Leading vs Following

So during my last race, something happened, I passed P1 and began leading the race. This had never happen before, for as long as I’ve been karting, I’ve always had someone ahead of me. Now this only lasted a few laps before I had a mechanical issue and fell out of the race entirely.

I have to admit, when it happened, I was shocked. Then the reality set in, and I didn’t like the feeling of leading. Hear me out . . .

When following, I can gauge how I’m doing based on if I’m gaining on the person in front of me or not. Whereas, when I was leading, there was no way for me to messure how well I was doing- and I really didn’t like it.

It made me appreciate the guys who lead all the time, because this thought never crossed into my mind until that race, and now I can’t get the feeling out of head wondering how the front runners coup with leading the race. . .


You just need to focus on hitting your marks and try not to worry about what’s going on behind you. I know it’s easier said than done but that’s how I won motos when I raced MX. I haven’t had the same success in karting although I’m relatively new to it. I can however say that I employ the same technique in the middle of the pack as well.

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Leading can be tough for many reasons.

If you feel like you’re not as easily able to gauge your relative pace without having someone to chase, then the solution is to get more laps (usually the answer for many problems lol). The ultimate goal is for a driver to be able to determine the strength of his/her pace based on seat of the pants feel relative to the perceived limit. To get there it merely takes exercising your instincts to 1) narrow the delta between your perception of the limit and the actual limit and 2) build consistency. Of course, this is way easier said than done.

Even once you’re able to get to this point, there are still psychological barriers that may prevent a driver from being able to lead a race and be entirely mistake-free. Winning is rarely easy, and if it is then that ease will be short lived once the other drivers inevitably close the gap.

As Alex points out above, it’s best to focus on consistently hitting your marks, and “driving your own race”.


Super common phenomenon where a driver can follow but not lead. As you all have said, the reason for it is you have a reference marker in front of you so you don’t blow your braking point or turn-in point, but when that reference marker is gone, your brain blanks if you haven’t fully acclimatized yourself to where your braking points and turn-in points are.

Following someone else is like taking a math test with the answer key sitting right there. You still have to fill in the math problems, but you are being given what you need to fill in.

Leading is like taking the math test for real, without the answer key. You actually have to know your stuff at that point.

Sounds like you just gotta study a bit more Dean, but at least you’re getting familiar with the material!


Man this is a great analogy!


Literally just came up with it! :beers:


It gets better. The more you lead the more capable you are of driving well whilst leading.

Think of it as a novel experience, it’s totally alien. Similar to the Sensation of Speed. But, in time, you become totally comfortable with your x30 or whatever as the laps make it second nature.

Same with leading. Same process.

Also, now that you have led, you have a new expectation of yourself, and you will seek it out constantly. I really hate not being up in front pack and try to get calmer/smoother and try to make good decisions.

Put your nose down and don’t think too much. Just be and do. Trust your skills.

Also, you will come to believe that you belong there and are worthy of it as your confidence increases. you stop feeling like an interloper, like it’s a mistake or luck or something.

It’s funny, pretty much everyone in early days says that they are content being back of pack or mid pack or whatever. That changes over time as your results and expectations change.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy racing if you aren’t up front, everyone’s journey is different . Pretty sure it’s the same thing going from being the slowest guy to mid pack and so forth.

In short: congrats now go get some, again!


To train for your next test out front, do practice quizzes every day:

  • Get a stopwatch (or stopwatch app)

  • Relax, close your eyes, and imagine driving a lap. (Start one or two turns before the S/F straight so you can ‘click into’ the rhythm of the track)

  • Start the stopwatch when you pass the S/F line.

  • Stop the watch when you complete the lap. Your goal is to be within a few 1/10ths of your actual lap time.

  • Repeat for about 5 laps, and see how you’re progressing towards the goal.

If you can’t get to within a few 1/10ths of your actual lap time, just keep practicing a few laps every day, because in this case the quiz is also the studying/training… it strengthens your mental model of the track.

Note, the twisty bits are actually easier to recall correctly because there is usually a kind of natural rhythm built into braking, turning, apexing, and accelerating. It can be harder to gauge time on the straights. If you have trouble with the straights, you can just count it off (1-1000, 1-1000…), or next time you are at the track you can pick a couple of landmarks to notice along the longest straight so the distance between reference points is not so far.


