Standing Starts verses Rolling Starts
While I am sure this has been discussed, debated and ruled on many time in history I thought I might share a perspective from a newcomers point of view. I have been in the Vintage Racing world in the USA for the last 35+ years and have never had the opportunity to try anything else other than rolling starts. Thus when the opprotunity came for me to travel to Australia to race in their premiere Vintage Race, it never occured to me that the start would be different.
As it turns out almost all Vintage Races Australia are standing starts. They do make exceptions for a couple of later model groups like Formula 5000 but the rule is you better learn the process as that will be your only option. And in fact, we had the opportunity to be in the control tower during one of the rolling starts and they have a lot of drama and concerns about making it happen safely. They are not sure at all that it is a safe thing, just that it is kind-of needed for some classes of cars.
The whole standing start process is rather simple in my eyes. We had the usual warm-up session followed by very normal qualifying. As expected this resulted in our starting position. This is were the fun begins!
The front straight has painted lines that dictate your starting loacation. These have apparently been well thought out as the spaconng between rows is I think very generous. While I did not have the opportunity to walk off the exact distance, it looks like at least 20 feet. When the cars are released from the pre-grid( "Dummy" grid in Australian terms) a lap of the track is used to warm up tires, etc. As we completed the lap we pulled up two by two to the lines on the main straight. In our class we had 50+ cars and thus had 25+ rows of 2 cars each.
The grid marshalls were spread out over the straight to insure everyone lined-up in their assigned position and just as important to notify the starter that all was ready. Anticipation was high as all we could do from row 6 was to try to look into our mirrors to see when the last marshall motioned that all was ready. The start was extremely exciting and from my point of view - safe as any racing with added benefit of lots of adrenalin. As the grid was based on lap times you would naturally expect the faster cars to be in the front and thus most often do not have some V8 in the back of the grid running over some Mini in the front at the start.
The starting process is also pretty simple- after the back grid marshall gives is all set, the starter flagman takes a final look and then raises a '5 second' sign board. Within a few seconds of him pulling the board down, a number of red lights are shown. This is the real 'get ready' sign! Engines rev higher than the ever and the test is about to happen- when the red light go out- it is time to go! And wow, what a rush!! Smoking tires and clutches are sure to get you passed at this point. A deliberate but very firm start will be sure to gain you a few positions before you reach the starters stand. The two tracks that I was fortunate enough to run had very nice wide front straights which meant that 5 or 6 cars abreast was not uncommon. Not a whole lot different that trying to go into turn 2 at Sears point??!!
We all recognize that racing in any venue requires the practising of a number of skill sets and to be honest, a standing start should be considered just a different skill that most Americans simply have not had the need to learn. But it is still a great experience and in my judgement adds a lot to the race. Perhaps I have a someone slanted perspective as I was drving a very nicely set-up perior correct MG Midget and had some great starts. The competition included a number of TR6's, Porsche 911's, Alfas and more than a few MGB's. and invariable we picked up 2 or 3 positions on the start. The cars are clearly setup different than our car in that clutches and gear ratios are even more critical.
Is it more dangerous? Well, I have to admit that I watched a number of classes and indeed there were a few incidences on the start. But for sure I have seen at least as many if not more going into the first turn or two at any number of tracks in the USA. The rule that you can't win a race on the start is true with either standing or rolling starts. The first incident I witness included the same wide selection of cars as in my race. The "Tin Top" race for early sedans included everything from Mini Coopers to Mustangs and Mazdas. The problem occured when one of the very experienced Mini drivers simply lost his concentration as the red lights went out. By the time he started to move someone was beside him, when he lost traction with the front tires slipping he moved sideways into the oncoming traffic. The only body damage was to metal and not human as they were not yet even going over 30 MPH's- this is in great contrast to entering turn two at Laguna at probably over 70 MPH's. I would still rather have a judgement error at 30MPH rather than 70. The second incident was a little more visual as the guy that make the judgment error was drving a Pantera and when he vigerously released the clutch, the rear wheels for sure could not take the horsepower and his sideways excusion was close to the front of the grid with lots of very poweful cars behind him BUT as luck would have it- no one touched him! I still think this is due to the fact that cars are started a couple cars lengths apart. If we are do dead set against standarding starts perhaps we should insist that cars entering a trun should be spaced a couple car lenghts apart for safety?
PS- I am not trying to start a movement in favor of standing starts- simply telling a story of how much great fun it is and hope everyone has a chance to experience it as I have!