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.

Myths, misconceptions and misinformation abound when it comes to track driving and track days in general. Even amongst the initiated, it can quickly become confusing trying to understand rules, which safety equipment is needed and exactly what licence you need to participate. The reality of all this is, however, that things are actually kind of simple.

“A world renowned driver coach teaches F1 drivers in the equivalent of a Holden Astra so, more than likely, you’ll be ok.”

The aim of this article is to equip you with the basic information you need to tackle your first track day with confidence, and to get the best out of it. You will have an awesome time, just don’t spend too long staring at your speedo as it rises toward 200kph and that braking marker is fast approaching.

track day guide

The Car

Don’t overthink it, just ensure your maintenance is up to date.

Ok, first things first. Do you need to specifically modify your car to enjoy a track day? Absolutely not. A couple of tweaks may help you, but the biggest advantage comes from upgrading the thing hanging on to the steering wheel. Remember, we’re talking about taking on your first track day, not World Time Attack or the Top Ten Shootout at Bathurst. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to pay any attention to your car but you don’t need to fit a rollcage and GT3 aero package to enjoy a couple of spirited laps. A world renowned driver coach teaches F1 drivers in the equivalent of a Holden Astra so, more than likely, you’ll be ok.

There are only two things you need to be aware of on your first track day – assuming your car is roadworthy – fluids and tyres. Both things suffer from the same issues at the track and that is, for want of a better term, shit gets kinda hot. Generally speaking, the heavier the car, the more this is going to be an issue. If you’re lucky enough to have two cars to choose from, for you first track day take whichever is lighter!

Track Day Guide

Track prepared BMW M3

We recommend a service at a decent workshop and make sure to tell them you want the good stuff. This isn’t an extreme measure, you just don’t want to be running your engine at 100% throttle for twenty minutes at a time with cheaper lubricants. It’s just not worth it. Brake fluid is worth having replaced too. As brake fluid ages it accumulates moisture. When this heats up its, how would you say, suboptimal. Brake fluids are rated for temperature by a ‘dot’ system. What you’re looking for here is dot 4 or dot 5.1. This just means it rated with a higher boiling point which will help keep things under control when on track. If I was being really picky I would say that having a new(ish) set of brake pads wouldn’t hurt either, but the name of the game here is just to get some experience and get the first day under your belt.

Tyres are the other important factor. Unless you’re a budding drifter (why are you reading this?) you want to head to the track with some decent rubber. You don’t necessarily need any special racing tyres but you want your tyres to be in good condition. Any decent sports oriented tyre will provide you with more than enough confidence without getting into the realms of bringing spare wheels with track specific tyres that require scientific warm up and cool down regimes. Check your tyre pressures are right on spec and then add a couple of PSI, like 3-4 which should help reduce lateral movement in the sidewall at track speeds and forces. Tyre pressures are basically a black art but this is a reasonable rule when running regular street tyres.

Make sure your battery is securely fastened and not going anywhere. Remove the baby seat. You’re good to go.

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.

track day guide gtr

“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.

track day guide porsche

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.

A Comprehensive List Of Where To Get Started.

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