If you’re in any way a performance car enthusiast, chances are that you’ve pondered about whether you should book a Track Day and take your pride and joy onto some real tarmac.
And if you havent, you REALLY should.
Many don’t for a variety of reasons.
I’ll be too slow.
I don’t want to crash.
Everyone else has a better car or more experience.
The list goes on.
But the reality is that a track day is the safest environment for you to really get your car into the habitat it was born for. The track is generally full of like-minded individuals that want to explore the boundaries of their skills and experience the sort of thrill normally reserved for race-car drivers.
If this is your first rodeo, the first few moments of pulling onto an open stretch of track can be a bit daunting, so prompted by our first time on track in a long time, here are a few simple pointers to help make it less stressful so you can focus on the fun ahead.
An Early Start
5AM rolls round and the daily commute starts.
A pair of camos, a long-sleeved top, my favourite set of maroon Converse are all laid out with just our sleeping English Mastiff laying inbetween me and some high-octane fun.
It’s been a while, rusty would be an understatement. In 8 years, despite having the most capable vehicles I’ve ever owned, I hadn’t visited my local track – so coffee in hand I’m rearing to go. A cruise up to the track as the sun illuminates the horizon a golden yellow, a tank full of the good stuff and a play with the in-car hot-swappable maps and before I know it we’re briefed and lining up in the pit lane.
Track Day PREPARATION
To get the most out of a track outing and stay as safe as possible you’ll want to check a few things. Make sure your vehicle’s servicing is up to date and check that all fluids are topped up. A fresh oil change is a plus, ensuring that it is in peak condition for the workout ahead.
Ensure that tyres have an acceptable amount of tread left with no cuts or bulges.
Usual road safety stuff, but when you up the ante by going several times over normal road speeds, it’s important. Throw some high-speed cornering into the mix, it becomes critically important. The tyres are the only point of contact with the track after all.
Clean the interior of the car.
Remove all loose items – the absolute last thing you want is an empty bottle or can rattling around the cabin.
CHECK UNDER YOUR SEAT.
A hiding space for empty containers – that soon escape when the pace hikes up. A stray can of deodorant or a bottle of water can soon render your brake pedal useless.
On the Track Day
You’ll usually have a brief from the operator or organiser – be sure to listen as the procedure will vary track to track. When you’re in the pit lane rearing to go, it’s a good time for a few last-minute checks.
Tyre pressures – generally around 30-35psi is a good marker, but check with your tyre manufacturers. Something like a set of Trofeo R’s will work best towards the lower end of that range. A street tyre has a higher sidewall to absorb road conditions. At too low a pressure, these flex and in extreme circumstances can come off the rim. Drag racers tend to run extremely low psi – and it’s relatively common for people to forget to re-inflate their tyres for the road and have a timely accident.
The clothes maketh the man (or woman) so you’ll want to get the right clothing for the day. Most tracks will require long sleeves and shirts. Next up an AS rated helmet. You’ll probably want to have the visor up if permissable to reduce fogging. Gloves are generally optional but help maintain a good grip with the wheel.
Shoes? My footwear of choice is usually a classic converse. Flat, thin-soled and a bit of grip makes for easy transitioning between pedals with maximum feel.
Check your tyre pressures after each session – you want to aim for your optimal pressure whilst the tyre is hot. Air expands and after a couple of laps, the hot pressure will be reached which will hopefully be maintained for the length of your session. On a busy track day, you may spend a prolonged amount of time in between sessions, so you don’t want heat-soak to set in.
ON THE TRACK
Have a couple of warm-up laps. Your car won’t be up to temperature immediately, so it’s important to ease into it. Let your car warm up. Tyres perform better when they have some heat through them (especially important with more track-oriented tyres).
Oil thins and protects your car more thoroughly at its optimal temperature too.
Possibly most importantly, physics aside, a lap or two at a slower pace gives you the opportunity to actually learn the track. Start to familiarise yourself with the turns so that less takes you by surprise later on. Look out for any breaking and turn-in markers – many track operators leave cones at various points of the track for this purpose.
Unlike one of the fast and the furious movies, smoothness is your friend on the track to not only ensure that you stay on the grey stuff, but to also help you get the most out of your lapt imes.
You shouldn’t be snatching at the wheel, you should be committing to smooth, purposeful turns.
Brake, Turn, Accelerate.
To start with, you want to be doing as much of your braking before you enter a turn. Aim to brake with your wheels straight. Next, come off the brakes around 50% as you begin to turn in. Smoothly transition off the brakes and as you hit the apex and come out the other side, feel for the point where the car has sufficient grip for you to dial back in some throttle. If you find you can’t get the process down – slow things down and get used to the motions.
Take your time
Cool down laps are also important at the end of your session. Typically you will see the checkered flag whilst coming down the home straight. Slow down to a half-pace to allow the car to cool. Airflow is important in cooling the brakes and the car’s engine and when you’re going full-chat, you’re generating heat rather than wicking it away. a slower pace, less on the brakes and easy on the throttle promotes a bit of airflow to cool things down before you head back to the pit-lane. Many a time do you see people who have gone hell-for-leather and then sit in the pit lanes as their brakes smoke profusely!
As a noobie to the track (or maybe track driving in general), keep a stray eye on your rearview – whilst learning the track it’s only courteous to slow down on a straight and let the faster drivers pass. You’ll frustrate them less, and will feel less pressured at the same time.
The important bit is to have fun! if you get to the point where you’re getting anxious, chances are you’re going too hard, too quickly. Get to know how your car handles and where the limits are – as you progress you may find that you can brake much later than markers indicate, turn in more sharply and so on. All in all you won’t get more of an adrenaline rush for the money, and you’ll likely get to enjoy the experience with some like-minded petrol heads!
Your weapon of choice
As for the GTR, she made a strong case against her replacement later in the year. We did under 30 laps surrounded by AMGs, a McLaren and a 911GT2. The GTR ran in low boost for the day and felt only hamstrung by my rustiness and limited commitment with my first time on four-wheels around Perth’s Wanneroo Raceway. On road, she is ballistic, a bag of fun. But it wasn’t until her first track day that I really got to figure out what I love about here. In better-hearsed hands, high boost and minimal driver aids enabled, she would have held up with most things on the track.
There’s no escaping the 1,800kg girth of the GTR but it dances around in a way that it simply has no right to. It is flat and handles whatever you throw at it, with the weight only being felt when transitioning from tun-to-turn.
Along the straight, torque avalanched the R35 down the straight, but most surprising was the brakes. The huge, vented brembos would be expected to haul the car up. But hitting 260kph in the home straight and leaving the braking to seconds after what my survival instincts would have preferred, you feel the negative G’s lift you out of your seat.
There was not a hint of fade over the sessions and the brakes pulled her up a remarkable distances past the markers. Turn is was predictable if not as direct as other track equipment and a dab of throttle saw Godzilla glide sideways in full control. In the straights, it easily kept pace with some much ”better” machinery in high boost. The next trip out will come with some footage, I promise!
The next step will be to dial out a slight hint of numbness on initial turn-in by way of a sway bar and poly brush set up which is on its way from Litchfield as we speak. A love that has been resting but ever-present got some much-needed nourishment and the next outing can’t come soon enough.