Preparation for your car:
- Driving a car hard on the track puts a great deal of additional strain on your machine so some simple maintenance is essential:
- Brake fluid should be relatively new as it tends to absorb water from the atmosphere – this can boil when the brakes heat up leaving compressible steam in the brake pipes which will cause spongy brake feel and reduced efficiency.
- Make sure oil, water and other fluid levels are topped up – cornering force can cause the build up of fluids on one side of the reservoir which can lead to fluid starvation.
- Have a look at the wear levels of brake pads and discs, and keep a spare set of pads handy if necessary.
- Check the tyre tread depth to make sure you’ll have enough left after the wear and tear of track use.
- Finally, have a quick check round to make sure all the nuts and bolts are nipped up, especially wheel nuts and ensure any safety equipment such as roll cages and straps are securely fastened.
Many drivers use a higher octane fuel when competing or attending track days – these fuels give more bang for your buck and can aid performance but tend to be more expensive. Don’t brim your car when fueling – leave just the right amount to see you through the day. Excess fuel is heavy and can be detrimental to lap times – it can also slosh around if you don’t have a baffled tank, causing unnecessary weight transfers which unsettle the car.
If you only do one thing before a track day, try to get the pressures right. This is a bit of a dark art, and many drivers are secretive of the pressures they run. At the very least, match the manufacturers guidelines, and as a rule of thumb, increasing by 5-10% should provide a better turn in and be generally more suited to track conditions. Experiment here, and take notes – eventually you’ll find pressures which will give you a good compromise between grip, predictability at the limit and turn in. Pressure increases with temperature, so bear this in mind if you’ll be doing a large number of laps – if you’re doing short runs, you can probably get away with slightly higher pressures. Rubber compounds also tend to get softer and provide more grip as they get hotter (up to a point). So ensure your tyres are warm before attempting full racing speed.
Take everything out!
This should really go without saying but take out everything including the spare wheel, jack, luggage, coins, rubbish, children, seats etc This reduction in weight can make the difference between winning and losing. In addition, you don’t want things rattling around while you’re trying to concentrate, and in an accident anything that’s left in the car is likely to hit you on the back of the head.
Remove obstructions from the radiator
If you’re doing sustained laps, you’ll need all of your car’s cooling ability. If you have a turbo-charged engine, you’ll probably have several radiators and intercoolers, all of which need a steady supply of air.
Some cars have number plates which partially obstruct the radiator’s precious air flow, so remember take these off to give a bit of extra cooling.
Warming up the car
It makes sense to get your car up to operating temperature before you start driving it hard – this will thin out the oil and let the engine expand and free up, which will make it more efficient and place less strain on the moving parts. Keep an eye on the water and oil temperatures to make sure the extra load isn’t causing it to overheat.
When getting ready for the track you should adjust your seat to a much more upright position than you may use when driving on the road. You should be able to rest your wrists comfortably on the top of the steering wheel while keeping a slight bend in your arms. This may mean moving closer to the wheel than you normally would which can feel strange at first, but will give you maximum control.
Shoe choice is very important when driving quickly. You need to have good pedal feel, and to be able to press the pedals confidently and accurately. A racing shoe / boot is the best bet, which have very thin soles with no overhang. Second choice would be a thin soled trainer.
Even if it isn’t specified for the event you’re attending, it’s a very good idea to wear a helmet and fire retardant clothing such as a racing suit. Crashes happen, and you’ll need to be able to walk away smiling.
Walk the track
The best way to familiarise yourself with the corners and the racing line is to walk the track first and picture where your braking, apex and turn in points could be. Also check for dangers such as corners with little run-off and anything else which might help you when you’re in the driving seat.
It’s very common to get nervous / excited before an event, but you can’t let this go to your head. Ease into it, find the racing lines and braking points, and gradually build up speed. It’s very common to go off on the first lap, so don’t let it happen to you.
4 thoughts on “Track preparation”
All excellent advice. Youtube videos do help but within limits for first-time track experience. Everyone shoots for speed in the straight lines, the people who are better go faster in the turns – of course, maintain limits. Pay attention to the tower operator flags – easily forgotten when you are focused on the track. Last, in addition to tire temperature/pressure, the right tires can make a difference to the handling of the car.
Excellent summary of track-day prep! I have attended several performance driving schools, and this is exactly what the coaches tell you – after you arrive. Good to know before you get there!
What I’ve also learned is that trying to drive as fast as you can does not translate into faster track times. Applying breaking and cornering techniques is just as important as accelerating at the right times. Be disciplined and consistent.
Thanks Barnard, glad you found it helpful. In some ways driving is like golf – if you just try and hit the ball as hard as you can you’ll end up in the trees!
Track prep and maintenance are often overlooked. Some people are more concerned about going fast or faster than anything else. Great write-up.