How to prepare for a Track day
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So, you like a bit of adrenalin, you have a fast car, and you fancy pushing it to the limits, stretching its legs, see how like Lewis Hamilton with his Formula 1 skills you are ?
In that case, you need to know the below, read on…. !
Motorsport is dangerous, so, there is some preparation you need to take in to account to make sure the car is up to standard, and safe.
Of course you don’t have to spend a fortune on modifications to run your car round a track – many cars have more than enough performance straight out of the box – but the fact that it will spend much of the day flat-out means that there are a few essential jobs to do to stop it melting or falling apart.
Before you go to a track day
You’ve decided you fancy taking a car on a track day, so the first job is to select a track. The majority of UK tracks hold an event every week, so you won’t have long to wait before you can get out on track.
Selecting a track close to home is a good idea, not least because track days are both mentally and physically tiring, so a long drive home after the event might not be a great idea. If you do have to travel a fair distance, we’d recommend staying overnight in a hotel.
Track day Insurance:
People ask themselves, and you read it on forums. Do I need track day insurance ? The answer is in short, No ! You don't NEED it. I can be as much as £200 for one day cover or more, and you will need to check what is included. Some policies might have an excess of £1,000 or 10% of the value of the vehicle. Other may only cover third party, and so on. Track day insurance is for peace of mind, but not essential.
Checking your vehicle is safe to take on track. What should I check ?
You should check that all your car fluids are fresh, and topped up to the correct level. Different cars have different systems, so please refer to your manufacturer if unsure.
These include (not limited to) :
Power Steering Fluid
Rear spoiler actuator fluid
Wheels and Tyres
The wheels and tyres on your car are going to be put through a lot of forces. You should check that the tyres are free from any damage to the tyre walls. Free from any bulges or splits. Older tyres will show signs of age and crack. All tyres are date stamped with a 4 letter digit, such as 1417. This would signify the tyres were made in the 14th week of 2017.
Tyre Tread : You should check that you have some good tyre tread on all of the tyres. This is more important if the track day is wet to help with the tyres ability to clear water. A Track day will wear your tyres down faster than normal road driving, so it is important to make sure you have enough tread left at the end of the day to legally drive home. The Legal limit is 1.6mm, so as a rule of thumb, look for 3mm or more tread before you start.
Tyres: Are your tyres even? What we at TMS Motorsport mean by this. Ideally 'they' say you should have the same tyres front and rear on the car, and their wear should be even. If you have different tyres left to right, once being a sporty tyre, and one being a budget tyre. One with lots of tread, and the other an old tyre with low tread. You will find this can compromise the car under braking. One side of the car might have more grip than the other, which may lead to the car slowing faster on one side than the other, having more grip, trying to put the car in to a spin !
Tracking : Is your car tracking straight ? Does it pull to the right or left when driving on the road ? A quick way to check the front is by turning the steering wheel all the way to the right and looking at the wear across the width of the right hand side tyre. Is it all even? Then turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and check the left tyre for wear and see if they are even. The rears you can check by looking under the back of the car. You are looking to see that all tyre wear across all the tyres is even. If you are unsure, take your car to a local alignment garage and they will be able to check.
Wheel Balancing: It is important to ensure that your wheels are properly balanced. Why is this ? All tyres are balanced each time tyres are fitted, but it is possible for weight to fall off over time. On a track day, as you will be travelling up to speeds over the normal UK speed limit, any imperfection in balancing might lead to an uncomfortable vibration at higher speeds. You don’t have to do anything special in terms of balancing for a track day, it can just be a good idea to do so ahead of each track day.
Wheel nuts: The wheels need to stay on your wagon ! Most people have their tyres fitted, and never check the wheel torque again ! Wheels don't need to be done up by He-Man ! Different makes of cars have different torque settings. We use 120NM (please check your car settings, this is not a recommendation). We will check them in the morning, and a few times during the day. As the heat from the brakes goes through the wheels and hubs, metal expands and contracts.