I would rather be up front and my lap times usually reflect that. I tend to drive faster from the lead, In 206 I find it hard to run ultimate pace when following.

Also, if you can get the people behind you battling sometimes you can break the draft.


Another thought… you know how when you hunt the guys ahead down, how that feels? Like how you are just trying to get everything you can out of each corner, efficient, not pushing but extracting as much as you can?

I think that’s kind of what leading feels like to me, if you can relate to that. Basically, keep that mindset once you have the lead. Hunt the back of the pack now, if that makes sense.

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Developing a general distaste for your opposition with a healthy dose of self-absorption usually helps (mainly within circuit confines, not outside of it). Also helps to work on getting better equipment. Finding better engines etc… The very best guys I’ve ever worked with are unapologetic about all this. It shapes everything they do from work in the garage, to how they practise, to how they race and eventually how they perform.

These things can be as much about behavioral traits than specific techniques. The best cope with it because for most of them they are often disgusted when they aren’t leading or planning to lead. The real question really is how they cope when they aren’t leading.


If you ran the leaders down you are faster. If you slow down behind the leaders, you are faster. Once you are in the lead, see if you can step up the pace, a tenth or two for at least 5 laps consistently. For me I made it a lap time game and rather than a defending game. If your pace is 2/10 quicker, you should be able cruise away. It also helps to watch your time differential (best lap) and keep it in check during the lap, as it will help gauge if you are overdriving. After a few laps, look behind you and see if the competition has stepped up the pace. After 5 laps and they are on your ass then it’s a different type of race. A general rule is a kart length lead is about 1/10 sec. After 5 laps running a tenth quicker you should be 5 kart lengths in front, that is a decent lead, if you don’t make too many mistakes.

What is this thing called “following”?


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It’s what happens before “punting”.

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When out front. I occasionally check my mychron lights for my lap delta. Quick reference if I’m on pace. Green good. Red bad. If red when in a tight corner out of the side of my helmet I try to see where they are. I do what I can to avoid turning m my head as much as possible.

Just concentrate on hitting your marks. Listen. If they are in striking distance you can usually hear them. Know where you can protect without giving up the next corner.

Our track for instance has one particular corner that especially final lap I will essentially park it on the apex. Ruins their line/momentum and lets you drive away. If they decide to try and move me it’s so blatant they will get a penalty.

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Weirdly enough, I actually found myself having the opposite problem a lot at one point. I could lead no problem, a driver that was consistently faster than me in races was surprised they couldn’t catch me, but as soon as I fell in behind someone I would make mistakes I wasn’t making without a kart ahead of me.

What helps in both scenarios, struggling to lead and follow, is looking through the driver ahead of you, to where the marker should be what you’re using for braking, turn in, etc. Some drivers are faster by reacting to the kart ahead of them, braking a foot after the kart ahead of them, getting on the gas earlier, but they don’t have that marker when they lead.

Was thinking about this when TJ brought up the idea of folks struggling without the guy ahead informing them of where to go, when to turn.

If you aren’t looking through the guy ahead, you are doing what he’s doing, effectively. How are you gonna recognize opportunities if you aren’t seeing the big picture of track ahead?

Staring at what he’s doing is not necessary since your brain is able to deal with the task of not rear ending him while you look through/around. Your peripheral vision is totally up to the task so long as you give brief, little referential checks every few seconds. For every glance at bumper there’s 4 glances through/around, imho.


Oh hey, btw this is even more nerve wracking in iracing for some reason.
It just is. No idea why, but leading a sim race is brutal.

“It would be a shame if you fucked this up” seems to cross my mind much more in sim as compared to IRL racing.

Maybe it’s because IRL you have so much more time/money invested in the race and there’s no redos. IRL you just can’t afford to think that way.

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I was always more on edge in iRacing because mistakes are easier. Less feedback to work with, especially on a lower end setup like I had means it’s harder to catch a mistake. Plus depth perception isn’t really a thing on a computer screen.

I went to PRI back when you didn’t have to pay to get in, there was a really nice VR motion rig setup, and I ended up lapping pretty decent out there because it felt a lot more natural than a regular simulator.

That’s a good point. My faith in braking irl is way higher than in iBraking!