There are four sets of Race Tournaments in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: three involving road vehicles and one involving aircraft.
Each race follows a different course. You must pass through a succession of markers, and you must pass through a marker to activate the next marker. In order to successfully complete a race, Carl must finish in first place. Each first-place finish carries a reward of $10,000. Finishing all races in first place gives the player an additional $1,000,000 doing so is also necessary for achieving 100% completion. (The air races are an exception, as they are considered "won" as long as the player simply completes the set course - there are no competitors or time limit.) The races can be completed in any order and at any point once they are unlocked. There is no entry fee (unlike the Turismo race missions in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories).
All race tournaments are marked with a flag icon on the map. The Los Santos Race Tournaments can be found in Little Mexico. The San Fierro Race Tournaments can be found behind Wang Cars in Doherty/King's/Downtown (just north of the Doherty garage save point). The Las Venturas Races can be found at the LVA Freight Depot. The checkpoint air races, meanwhile, can be accessed at the Las Venturas Airport, just inside the main access gate.
When Carl enters the marker for a tournament, a selection of races are shown, with maps indicating length and location. Choosing a race automatically transports Carl to the starting line (which may be a considerable distance from the marker), and places him inside a vehicle (usually a different one each race, with a mix of cars and motorcycles for the road races). The selection screen also indicates best time and position for the race (if you've attempted it). There is no limit to the number of times you can attempt a race.
The road races place car in the "back of the pack" and most of the races offer a variety of hazards ranging from collisions with obstacles like poles, to driving off cliffs and into rivers. If the vehicle Carl is driving is destroyed, or Carl intentionally destroys an opponent's vehicle, he is disqualified from that attempt at the race. If Carl exits his vehicle, he has 25 seconds to re-enter it, or the race will fail. The quickest way to abort a race and start over is to destroy the vehicle, but Carl must not be inside when this happens, otherwise he'll be wasted.
Regardless where the race begins or ends, whenever you complete a race or decide to quit the tournament you will find yourself back at the original staging location. An exception to this is if you end up wasted during a race, in which case you will end up at the local hospital (or in front of Katie Zhan's House if you're dating her and are wasted during one of the San Fierro races). It is also possible to obtain wanted levels during a race; depending on how many stars you get, the wanted level may still be in place if you try the race again, or if you quit the tournament. As such, it's possible to be busted or even wasted by police during the course of a race. The most frequent cause of obtaining a wanted level is colliding with a police vehicle during the race or running over a pedestrian within sight of one, though using firearms or explosives to destroy a vehicle will also trigger it (though doing so will result in race disqualification).
Note: three races offered from Los Santos are identical to ones undertaken during various missions. When the race tournaments are unlocked the player is given credit for these races and does not need to do them again; they're made available in order to allow the player to better his time, but this has no bearing on the overall completion of the tournaments. The major difference between the replay races and the original missions is Carl is assigned a vehicle and cannot bring his own as he did originally.
Any vehicle brought to the race trigger point will disappear after the races, so it's advised, as with most other missions, not to bring a prized vehicle to the site.
Los Santos Race Tournaments
- Lowrider Race (given vehicle is Blade) (race is featured in High Stakes, Low Rider)
- Little Loop (given vehicle is NRG-500)
- Backroad Wanderer (given vehicle is FCR-900)
- City Circuit (given vehicle is FCR-900)
- Vinewood (given vehicle is Sunrise)
- Freeway (given vehicle is Super GT)
- Into the Country (given vehicle is Bullet)
- Badlands A (given vehicle is Sabre) (race is featured in Wu Zi Mu)
- Badlands B (given vehicle is ZR-350) (race is featured in Farewell, My Love...)
San Fierro Race Tournaments
- Dirtbike Danger (given vehicle is Sanchez)
- Bandito County (given vehicle is Bandito)
- Go-Go Karting (given vehicle is Kart)
- San Fierro Fastlane (given vehicle is Alpha)
- San Fierro Hills (given vehicle is Phoenix)
- Country Endurance (given vehicle is Bullet)
Las Venturas Freight Depot Race Tournaments
- SF to LV (given vehicle is Banshee)
- Dam Rider (given vehicle is NRG-500)
- Desert Tricks (given vehicle is BF-400)
- Las Venturas Ringroad (given vehicle is Turismo)
Las Venturas Airport Checkpoint Races
- Note: these races differ from the others in that Carl is not pitted against any opponents. His "enemies" are the clock and potential obstacles like buildings (especially during the Heli Hell and World War Ace races).
