Motorsport Trackday Novice
You’ve got an early night yet you can’t sleep, wide awake like a kid at Christmas. Why? – because nothing gets a petrol head more pumped than the adrenaline rush of hitting the track. Within this article we will look to guide you through the booking of your first trackday, through to the preparation needed and what to expect on the day. Once you pop your track day virginity, it becomes an addiction!
Choosing A Track & Class
Here in the UK we are pretty spoilt for choice with circa 18 circuits that vary in track standard (FIA, MSA or Grassroots/Private) and in complexity. The circuits in the UK are often based on ex-RAF airfields and vary in the number of straights, corners, postive / negative camber and so on. Meaning no track is the same and each will put you and your car to the test. Depending on the experience you’re looking for there are varying complexities of track. The more you’re looking towards speed/vehicle power (e.g. Snetterton). And the other end of the spectrum would be somewhere such as Cadwell Park, its complexity is often referred to the the UK’s mini Nurburgring.
If this is your first track day, then it is highly recommended you go in a small group and attend a circuit that is local to you. The reason for this, is you never know what might happen,if something doesn’t go to plan it is handy to have some buddies around to help out and to share the fun.
When booking a session, don’t be a muppet and let your ego take over. It is easy to think you’re a competant, fast driver on the road. However, on track in an intermediate/advance class, you will find yourself in the deep end. If you enter into a class that is above your abilities, you will find that you won’t enjoy the experience and spend most of the time looking in your mirrors with panic. Book on to a novice session, they come in half-day or full-day sessions and away you go! Some FIA/MSA circuits will offer the additional luxury of a pit garage, awesome for when the heavens open. If you get a few buddies together, you can split the cost. Unfortunately not all establishements have the facilities or they’re not open to the general public.
As with everything these days, safety is paramount. If you do not meet the safety requirements, you simply wont be able to take part. On the flipside this doesn’t mean you need to be that one guy in the pits ‘with all the gear and no idea’. As a minimum the majority of circuits will require you to wear a helment and clothing that covers all limbs (long sleeve t-shirt, sweater, etc). If this is your first time, then we recommend going with the minimum and then if you decide that you are in fact addicted, then invest the cash to look like the stig (some say dressing as the stig gives you an extra 50bhp).
In the world of ‘bash hats’ there are a multitude of brands to choose from and many styles. But for the purpose of starting out or being a seasoned track day hero, a decent full-face motorcycle helmet would suffice (not a motor-cross lid). When we say decent, we mean a known brand and one that features the gold label or as a minimum, a BSA label (green).
Why buy a motorsport specific helmet? Motorsport helmets have been specifically designed for the use within the sport, ensuring that strict FIA/MSA standards are met (ECE 22.05, Snell SA2020/2015, FIA8860-2010/8859-2015) and in short, are fire-proof.
Many will also feature HANS pegs or the ability to add some. No this isn’t related to Star Wars; HANS devices (shown left under the helmet) are a shoulder-based restraint that minimises the movement of your head/kneck under heavy shock. They feautre straps that connect to the helmet and a head restraint pad. We strongly recommend a decent motorsport helmet/HANS setup if you’re truly serious about your safety and hitting the circuits. Available from various outlets, Demontweeks would be a good starting point.
Racewear (Gloves, Suit, Boots)
Why get a race-suit? Surely I can just wear my day to day clothes. Correct; for most public track days, you can use a pair of trainers, trousers, long sleeve top and bare hands. However there is a reason why our very own Shah from Compare Parts is known as being ‘Shah Grilled’ [SHAH EDIT – haha not funny mate].
FIA/MSA racesuits, boots and gloves are designed to offer protection from fire should your vehicle turn into a mobile BBQ through failure or a kiss with a barrier. Every petrolhead knows of Nikki Lauda’s ordeal, if it wasnt for racewear of the time, he wouldn’t of been alive – extreme scenario, but still a very real risk in motorsport of all levels. Technology has since come on leaps and bounds since then, so well worth the investment.
One thing to be careful of – Karting Suits. Kart suits aren’t designed to meet the fire protection standards required of car motorsport. Always check with the supplier to ensure the relevant tags/standards badges are in tact and in date.
Demontweeks has a large range of Racewear available on their website
Track day Insurance - Recommended.
Your normal car insurance is highly unlikely to cover your vehicle for track use, meaning that you’re not covered if you do happen to run out of talent. Binning it or take someone else out. Now this won’t stop you being flavour of the day if you do happen to cause a red flag, nor will it help when you get home to be grilled by the Mrs. But it will mean that you get something back to either replace or assist with the associated costs. Make sure you do your homework and find the best policy coverage you can afford. Compare Parts would recommend jumping on to the social forums to understand which companies work well for those regular track day warriors.
Insurance is not a requirement for track, so be aware that there will be others on track that won’t be covered and will have the motorsport understanding that “what goes on on track, stays on track”. Meaning that it is Motorsport and things happen.
