Track Days are amazingly good fun and unbeatable value for money. We’ve written at length in the past about buying a Track Day car on a budget but we never really got into the nitty-gritty of the Track Day itself, so with that in mind here’s our Beginners Guide To Track Days!
To a lot of people the idea of bringing your car out on track sounds very appealing but the reality of actually doing it, can be quite daunting. But fear not! once you get out there, you won’t look back, track days are incredibly addictive! It’s worth pointing out that you don’t need a fast car, you don’t need a modified or tuned car, you don’t need to be a fast driver, you don’t need loads of money and if you’re sensible a Track Day isn’t going to damage your car. Any bog standard road car is absolutely fine to start with.
Another point worth mentioning is that Track Days are safe, especially if you go through a specialist track day company such as Trackdays.ie or one of the car club/forum days much safer for example than blasting down country lanes and B roads at break-neck speeds. Lets be honest, most of us with even an ounce of petrol flowing through our veins have driven like a hooligan on the public roads at some point and the truth of the matter is, it’s anti-social, it’s dangerous and it’s daft. Once you’ve done a few track days you’ll not only become a better driver with an improved understanding of your own and your car’s abilities, you’ll probably find the urge to drive like a maniac on the public roads has all but gone. Having said all that, accidents can and do occasionally happen so you might want to consider specialist Track Day insurance. Until recently, finding a company that would provide on-track cover was nigh-on impossible, now it’s simple. We got a quote today from insuremytrackday.com for a full day at Mondello Park in our Golf GTi and it came in at a very reasonable £85.00 (with £400 excess) so certainly worth thinking about.
Track Day Preparation – The Week Before:
Lets assume you’ve booked yourself into a Track Day with plenty of time to spare. You’re going to need a little bit of preparation both for yourself and your car in order to make the most of the day. A week before the Track Day, give your car a thorough inspection. If you find anything wrong you’ll have plenty of time to put it right! These are the points I check on my own car:
- Brakes – Take a look through the spokes of your wheels and check there’s plenty of meat left on your pads. Check your brake fluid is topped up.
- Engine oil – Make sure the oil is in good condition, if the car is overdue a service, get it done before you go out on on track. Top your oil right up to the top mark on the dipstick (this will help prevent oil starvation under high cornering loads.
- Check your coolant levels and have a good look around the engine bay and at all the hoses for signs of coolant /fluid leaks. The cooling system is going to be put to the test out on track & any small leaks should be dealt with.
- Check all your wheel studs/nuts are tight
- Make sure you have a towing eye
- Check your tyre pressures and general condition of your tyres. A full day on track is going to scrub a couple of mm of tread off your tyres. If they’re borderline legal before the event, chances are, they’ll be illegal on the way home.
- Remove all the junk from inside your car and from the boot, you don’t want anything loose inside the car at all.
- If you have floor mats, check the drivers mat is held securely in place. Take it out if it’s not.
- Not essential but worth doing if you have time is to jack the car up, support it on axle stands and check for play in the wheel bearings. Also have a quick look over the exhaust for cracks and make sure it’s properly attached. I’ve seen a good few exhausts come adrift on Track Days!
Your going to need most of the things on this list. Get everything ready well in advance so that if you’re missing anything you can borrow it or buy it!
- Driving licence
- Crash Helmet
- Tyre pressure gauge and pump
- A basic tool kit inc wheel brace and jack.
- Duct tape and zip ties
- A lump of wood or wheel chocks
- A change of clothes and/or waterproofs if you’re in a car with no roof.
- Full tank of fuel and/or jerry cans
- Cash for food and drinks
- Cash or card for fuel
- Kit bag to keep all your gear in while you’re on track
Track Day Preparation – The Day Before:
Take a quick run through the fluid level checks you did at the start of the week to see if the car is using anything. you won’t be able to do a whole lot about it now but at least you’ll be aware if there is a small problem and you’ll know to keep an eye on it throughout the day. Load up the car with all your tools, clothes and helmet. A word to the wise – As tempting as it might be if you’re on a trip with your mates, don’t go out on the beer the night before. Track Days and hangovers do not mix! If you’re still drunk you won’t be allowed out and if you’re feeling ropey, thrashing round a track all day isn’t going to improve the situation.
On The Day:
Top up with fuel before heading into the circuit. It’s also a good idea to buy a bottle of water or 2 and some snacks or sandwiches – it’s going to be a long day! Once the adrenaline wears off you’ll find yourself exhausted so an energy drink can be a good way of keeping the fatigue at bay. Arrive at the track nice and early, time has a habit of moving quickly once you’re there. The first thing you’ll need to do is sign on, you’ll need your driving licence, this is when you’ll get your wrist band.
