How to prepare your car for a track day
If you’ve ever fancied putting your car through its paces in a way that’s impossible, not to mention illegal, on the open road, then a track day is the perfect opportunity. To make the most of the occasion there are certain steps that it’s a good idea to take first, though. Here’s our handy guide to some of the most important of them, as well as a few tips for the day itself.
The basics of track days
Of course, the main fundamental is a need to have the right car for the track day. It needs to be at least a little bit sporty to start off with. Maybe the first step will be to find yourself a new set of wheels that fits with your budget. You needn't spend much - a Mazda MX-5 is an ideal candidate, as is a Ford Fiesta ST, or even a Suzuki Swift Sport. It could be that you’re driving the perfect car already, in which case we can move straight on to the basics of track day preparation.
Make sure it’s in tip-top condition
The number one priority is going to be making sure that it has been recently serviced, properly. That way you’ll know that all the subsidiary equipment like oil and air filters will be ready to perform to maximum capacity. You’ll also be confident that fluids including coolant and oil are at the right level.
This is especially important when it comes to oil. That’s because as you’re throwing the car around corners the centrifugal force will send the oil flying around the engine too – and if the overall level is too low then some critical components could find themselves momentarily without lubrication. Even if this doesn’t have an immediately serious effect it certainly won’t be good for the engine’s long-term health.
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying all the same. Your engine will be receiving more than its usual level of punishment on a track day. It’s going to be running hotter than usual, much hotter in fact. At the service, it might well be worth asking the garage to put in an additive that can help to keep the water well below boiling point. At the very least, keep an eye on your car's water temperature gauge when you're on track.
Brakes and tyres
These are the other components that are going to come under the greatest strain as you’ll be working them much harder than normal.
It may not be worth investing in a whole new set of tyres just for the day, unless track events are something you’re planning to come to quite often. You do need to make sure there’s plenty of tread left on the ones that are already fitted.
It could be a case of judging how soon you’re going to have to replace the existing ones because this could just be the excuse you do need to get a new set fitted – your garage will be able to advise on how many miles your current set may have left in them.
And, while you’re obviously going to be testing out how fast you can go, being able to slow down and stop efficiently is equally important. That’s going to mean having a braking system in tip-top shape with discs that aren’t scored and worn and pads that are no more than a quarter worn down. Again, this is something that should be picked up in the pre-track day service.
Every ounce counts
We don’t want to get too technical, but what really makes the difference to any car’s performance is its power-to-weight ratio. While you’re unlikely to want to fit super-light bucket seats for the day, it does make sense to shed all the weight that you possibly can.
For example, do you really need to carry a spare wheel with you? Yes, there’s a chance that you might have a blowout or puncture, but you won’t be able to change the wheel at the trackside. So maybe leave it in the pits while you’re doing your circuits.
It’s also generally a good idea to remove anything that can fly around in the cabin when you’re accelerating hard or slamming on the brakes, especially items like cans of de-icer that could easily roll behind the pedals.
Then there’s the extra weight a full tank of petrol will add. Try to calculate how much fuel you’ll need for the day itself, and check if there's a filling station at the circuit. Then you can enjoy yourself on track and fill up for the journey home at the end. If the track fuel prices are too high, normally there are fuel stations within a few miles of race tracks, for obvious reasons.
Some insider’s tips
On the day itself, you’re sure to get a full briefing before you’re let loose on the track. But there are a few tips that you may not be given.
· Headlights. It’s not a bad idea to stick a line 'X' of tape on them. That way, in the extremely unlikely case one gets hit by a stone at high speed, it will be held in and not scatter glass all over the track.
· Handbrake. After a hot lap when you’re into the pits don’t apply the handbrake straight away. There’s a chance that the heat of the braking system can weld the pads to the discs. So leave it a few minutes for everything to cool down a little. If you have a manual car, leave it in first gear to stop it from rolling.
And off you go
So there you have it. A quick guide to getting your car track-ready. Now it’s just a question of channelling your inner Lewis Hamilton and imagining that you’re taking the chequered flag at Monza!