Ensuring your car is correctly prepared for the hammering ahead is critical to not just enjoying your day but your overall safety. Your car will experience more abuse in one day, than it would in a month of spritied driving on the road. By making sure your car is ready for upcoming trackdays, you will limit the risk of failure and bringing your day to a premature close. Minimising the chances of something going wrong on track.
General Maintenance & Fluids
When prepping your car, general maintenance is a must, but ensure you pay special attention to the following areas:
Aside from checking fluid levels; It is hugely important to ensure the engine has fresh oil before and after your session. Unlike road driving where the engine spends short amounts of time at high revs and under excessive load, on track it’s quite the opposite. By using fresh oil before your session, you are giving the engine better protection against damage and excessive wear. Just as important change the fluids after your day. The powertrain will operate at high temperatures throughout the session, due to extended periods at high revs, as a result, your oil will begin to degrade and may even contain contaminents from engine wear. This is normal; However fresh is required to ensure optimum protection. Failure to do this over time will lead to your engine presenting the dreaded death rattle at the very least.
Braking & Fluids
Often overlooked, braking is incredibly important. Throughout a track session the brakes will undergo excessive use compared to daily driving. The use on track will cause high-temperatures from the components as a result brake fade occurs. Followed by a discouraging moment as you enter a corner without brakes (one of the main causes for drivers not getting huge amounts of time on track). It is strongly recommended that as a minimum you swap out your road pads for fast road/track brake pads, if you want to drive hard, then look towards uprated/vented brake discs and motorsport brake fluid.
The weather conditions and track surface play a huge part in your session. Some tracks are far more abrasive than others, some have poor drainage for wet days etc. So tyre condition and tread depth are incredibly important. To put in perspective, at Brands Hatch I could get a full day on track in the S15 (500hp) and still have good amounts of tread-depth left in a new set of tyres. Zandvoort on the other hand, I killed a set of tyres to the point they weren’t safe to drive on after. Before hitting the track make sure you have suitable track day tyres, at least 6mm of tread and the sidewalls are in good condition. Don’t be afraid to jump on social media and ask for others opinions!
Trackday Safety & Requirements
As far as track days go there isnt a huge amount of safety requirements as they’re not to be treated as a competitive day. Instead they’re a day to experience your car on track within your abilities. However you do need to be aware of the following.
Although not a mandatory requirement, it is recommended to get yourself a small fire extinguisher – Just in case you do have a BBQ moment! We have a wide range of fire extinguishers on Compare.Parts
Most, if not all, feature some kind of noise limit. Static, is where they ask you to hold the engine revs at 75% while a DB tester at a 45* angle is atleast 1 metre from the exhaust. Drive by is exactly that, they have key points on track where your passing noise will be tested. For most this won’t be an issue, unless you own a Honda, are running a de-catted loud aftermarket exhaust or a screamer pipe. Do your homework before you book, some tracks are stricter than others, but no one wants to risk being turned away.
What Do You Need To Know
On track, there are a couple of key things you need to know. Firstly you have the flags these are important on track, as this is the main method of communication between you and the safety stewards/marshalls. Failure to follow the flags could lead to a warning or straight dismissal from the track. The flags will be covered in your track briefing on the day, however the key ones are as follows.
Start / End of the session is indicated by the Green or Red Flag. If a Red Flag is seen, the sessions has been stoped with immediate effect, meaning heavily reduce your pace and return to the pits ASAP – Often used if there has been a big crash
The Chequered Flag inidicates that the session has now come to an end, once passed you should look to heavily reduce your speed and return to the pits.
The Blue Flag is rarely used on trackdays, however if you do see one, it indicates that someone is on a flying lap and that you need to get out the way when safe to do so, ideally without impeeding their lap.
Oil or Fluids on track are indicated by a Yellow Flag featuring Red Stripes; Unlike the Yellow Flag, pace and overtaking can continue, but with caution..
Hazzards on track are indicated by the Yellow Flag. Whilst this flag is displayed on a section of the track, no overtaking is to occur and you are to pass the section with caution at a reduced pace.
The Game Over Flag, the Black Flag indicates that the marshalls or stewards wish to have a word with you. You must come into the pits ASAP.
First Lap Cockwomble
Regardless of whether this is your first track day, first time on the particular track or you’re a seasoned trackday warrior. DO NOT, repeat DO NOT be a first-lap cockwomble. These are drivers that decide to go flat out on the first lap and are almost certain to bin it, causing lengthy delays to the fun for everyone.
When heading out on track do it at a gradual pace and build up to your optimum. The reason for this is to familiarise yourself with the layout, the grip levels and potential hazards.
Although a track day in its official capacity is not meant for competitive racing, you are allowed to overtake when it’s safe to do so (ie not under braking or forcing them off the competitive line on a bend) someone will inevitably overtake you.
Overtaking should be done on the straights and normally on the left hand side, however you will be informed as to the track/steward preferance on the day. A good tip is to keep an eye on your mirrors and when you see someone fast approaching indicate as to the direction you intend to move to give way.