Track Days – A Beginners Guide
Car preparation, driver preparation and where to find an appropriate track day.
Gran turismo. Forza Motorsport. Drive days, cruises, meetups and traffic light grand prix. You’ve done it all, but still haven’t quenched your thirst? It’s time to take it to the track. You got into performance cars for a reason, right? It’s time to join the ranks of the track day (not-so) elite. Seriously thou, track days are awesome.
If you really want to drive your car, and we mean really drive, you need to take it to a track. Simply put unless you’re driving a Citroen 2CV or some sort of soviet era Lada, you’re never going to get anywhere near the limits of your car’s performance and keep your licence on a public road. With speed limits constantly dropping, and fines ever on the rise, the time to take it to the track is now.
The Driver (That’s You)
If you’re reading this then you’re probably a reasonably confident driver. It’s also statistically probable that you are male and aged somewhere between 28 – 50. We know because you’re still reading an introduction to track days that you also probably haven’t done a track day or maybe you’ve done one or two. So what does all this mean? Not much but we should probably talk about driving. At least briefly.
I’m no Michael Schumacher, actually, not even a Ralf yet, but hey, I’m still going to tip my hat in the ring and offer a couple of general tips about driving (Go Figure). Here’s a simple exercise: go to Youtube and watch a couple of laps of regular guys driving at racetracks, ideally one where you can see their hands. Then check out the same track driven by a pro. If you’ve been paying attention to the audio and visual cues a couple of things stand out. Fast and experienced drivers make calculated and controlled inputs. Learn from this and don’t be the guys sawing at the steering wheel and using your right foot like a mallet.
“Build speed gradually and progressively. Er on the side of caution and you will see your confidence grow and towards the end of the day you can start to push the car a little more.”
Without waffling incessantly with misplaced driving advice being smooth should be your number one goal for the day. Probably the most logical driving advice cliche is that of the string. Or something. Basically it goes to the effect of thinking of the steering and the throttle as being attached to by a piece of string so when exiting a corner, you are gradually applying the throttle as you are slowly winding off the steering angle. Think about it, it makes sense. My final tip is about slowing down. This is the part, perhaps somewhat ironically, where you can easily find speed as your experience grows. The initial phase of your braking should be quite firm and then gradually release pedal pressure as you approach your turn in point. The aim of the game is to quickly slow the car whilst arriving at your turn in point with the car settled and ready for the next phase of the corner.
The Track Day
Broadly speaking, most days can either be categorised as club days or privately run days. Within the category of privately run days you have varying levels of tuition and coaching available, from no coaching at all, to having someone with you as much as you like.A great option for beginners are CAMS (Australia’s motorsport governing body) ‘Come and Try Days’.
Price is generally a fairly good indicator of the level of organisation and supervision for the day, with typical costs falling around $300. Personal experience leads me recommend beginners with a pragmatic outlook to avoid the cheapest days available as the number of cars on track and the vast differences in general driving ‘styles’ can make the situation more stressful than necessary. That being said the vast majority of track days will be patronised by like minded individuals driving within both their own and their cars limits, so more than likely you will have a great day.
Check any entry requirements carefully so you don’t suffer any unexpected surprises on your first track day. As long as you don’t start with a dedicated club sprint day you should be fine, as long as you remember to wear a long sleeved shirt and have a helmet in good condition with no obvious signs of abuse. Most organiser will want to sight your road licence too so don’t forget that on the day. You can pick up a reasonable helmet for not too much money from a motorcycle store, as a motorsport specific helmet is unnecessary at this stage in your ‘career’. Don’t shy away from an open face helmet as this will help you maintain almost complete peripheral vision which will make your day that little bit more relaxed.
Most Track Days will see you grouped with people of similar speed and experience and will run twenty minutes sessions. Out lap is generally no big deal on standard road tyres but pay more attention to cool down. Take it easy for your last lap out but maintain enough speed to keep a steady flow of air through the radiator. Once you get back to the pits don’t put your handbrake on as the forces can cause the hot rotor to warp. Bonus points if you pop your bonnet and stand around the front of your car while sipping that mineral water you remembered to bring. If anyone asks, you’re minimising heat soak.