Get yourself a space in the paddock and unload all you gear from the car. If the circuit has noise testing it will probably be open by now. An official looking chap will either come round to you or you’ll have to find him. Either way he’ll ask you to hold the car at about 3/4 of max rpm for a few seconds while he measures the decibel level at your exhaust. If it passes you’ll get a sticker to put on the windscreen. By now it should be time for the drivers briefing, there’s usually coffee and biscuits up for grabs.
The content of the drivers briefing will vary from circuit to circuit but they usually cover the flag system, the entry and exit points out onto track, racing lines, basic safety stuff such as making sure your windows are up and helmets fastened. They will also cover the overtaking zones (it’s not a free for all on a Track Day and overtaking is usually only allowed on the straights and on just one side and not in the braking zones and through the corners) The instructor will most likely give a stern warning about driving standards and our advice is to pay close attention as infringements can mean an end to your day, but as long as you stay alert, be mindful of faster cars on track, exercise common sense and respect other people on track you should be fine.
If the circuit is running an open pit lane there’s no need to scramble to get out on track immediately, it could be wise to hang back for 20 minutes and let the super-keen lads out first, take your time, give the car a final check over, check the tyre pressures and check the wheel studs again.
As an Instructor at Mondello Park International Race Circuit the one piece of advice I would give is to relax and take it easy but concentrate hard on what you’re doing. You want to build up your speed gradually as you learn the track and your confidence grows. Don’t go out on track, balls to wall, absolutely flat out on the first lap as I can almost guarantee you’ll end up in the gravel….or worse, the Armco. There is a surprising amount to take in, and if you want to improve throughout the day, starting slowly allows you time to actually think about what you’re going to do when you get to each corner. What’s your positioning on track? where’s your braking point? are you in the right gear? where’s the turn-in point? where’s the apex? and when can you get back on the power?
It’s a good idea to break the day up into 15 or 20 minutes sessions, much longer than that and your car is likely to be getting hot and bothered (you might be too!) so do a cool down lap at about half pace to get the water and brake temps back in check. Come in, take stock, let the car cool down properly and give yourself break too. When you park the car up leave it in gear with the handbrake off, use the block of wood/Wheel chock you brought to stop the car rolling (hot brakes can cause the handbrake to stick on) Just after you come into the paddock, while the tyres are still hot, check the pressures, you’ll probably find they’ve increased quite a lot due to the hot air expanding inside so you may want drop a few psi all round. Here’s a interesting article from Yokohama about setting hot tyre pressures at the race track.
Some circuits like our local track, Mondello Park offer Track Day training from experienced instructors who are also active racing drivers. At some circuits the tuition is free and some you have to pay for it. A half hour session with an instructor is without doubt the most cost effective way of going faster on a Track Day. You could spend thousands and thousands on upgrading tyres, engines, suspension and brakes but proper tuition could potentially reduce your lap times by more than all of these upgrades combined! so if it’s on offer, our advice is to take it! Another new initiative being offered at some circuits is 20 minute ‘taster sessions’ You pay €30 or so per session and just go out and see if you like it! if you do, you can buy more sessions. It’s a great idea! It’s also a great idea if you’re on a tight budget and cant afford a full or half day but still want your ‘fix’ you can just buy a session or 2!
Seeing as we’ve been talking about lap times, tuition and generally going faster and faster, It is worth mentioning at this point that Track Days are supposed to be fun and entirely non-competitive! And as a rule they are non competitive. However with a few Track Days under your belt it’s highly likely that you’ll be competing against yourself, striving to improve your own performance and the performance of your car….and to honest, that is half the fun!
Once your last session is over and you’re ready to go home, just have a quick check over the car to make sure it’s still road legal and nothing’s hanging off it that shouldn’t be. Check your pressures, check your wheel studs and make sure you have all the gear you came with. On the drive home take it easy, the police are likely to be in the vicinity of the track and after tearing around all day, flat out it’s going to feel like you’re driving at a snails pace! Once you’re home and have washed the brake dust off, get yourself on to one of the forums (Backroads and dtdirl are two of the most active forums in Ireland when it comes to Track Day banter, but there are loads out there) It’s a great way to get involved and you can spend hours pouring over the various on-board videos and dissecting the day’s thrills and spills!
Now all that’s left to do is book the next one!
Plenty of you reading this are probably Track Day veterans, do you have anything to add that would be useful to Track Day newcomers? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below.