- World War Ace (given aircraft is Rustler)
- Barnstorming (given aircraft is Stunt Plane)
- Military Service (given aircraft is Hydra)
- Chopper Checkpoint (given aircraft is Maverick)
- Whirly Bird Waypoint (given aircraft is News Chopper)
- Heli Hell (given aircraft is Hunter)
- To obtain any vehicle used in any race, simply drive the vehicle to a safehouse garage and park it there. Exit the vehicle and allow the timer to count down to zero. The race will be abandoned but the vehicle will be preserved in the garage. In theory this should also work for the aircraft, if flown to the Verdant Meadows safehouse and parked in the hanger garage. (Unlike other Rockstar-produced race games such as Midnight Club Street Racing, once all competitors other than Carl have completed a course, there is no time limit imposed for Carl to also cross the finish line, so he can cross the state during the course of a race if the player desires.)
- It has been noted that vehicles often behave differently in races than they do during regular driving, such as more violent reactions to hitting obstacles, greater tendency to flip, or less resistance to damage. So if a player is intimately familiar with, for example, the NRG-500 bike, he should be prepared for the bike to handle differently during the Little Loop race, such as the added tendency to do wheelies when accelerating. Having a high skill in riding motorcycles will minimize the chances of Carl being thrown should he collide with something during a race.
- In addition, the difficult level of several races is enhanced by saddling the player with some of the worse-handling vehicles in the game, such as the infamous Super GT in the Los Santos "Freeway" race, and the Stunt Plane in the "Barnstorming" race; even with 100% skill in driving and piloting, getting these (and other) vehicles to work properly during the high-pressure atmosphere of a race is exceedingly difficult. In the case of the road races, in several instances, the player simply has to keep trying until luck results in competing vehicles being delayed or side-tracked enough for Carl to get a sufficient lead to win the race even when, for example, slowing down to navigate turns.
- It's possible for Carl to be wasted in a serious mishap involving a vehicle (such as being thrown from a bike off a cliff - a possible hazard during the "Dam Rider" race - or the common car-flip explosion if Carl is unable to escape in time, while plane and helicopter crashes are a hazard during the air races - a collision with a building won't allow Carl time to bail out). Less-serious mishaps can be fatal if Carl doesn't have full health as damage sustained in one race carries over to the next, so the player should make sure to top up Carl's armor and health before every race. If Carl is wasted he'll respawn at the hospital closest to tournament launch site, not necessarily the point closest to where he crashed.
- Due to the likelihood of being wasted during a race (which is far greater than being busted), it's advisable to begin dating Katie Zhan before attempting the race tournaments, so Carl's weapon inventory is preserved should be he killed, particularly during the air races.
- In some races, obtaining a two-star wanted level (which causes police vehicles to chase you more aggressively than a one-star level) can be beneficial to Carl as the swerving police vehicles, if avoided by the player, may interfere with pursuing competitors. Bear in mind that any wanted level above one star will still be in effect if the player quits a particular tournament and returns to the staging area. Pay 'n' Sprays are fully operational and can be accessed (at the cost of a race attempt) should one's wanted level become too high for comfort.
- Do not bring "prized" vehicles to the staging areas for the four tournaments, as the vehicles will usually disappear when the time comes to exit out of a tournament (due to the races placing Carl well outside the "unspawn zone" for possessed vehicles). Bear this in mind should you quit a set of tournaments with a wanted level in place since Carl will be on foot and more vulnerable to being wasted or busted by the cops.
- It is dangerous to "rest on one's laurels" should other competitor vehicles be seen to overturn or go off cliffs. Either through glitch or design, these vehicles will usually respawn. So a race with 6 cars in it will always have 6 cars in it and the player cannot win by default by the other cars being destroyed or rendered inoperable in some way.
- During the air races, there is no penalty for landing the aircraft during the race, although this is naturally easier to accomplish with helicopters than planes. Some vehicles, such as the stunt plane, become even more difficult to handle in stormy weather, and some coronas can become difficult to spot during fog and other conditions. During the Barnstorming race, for example, it may be advisable to actually return to San Fierro airport and land to "wait out" the bad weather. During other missions such as Heli Hell, landing on top of a building may provide an opportunity for the player to get his bearings and avoid hitting another building.
- Longer races tend to be more forgiving for the player in terms of being able to regain leads after spinouts, etc. The shorter races, by their very nature, provide very little margin for error.
- Following the "Riot" mission, the make-up of Los Santos' streets changes for the remainder of the game, with an ongoing, violent riot. Attempting the Los Santos street races after this mission becomes tricker because the player (and the competitors) will now need to avoid exploding vehicles and other hazards. It's not uncommon to see some of the bystanders cheering the start of the race actually attacked and wasted by rioters.
- During the ground races, when you input the "All of the people have to attack you" cheat code, it will cause the another contestant get out from his/her car/bike and begin to attack you, just quickly drive the car to the finish line. (Note: This also works on these missions: Wu Zi Mu, Badlands, and Farewell My Love.)