So, you’ve signed up for that first track day - even though there might be weeks to go it’s never too early to start thinking about how to prepare yourself and your vehicle.
Why? It’s simple. Driving around a race circuit is more of a strain than driving on the road for both yourself and your car. The better prepared you are, the better your day will be.
Perhaps you’ve been to that motorsport event and see the guy who is rushing around chasing his tail, seeking last minute fixes to issues that would have been better sorted in the workshop. Don’t be the bloke who, more than likely, will be heading home well before the day is over with a broken car and five laps to show for his entrance fee.
So, how to prepare?
Let’s start with the driver
Circuit driving puts a much greater strain on your body than regular road driving.
Race car drivers can regularly see heart-rates in excess of 190 beats per minute! That’s the equivalent of a hard gym session. Don’t underestimate the increased physical and mental exertion you will be loading on to your body. If you get tired your brain functions slow, reaction times diminish and the potential for making mistakes increases. Not great on a race track.
So, get fit. Not to F1 level. You don't need to run a marathon. But anything helps.
Do you have teenagers with gaming consoles? Boot them off that Playstation or Xbox - it’s your turn! Find a car simulator and start racing. No joke. Many of the pros use simulators.
Just 30 minutes a day will help train for real circuit driving. Your brain is getting a good workout, you’re learning to concentrate and multitask. That hand-to-eye coordination will improve and you will be able to make faster decisions automatically. Computer simulator racing is fantastic training. Just remember - never try to race your kids in Forza. Defeat is almost certain even against the five-year-olds!
Another tip: Seek out and watch onboard Youtube videos to learn the track you’ll be using. This also helps raise understanding of corner directions and approach speeds. You also get to find out, without pain, what lays behind that bend.
Get plenty of sleep the night before. Eat healthily and even if the nerves are getting the better of you, avoid alcohol. Drink water. On the day, take plenty of energy food and drink plenty of water. One cup of tea or coffee is okay. But don’t overdo the caffeine, so watch those energy drinks too.
Preparing the car
The first thing to remember is that, even the most meticulous preparation won’t necessarily stop issues arising as result of having driven hard on track. Even so, there’s no doubt a thorough prep will minimise the risk of problems or failures that could cut short a great day.
Here’s a checklist that either you, or a professional technician, can work through:
- Check suspension and arms for wear and play in joints
- Check tyres for tread wear and fatigue
- Check oil and water levels; top up to the maximum levels.
- Check for leaks if you think the car is using excessive amounts of oil or coolant
- Check brakes pads for wear. You’ll need at least 5mm plus to get you through the day
- Replace old brake fluid with fresh then bleed your brakes
- Make sure your battery is secured
- Check your undertray, brake ducts and plastic inner wheel arches. All should be properly secured
- Make sure all bodywork is firmly secured
If you have any doubts, talk to a professional.
On the day
Get up early and arrive at the track with time in hand. Top your car up with fuel on the way but take care not to overfill. It’s best to run with about half a tank but also bear in mind that your vehicle will also be burning through fuel a lot faster than it might on a gentle drive. Maybe you could bring a couple of fuel containers to allow topping up between sessions.
Make sure you sign on and get your wristband to prove this has occurred.
Set your tyre pressures. This is a bit of a black art and everyone has their own opinions. For road tyres I would recommend starting about 4psi above the manufacturers’ recommended road pressure and see how you go from there.
Remove all loose objects from inside your car: Phones, keys, water bottles, bags, shoes, laptops .. they should be left in the pitlane. Basically, if it isn't bolted down take it out. I have seen the end results when a 500ml water bottle rolls under the brake pedal. The ending was not pretty!
Make sure you get to the drivers’ briefing on time. These sessions can be quite intense so, perhaps for your first one, you might like to video it and play it back afterwards to make sure you have absorbed all the information. If you are in doubt, ask a question. Or catch up with an instructor afterwards.
When you venture on track you will probably be made to do a follow lap behind an instructor’s lead car for the first few laps. This is to get you used to the circuit, helping you locate all the braking and turn-in cones and see how to enter and exit the track safely. Don’t try to push the instructor along. He will be driving at a steady pace so you can take in all the information.
Once you are free to lap remember to keep an eye on your temps. Try to glance down at them on every straight if. If the needles rise far enough to cause concern then back off and take a cool-down lap. A great way to cool a car down is to hold the highest gear possible (5th or 6th) and keep the engine rpm low (1500rpm - 2500rpm) while also keeping wheel speed high, maybe around highway pace. Driving around too slowly not only presents a potential danger to others but won’t draw sufficient air through the radiator, oil coolers and brakes.
If you feel you brake pedal getting long or spongey or sense the brakes are not working as they normally would, then slow down. It could be the brakes are overheating. Try a cooling lap and then, if the problem persists, come into the pits and see an instructor.
Never bring your car into the pits without a cool down lap unless it’s an emergency. Once in the pits or paddock area do not use the handbrake. This can warp your brake discs and cause heat soak problems. If you need to stop the car from rolling, place it in gear.
In between sessions check your fluid levels and leave your bonnet up. This is easily the best way to release heat from the engine and gearbox. And don't forget to add some more fuel to replace those litres that have just been consumed. There is nothing worse than starting a session and finding you are out of fuel after a handful of laps.
The biggest thing to remember is we all had our first track day. So go out keep safe, have fun, and keep smiling!