Car trackday basics.
This article will give you some hints and tips if your a novice trackday participant. It specifically covers car-related topics and is a contribution of Vincent Baylé[*]. If you're a biker, please check this article.
It's recommended to prepare a trackday in advance in order to avoid bad surprises. A trackday is supposed to be a fun event, so there are some rules that should be followed to keep it fun.
It all comes down to the car you'll be driving. A daily-driver isn't primarily meant to be used on a racetrack. Track-driving is so hard on all the components that most of the manufacturers do not include it in their specifications. Nevertheless, some brands (Porsche, Renault Sport,...) do take that into account for certain models of their range, giving themself a performance and endurance image.
So you should first define in which category your car is: daily-driver, sportscar or race-car.
In any case, it's a good idea to check the car before and after the trackday, whatever its category.
At least, your car should be in a good state (especially tyres and brakes). Although it's tempting to use not-so-fresh components ("I'll just finish those old tyres"), it's not recommended. Consequences might be bad.
Keep in mind that track-driving is hard on the parts and that temeratures get much high than what they'd be on the road. This means that especially tyres and brake pads will wear quickly, which is why it's important to keep an eye on them after every event. Also keep in mind that you'll probably have to drive back home after the event... Having worn out tyres might get you a fine or even be plain dangerous (aquaplaning). Worn-out brake pads - besides badly impacting brake performance - might damage your brake disks and add some expenses.
Think about check the engine oil-level too. The lateral forces you'll encounter on the track are much higher than on the road. So it's important to have enough oil, but without overdoing it and adding too much.
There's no need for special equipment here, unless you track your car regularly. In this case, an option would be to take a second set of tyres and rims in order to drive home with some fresh ones.
Semi-slicks might not be adapted to your car unless it's a sportscar. The suspension is usually too soft for the additional grip and the car might become undriveable. Besides, the whole chassis might wear quicker too.
As for the brakes, common fluid might overheat and even boil, so it's possible to replace it with a high-end fluid that has a higher boiling-point (e.g. DOT 5). It's also posible to replace the standard pads with high-performance items. The braking will be improved and longer-lasting, but brakes might get noisy and discs might wear quicker.
Difficult question. Every tyre is specific and works differently, but a general rule would be to slightly lower the pressure on the track because the tyres will heat up much more than on the road.
So it's recommended to do a first session (a few laps) and then to check the pressure. Adjust it so that you get about 0.2-0.3 bar (3-4 psi) more than the pressure indicated in your car documents. At the end of the event, it's important to re-adjust before driving on the road again.
Semi-slick tyres usually work best at around 2 bars (29 psi) when hot.
Adjusting tyre pressure greatly impact the balance of the car. Depending on that, your car might become either under- or over-steering.
Yes. As we already mentioned, a standard car - even a sportscar - wears out quicker on a racetrack. Only proper racecars are designed to endure such an intense use.
So be warned: some new noises might appear...
It's recommended - maybe even madatory - to get a proper equipment. Even if flying off track isn't on the plan, it might happen. And in that case, it's important to wear adequate safety equipment.
So it's a good idea to get an overall, a helmet, gloves and driving shoes (if possible FIA 8856-2000 homologated). This will come handy if you happen to attend a national or international event some day. If you own an HANS-ready helmet and harnesses, use the HANS-system. It might avoid bad injuries in the case of a serious crash.
An embedded lap-timer might be handy to check the evolution of your lap-times.
This of course applies to performance-oriented events. If you're attending a safe-driving or basic course, just stick to the organizer's recommendations.
It's often allowed to take passengers, but keep in mind you'll be responsible for his/her safety. However, some events might forbid it completely.
Beginners should start by driving alone in order to learn the track, the car and... themselves. At a later stage, taking passengers to show them new sensations might be possible, but keep it safe. Most of all, don't try to impress them by overdoing it or you might end up badly.
As it's the case on the road, some rules are here to keep it friendly. Aside of speed - which is tolerated or even advised! - here are a few of these basic rules:
- Beginners should do 6- or 7-laps sessions in order to keep concentration high, to learn new things, and to keep the car in good shape (don't overheat the brakes, etc)
- Know the important flags.
- Since it's a fun-oriented event, try to check your mirror and let faster cars pass you (especially if you're a beginner...). To indicate your follower that you've seen her and that you're going to let her overtake, set your blinker to the side you're staying. Then keep a predictable line and the overtaker will do the rest.
- Use the hazard lights only in case of a technical problem if you have to drive slowly or stop. Otherwise, hazard lights make no sense on a track.
- When you enter a track, always do a reconnaissance lap to warm-up your car (and yourself), and to check the track conditions.
- When exiting the track, try to do a cool-down lap. However, drive fast enough to allow a proper cooling of the brakes and use your engine brake. Do check your mirrors and use the blinkers when appropriate. Do not switch off the engine immediately if you have a turbo.
And here a few advices when the event is over:
- Check your tire pressure and adjust. Don't forget to adjust again later when the tires are cold.
- Check your wheels and make sure the nuts are tightened. Do it with cold wheels. If they're warm, you might add too much torque.
- Check all the safety elements (tires, brakes, engine-oil, etc.)
- Finally, check renndays.com to find your next trackday and visit vb2r.com for nice videos and to attend our essais privés!
Many thanks to Vincent Baylé for his help on this article! Vincent is a professionnal test- and development-driver, and most notably set the record-lap for front-driven cars at the Nürburing-Nordschleife with the Renault Mégane R26.R. Through a close partnership between his current project VB2R and renndays.com, we should be able to provide some high-level expertise in both car and bike topics. And some exciting pictures and videos too!