Tyre Pressures: It is important to check your tyre pressures both before and during the track day. Please refer to the tyre manufacturer for the standard settings. Whilst on the circuit, you will be subjecting the tyres to a lot more force than they would usually see on the road. This movement creates heat, and in turn, increases the tyre pressures. There is a lot of debate around what are the best tyre pressures for which tyres for which track day depending on X weather condition. Some people work by ‘Hot’ tyres pressures of say 36 psi, others work by cold tyre pressures of 26 psi. Please check as to your favoured conditions.
Brake Pads: Check the brakes ! Pad material in the pads is important. There should be plenty of pad material left on your pads prior to a track day. How do I know if I have enough pad material left ? As a rough rule of thumb, most (not all !) pads have a grove that runs half way down the middle of the pad. If you can no longer see the grove when looking at the pad through the caliper, chances are, the pads are worn. If the pad doesn't have that groove, then more than 5-6mm pad material is a good starting point. Please check your vehicle or pad specification on their recommendations if unsure !
Brake temperature: Please be aware, all pads have a bedding in process. It is possible, you might go through this on the track day. Most people will think they are an awesome driver, they have boiled the brakes, move over Mansell, Hamilton, Verstappen ! This is usually not the case. The bedding in process might feel like you have lost the brakes. If this happens on track, gently go back to the pits and let the car cool (don’t put hand brake on in the pits, leave it in gear). Read up on bedding in process if you are unsure.
Brake Fluid: Brake Fluid is vitally important to help you slow down ! Most vehicle manufacturers recommend brake fluid to be changes once a year. This is because, over time, the water % of the brake fluid increases reducing the fluid efficiency. If you are unsure when the fluid was last changed, it might be worth having it changed prior to the track day.
Car Gauges : All cars have some form of temperature gauge or warning lights. These can range from Water temp, oil temp, oil pressure, turbo boost, battery voltage. Warning lights will also be displayed should the car have any issues. It is a good idea to understand what all the lights might mean on the your car, and what are safe operating temps for the gauges. Information on this should be in the hand book.
Suspension: Is the suspension on the car fit for use on the track. It is always worth checking the suspension struts to check for leaks or damage prior to a track day.
Lights, electronics and warning lights : Do your lights all work ? You will need to make sure all of your lights on the car are working correctly, most importantly the brake lights and indicators. The car should not have any warning lights showing.
Oil leaks: Is your car leaking oil? It is always a good idea to have a good look around, underneath the car and in the engine bay to check for any leaks, drips or spills of any kind.
Looking after the mechanicals of the car.
Warm up: To help reduce the chances of potentially shortening the life of mechanical parts of your car, warming the car up is always advisable. Why should I warm my car up? There are a number of reasons, and the more into motorsport you get the more they apply. There are some basic car requirements to help with the running, such as :
Engine temperature: A car operates best when it is fully up to temperature, and with the water thermostat open. This varies from car to car, but can be from 68 - 74 degress celcius or even more. Once the thermostat is open, this means the water pump will be pumping water through the radiator to aid cooling. Keeping the car around 85 degrees ish which is optimium operation temperatire. In most cars, the car being up to temperature will be when the standard water temperature gauge sits in the middle. If it moves much above this, come back in the pits, let the car cool, and check coolant levels (DO NOT TAKE THE RADIATOR CAP OFF WHEN THE ENGINE IS HOT).
Oil Temperature: Oil runs hotter (around 100 degrees ish) than the water temperature, and also takes a little longer to warm up. Oil is thicker when cold, meaning the engine will have to work harder to move it around, oil pressure will be higher.
How do I warm the engine up ? : The easiest answer is to leave the engine running for 15 mins before going on track. It is always worth being aware of your surroundings when doing this. If you are in a tiny confined garage without ventilation, needless to say, this is not a good idea. Another way to warm the car up, when you go out on track is to take the first couple of laps a little slower, but not too slow you get in the way of others, so if you choose to do this, please keep an eye on your mirrors and signal to other cars who will be passing you.
