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You might also be interested in our blog about 'What is a track day?'
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How do I choose a track day?
Having made the decision to take a car on track the next logical step is to choose where to go. Assuming you are taking your own car, this gives you a huge range of choices and experiences to choose from. The other option of hiring a car specifically for this limits your choices somewhat, but the same considerations will need to be taken into account.
How do I choose a track day location ?
Perhaps the most obvious but before getting to caught up on chasing lap times on the same circuits as the formula 1 stars its worth considering what’s local to you. A local track will be cheaper to get to and if you have an issue, such as a break down, sorting out your logistics would be simpler.
There are two main types of venues, race circuits such as Brands Hatch and Knockhill, and air field days like Abingdon and Elvington. I’m sure most people are familiar with a normal race circuit and most circuits typically have run off areas and safety barriers. The airfield is usually marked out by cones across the large areas of tarmac or concrete to create a circuit and it’s usually cheaper will have less to hit. Think almost unlimited run off, but these can sometimes have a poorer road surface. They can also be an excellent place to start your track day adventures.
In terms of accommodation you could consider looking into local hotels for the night before, remember that most days start early and finish late (see later in the article for a typical timetable). Or of course after the event is a good way to unwind and with friends and exchange excuses (stories) about why your mate got past you! A day spent driving fast on track is tiring and add to that a couple of hours driving to and from the venue and you have a recipe for problems staying awake. This obviously increases the overall cost of the day but can add to the experience.
What is the cost of a track day ?
Cost is probably the most thought about aspect of doing a track day. However it isn’t just the initial venue costs to consider. In short the more you pay typically the more prestigious the track and the fewer cars there will on this. So in reality, to drive the full Brands Hatch GP, or Silverstone F1 GP circuit you will have reach deeper into your pocket. Mid-week is always cheaper than the weekend as this is when most circuits run their race meets.
Also bear in mind that there will be other costs on the day, things like food and fuel (Both getting to and from the event and the fuel used whilst going round your chosen venue!) These can both be controlled. Many people take fuel and food with them to the event or find out in advance where the local shops/fuel stations are. Some circuits will sell fuel on site but these are often more expensive than usual. Other costs vary depending on the car you are taking such as tyre wear etc.
If your car is valuable it may be worth considering insurance for the day if you have something valuable. The golden rule is that you are responsible for your own damage even if not to blame and the organiser will not be involved, other than removing your car from the circuit if you cannot drive it any further.
How to choose a trach day 0perator (TDO)?
The Track Day Operator (TDO) organises the day and usually provides marshals and medical cover to ensure you have a safe and fun time.
These days the chance of finding a dodgy track day organiser is low but it always worth a quick check that they are part of the Association of Track Day Organisers (ATDO).
In brief they set safety standards and a code of practice for their members.
What format does a track day run ?
It is unlikely that everyone booked on for the day will able to go out at the same time. The main factors are the length of the track and the sound limits the track has to work within. This means that your day will either run as an open pit lane or it will be split into sessions. Open pit lane could be described as a one off / one on way of keeping the numbers of cars on track controlled. You wait in a queue and a marshal will signal you to join the track when there is space and it’s safe to do so. The other common format is to split the day up into sessions of 20 mins. You join the track with your group when directed and then leave when the session is over. Some operators use this to group by experience which can appeal if you are a novice you won’t be out on track with a full race car driven by someone with years of experience!
Once you’ve considered the location do remember the distance to and from the venue. Many people drive their own car to and from the day but you will need to consider that if you have an issue that renders your car non-roadworthy, how will you get the car back home or to a garage?
Most common issues are only mechanical failures but remember, it is possible to cause suspension or panel damage that would make it impossible or illegal to drive the car home.
This is why you will see many people bringing their cars on trailers and such as this removes that worry from the day.
What to think about before the day ?
Make sure you read our article on preparing your car for the track. But remember to have organised all the safety equipment along with sorting cash, food, fuel and any paperwork needed for the day.
Most operators will want to see a driving licence when you sign on for the day so don’t forget to take it with you. The more organised you are the less stressed you will be. If you do forget your licence you might get the options of an online check or a phone call to the DVLA but it’s possible you might be fined or asked to donate to charity for the inconvenience.
Any time you are on track you will need to have a crash helmet on and arms/legs will need to be fully covered. If it’s your first day you could ask the organiser if they hire helmets for the day, many do and this saves the expense of buying something you end up not using. If you do fancy buying your own then make sure you do some research on this subject as you can spend a lot of money very easily.
When choosing your clothing for the day, keep to natural materials and have a look at the weather forecast. Layers you can take off or put on are good as you’ll get hot whilst driving. You could, of course, go for the full rave driver look and buy a race suit but this is probably a bit overkill for your first track day.
On the other hand racing gloves are a great idea as you get a much better grip of the steering wheel but again probably worth considering after you know this is a hobby you want to get into. Shoes are worth considering as thin soled are best for the feel you will need of the pedals and again you can buy race shoes but as with gloves consider if you need them from day one.
If you are mechanically minded then it would be a good idea to take some tools with you, we would recommend:
- Socket set
- Selection of spanners
- Duct tape
- Jubilee clips
- Cable ties
Even if you’re not it would be worth taking a minimum of:
- Torque wrench
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Foot pump
Some sort of box is a good idea as at the track you will need to take these and anything else out of your car and leave it somewhere – typically there is the pit garage for use but you might have to leave them in the paddock so a box helps keeps things safe and dry.
On the day
You will be sent some sort of joining instructions and the most important is probably the time table. A typical example might be:
07:30 – Arrival
08:00 – Sign in
08:30 – Safety Briefing
09:00 – Sound testing and sighting laps
09:30 – Track opens
12:30 – 13:30 – Lunch break
13:30 – Track opens
17:00 – Chequered flag end of day
Arriving early will give you plenty of time to empty the car and sign on. There’s no need to hear the tools clanging around in the boot while trying to learn which way the corners go during the sighting laps and learning where the curves are!
Signing on is where you will present your driving licence and sign a waiver.
During the briefing they will explain how the track day will run including things such as where to overtake, what the flags mean and any specific details about the circuit. These are mandatory for driver and passengers to attend and you won’t get out on track without so it’s best to arrive in plenty of time.
Sound testing is measuring the noise from your exhaust and is usually done either after the briefing or as you join the track for the first time.
Many operators then ask everyone to get in their cars and follow a safety car round the circuit for a few familiarisation laps (siting laps); often this is called ducks and drakes. The idea is to show everyone the layout at slow speeds so there are no surprises on your first lap.
Lunch break lets both you and the car cool down completely – just remember that after lunch it’s not the time to try and set the lap record!
Most circuits will stay open till a fixed time due to noise limits but in the winter this can be a little earlier if light is becoming an issue.
Hopefully you have found this article useful. Keep an eye out for the next instalment.
Remember track days can be dangerous