this glorious coverage happen for regular folks like you and me.

Now let’s talk racing. Since that 1985 beginning in road racing, I estimate I’ve run about 700 races, and we (it’s a team sport) have won nearly a hundred pro races. In this long process of feeding my addiction to the sport, I’ve come to realize the toughest pass in racing: when the other racer is faster on the straights.

Imagine you’re racing along smoothly and faster than ever, and you catch a car. Your lap times are faster. You belong ahead of that driver. But they have more power–often, a lot more. 

This means when you get to the best passing areas, the long brake zones, that car is always well ahead and out of reach for an outbraking maneuver. As with any pass in racing, you’re going to have to identify your advantages and use them to get by. And stay by.

When you’re catching a car, analyze where and why you are faster. Sometimes you know just by looking at it: cough Mustang cough. You may even think to yourself, “I should not be catching this car.” Congrats, you’re a driving hero. But now you have to figure out how to get by. 

I call this Miata Hell. Passing with more power is the easiest pass, but passing with less takes finesse, wits, brains and patience–emphasis on the patience part. 

In many cases, you find yourself on the bumper of the more powerful car in most of the corners, only to watch it drive away down the straights. A dive bomb from 10 miles back is a bad idea. Wait for opportunity.

Traffic can present that chance to get by. The faster car that’s being driven slower often has less ability behind the wheel. Traffic situations are more likely to slow its exit speed. Look for it. Getting a run on a faster car requires planning ahead–way ahead.

I’ll relate a story from an endurance race at Road Atlanta. This track has a long back straight, and it’s difficult to pass there when facing off against a higher-horsepower rival.

I’m in a lightweight, four-cylinder front-driver, and I’m catching a Mustang V8. Classic matchup. When I see the Mustang slowly coming back to me, I know I’m about to enter Miata Hell. No, wait, let’s call it Miata Opportunity. That’s how it’s done these days, no? And no, it’s not a Miata, it’s a front-drive.

America’s Pony Car has, what, 20 mph on me on that lonnnng straight? Thirty maybe? A lot. But I can tell The Little Car That Could is running about 2 seconds faster than the Mustang. Analyzing as I get close, I see my greatest speed advantages are in the Esses, Turn 6, and Turns 10A and B. The Mustang is rather well driven, but it shows weakness here. I gain a lot.

Waiting behind it–yes, I said waiting; patience–I see no clear, safe chance to pass. I don’t own this car I’m driving, by the way, and I feel a great responsibility to return it unharmed. And it has run well for many hours before I got in. If a better-handling car can get into a twisty section before the higher-powered car, it can work to create enough of a gap to beat that higher-powered car to the end of the long straight and then disappear ahead. At this track, that’s Turn 3.

I know where I’m faster and do not run up hard on the car ahead to keep my risk low. Plus, I want to save brakes and fuel. I’m stalking, like a leopard in the tall grass. 

Then it happens. We catch an E30 BMW. The Mustang passes it out of 10B under the bridge but gets held slightly by another car in superfast Turn 12. The E30 gets a little run. 

I think, “Is that E30 gonna go for the Mustang that just blew by?” Nooooo. Yes? The dang BMW late-move dive-bombs the ’Stang in Turn 1, slowing them both a lot! Dumb move, but here’s my chance: I delay entry, leave room to use my good handling through Turn 1, and take them both into Turn 3. Woooo! 

The Ding-Dong E30 impedes the poor Mustang all the way through the esses, giving me enough gap to just barely beat the V8 down that straight (man, it was comin’!), and I never see the Mustang again. Free at last!

The Toughest Pass in Racing. Wait for an advantage: traffic, or a mistake. Don’t crash in desperation.

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wspohn UltraDork
3/22/24 11:18 a.m.

Great article to repeat - I'm sure it made my blood pressure go up a bit just reading it (I always raced small British cars and had to deal with exactly the issue of Mustangs etc. faster on the straights and slower through the corners).

Driven5 PowerDork
3/22/24 11:25 a.m.

Considering our fledgling Lucky Dog team's latest decision, this is rather timely. Thank you.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/22/24 11:32 a.m.
wspohn said:

... it made my blood pressure go up a bit just reading it ...

that is exactly what i was going to say.  Welcome Randy!  Love your writing.

akylekoz UltraDork
3/22/24 11:37 a.m.

Love it, in Lemons with 80-120 cars on the track at the same time there are lots of these opportunities.  Later in the race with more space and less cars it is a patience game.  When the track is busy I find myself driving in the mirrors a lot looking for the faster cars coming up, they present their own opportunities.  

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/22/24 11:38 a.m.

Coming up next: How to keep that slower car from passing you even though the driver obviously has more talent. (I kid, I kid.)

Totally love working with Randy and more to come. 

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Dork
3/22/24 12:11 p.m.

Great article.  The more I race the more I realize how most passing comes as a consequence of traffic or mistakes.

buzzboy UltraDork
3/22/24 12:18 p.m.

My passes pre engine swap were usually when the other cars stop to fuel. There are benefits to an engine that only burns 3gph.

I always hated the game of passing a car through the corners then having them blow my doors off the second the track straightens out. Part of it is that I can be full throttle through most corners waiting for my teutonic turbo to spool, while other drivers are modulating throttle to keep in traciton. I didn't learn throttle modulation, but I did pass a bunch of people.

Duke MegaDork
3/22/24 12:42 p.m.

Glad to have you aboard, Randy!  Your column was pretty much the only part of SportsCar I ever read.


Jesse Ransom
Jesse Ransom GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/22/24 1:22 p.m.


Even more excited to go race *anything* than I was ten minutes ago...

Msterbee Reader
3/22/24 1:31 p.m.

If it's a track day, be sneaky.  If it's proper racing, be ruthless.  Within reason... 

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