When you press start the first time you will see a short cut-scene and then be instructed to select an elemental alignment for the race. You will need to choose from fire, water, earth and wind:
Firehas double the energy available. Energy is used for speedboosting, i.e., giving you short bursts of increased speed.
Waterhas a more efficient speedboost. This is probably more usefull later in the game when gaining speed fast is important.
Earthhas much better traction and less bounce. This gives superior handling. The easiest element to race. You may want to use this element if you want to play it safe.
Windhas a higher top-speed but tends to bounce around more. The most difficult element to race but a perfect choice if you want a chance at winning the race.
When you start the race your opponents will be lined up in front of you (yes, it's unfair that you start last, but that's how it is). The gauges at the bottom of the screen looks like this:
From the left/top follows:
RPM the speed of rotation of the ball (angular velocity).
Progress The colored dot is you, the grey ones the AI-opponents. When the dot reaches the very right the ball has crossed the finish line.
Energy If you're not racing as Fire your available energy is maxed out at the first notch. When you use speed-boost your energy drains away. Energy is recharged over time but has a lag of a couple of seconds before it starts recharging. The recharge-rate is higher if you go very fast.
Position Your position in the race.
Timer If there is a time-limit on the race, this counts down. The long needle is seconds, the fat one minutes. A third needle with a star shows the time to beat to get an additional reward.
To remind you of the controlls there is a help text at the top of the screen. Use the keyboard or the mouse to controll the ball. If you have a gamepad I recomment you use that instead. You may alter the buttons/keys and the sensitivity in the setup-menu (press escape during gameplay). But for now, just press the left mouse button or up-arrow on the keyboard to gain speed. Move the mouse right/left or use the right/left arrow keys.
Not going fast enough? Press X or the right mouse button to use speedboost. Yes, that will give you quite a kick forward. Note that speedboost is most efficient when you go slow (as when starting the race).
When you cross the finish line you will see some info on your position. If you didn't finish last you will be rewarded with at least one star:
Stars are also rewarded for finishing fast enough or on some races by picking up enough crystals. You will need stars to unlock more races and areas. If you somehow didn't earn a star on the first race you will need to try again to be able to start in the next race. Try racing a different element in that case.
Depending on your finishing position you will also be rewarded elemental essence which is the currency of the game. With this you may purchase improvements for your racing ball. This requires a bit more explanation... (see the next guide).