Warm the Tyres up, Warm the tyres up, Warm the tyres up : This is a little bit of a personal rant here at TMS Motorsport ! So often when we go to a track day, we have to come back in the pits due to a red flag being thrown. This happens more frequently in the first session of the day, or immediately after lunch, especially in the rain ! So, PLEASE WARM YOUR TYRES UP ! :) Just because the session is open, you are not Lewis Hamilton, or Max Verstapen coming out of the pits, with pre-heated tyres. The red mist seems to come down, and off everyone goes like maniacs ! Tyres work much better when they are warm. So, it is a good idea, when you come out of the pits, to take it steady, until you pass the pits again. Get used to where the grip is or isn't.
Installation lap: If you follow Formula 1, you may often hear them talk about an installation lap. What is an Installation lap ? The first time out on circuit on a track day, safety needs to be on your mind. What we do, and this is just for ideas, not a recommended guide line. The first lap, after the sighting laps, we come straight back in the pits, and we check the car. What are we looking for ? Anything. We check the tyre pressure, wheel torques, engine fluids again (having already checked them in the morning).We look at other nuts and bolts, anything that may have come loose. Why do we do this ? Its mainly for safety of us, and others on the circuit, and also, as prevention is better than a cure. We are looking to see if anything has changed since our last check, which might be a warning that there are potential issues afoot with the car. As my Dad always said to me. ‘Prevention is better than a cure son’.
It is a track day, not a race! : Please remember, you are on a track day, you are not racing ! There are overtaking rules (most track days will be overtaking on the left only, on a straight, by consent, which will be covered in the briefing). Please don’t be ‘that guy’ who dives in last minute in the braking zone 2 cm from the car they are overtaking. We are all there for a good friendly time. Join a race series if you want to race.
Fuel up: Your car will use fuel faster on circuit, than it does on the road. 25MPG on the road, might be 10MPG on track, or less if you have a million BHP ! Please keep an eye on your fuel gauge. Nobody wants to run out of fuel on the track. It is embarrassing, and it does happen. If it does, you cause delays for all the drivers, while you are recovered, meaning less time on track. Some track day companies will fine you, if you run out of fuel on the circuit !
Last MOT: It might be worth checking the last MOT, or previous MOT's the car has had. There may be an advisory on the car you have forgotten about, which might best be repaired before a track day.
Bodywork: Is all the bodywork on your car secured safely. You don’t want to have bits of trim flying off causing damage to other vehicles.
Towing Eyes: Know where your towing eyes are ! Some cars will need toe eyes to be screwed in, and may be stored in your factory tool kit. If you end up having an incident, the marshals will look to remove your car from the circuit. They don't want to wait 20 minutes for you to locate the towing eye. This will delay others, because if you have to be removed from tyre walls or gravel trap, if is safe to say, there will have been a red flag, and people will be waiting in the pits to get back on track. Marshalls will want your car out as soon as they can. If they can't find a towing eye, the strap will go round the next best thing, what ever that might be !
Tools: Its always worth bringing along at least a simple tool kit on the day. This might also include gaffa tape and zip ties.
Cooling Down: Once you have completed a few laps, be sure to cool your car down before coming in to the pits. This is for a few reasons, such as getting rid of any excess heat in the engine bay, lowering the risk of fire. Allowing the brake discs to cool off with air flow reduces their chances of warping. When you come back in to the pits, remember to not put the car hand brake on. This can stick to the inside of the disc and damage the handbrake shoes and disc. Use a wheel chock to stop the car from rolling away, or leave the car in gear (remember to check when starting the car).
Be safe driving home: At the end of the track day, please be safe on the drive home. You will have had an Adrenalin filled day (hopefully without incident). There are speed limits to adhere to on the public roads. It is not uncommon for local police to be waiting outside track days to catch people thinking they are still on a race track. Slow it down, be safe, and look forward to the next track day !
Please note: This article is designed to be a guide, and idea on what to look for, not an exhaustive list. Please also carry out your own research.
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