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Track day tips.

If you are reading this web site the chances are you like driving at a goodly pace, driving at full chat round one of our many splendid race circuits is probably quite high up on your list of thing to do.
Track day veterans will tell you there are a few secrets to success, some of which might sound surprising if you are new the scene.

The choice of champions.
So what makes a good track day car? Well the simple answer is something reliable, its amazing how many cars don't make it past lunch time on a full day event. Many people make the mistake of buying something quite complicated which is simply overwhelmed by the rigours of going flat out for long stretches of time. Its usually heat that causes most problems, in the cooling systems, transmission and the brakes. The next issue is mechanical failure of over stressed standard parts and electrical gremlins as connectors and wires are tested by vibration and G forces. So some of the key items to consider are ease of servicing and availability of spare parts, and this is where the high performance versions of many cars can be unwise buys.
Let me explain using the ever popular BMW E30 M3 as an example, to prepare a car for track use most people will strip out the interior to save weight, fit lowered and stiffened suspension, a sports or race seat etc. The M3 differed from the standard 325 in that it had slightly lower and stiffer suspension, subtle but important modifications to the aerodynamics, sports seats and 5 series wheels and brakes, but the suspension will often be replaced anyway, the larger 5 series brakes can be fitted to a standard car or replaced with larger race items and the seat may be replaced by a proper bucket race seat. So most of the exclusive and expensive M parts are to some extent superfluous.
And of course if your car is a standard model you will be a lot less worried about pushing it to the limits, which means more fun factor.
Success comes from simplicity.

The art of preparation.
The first piece of preparation work is a good thorough servicing, but use fluids more tuned to harsh use such as Castrol Edge engine oil. Every part should be inspected and fluids replaced, including the gearbox, differential, brakes and cooling system.
But before going any further the most effective way ahead is to fit new track biased tyres and take it out on track as is, then see what you feel you would like to change. There is no point changing things that have no effect on you driving pleasure, so see how it goes as standard first then you will end up with a list of things to change, tailoring it to your own needs rather than making a car that suits a random collection of forum 'experts' or a race series that you aren't in.
The next thing that may surprise you is that there is absolutely no point tuning the engine. The unique selling point of a track day is that it is safe, relatively, for everyone to drive flat out all day long. This is achieved by having very strict rules that prevent cars coming together and racing another car is completely forbidden. So getting more power out of the engine give you no advantage and only serves to reduce reliability, and cost money that would be better spent elsewhere.

So what modifications are a good idea then?
Most reasonably modern cars have a fair amount of weight that can be removed, so stripping is the next step as this will give the brakes and suspension an easier time too. But don't get too hung up on it, as a rough guide most people would not really notice the effect of removing less than 10% of the cars original weight, so what's the point? For instance most door cards weight two parts of naff all, but many folk remove them and then find they have no way of shutting the door. Another one is mirrors, even motorised ones weigh less than 2kg and removing them will make no appreciable difference to performance but will make it more difficult to see cars coming up to overtake. So just remove things you really dont need, like the back seat, air con, spare wheel, carpet and sound deadening material. Some people even swap to a smaller size of battery saving several kilos, the standard one being spec'd to start in Arctic conditions which aren't really relevant to a track day.
At this stage various things can be done to improve reliability, such as modifying the fan and cooling system. Engine driven fans can become unreliable at constant high engine speeds so are usually removed and a good quality electric fan used instead. This also helps when you come into the pits as all the heat that has soaked into the engine's metal and exhaust requires extra cooling at low speed.
The brakes take a hammering on the track and heat is their biggest enemy. The easiest modification is to fit racing brake pads (such as EBC Red or Yellow) and just as importantly racing brake fluid (really helps prevent fade) such as Motul RBF600, but remember racing fluid has to be changed more often than ordinary road fluid, possibly twice a year. It is also common to remove any stone guards and other obstructions to free air flow.
Then you need a good seat and harnesses to hold you securely as you throw the car about the track, seats are a very personal thing because every ones body is different, its worth going to try a few seats out before buying. If you intend to run harness shoulder straps through slots in the seat back then make sure that the slots are higher than your shoulders otherwise you risk having your spine compressed in a collision.
After that you could then start looking at lowering the car which will make a big difference to handling, but different suspension designs respond in different ways as the geometry changes as the wheel is pushed further up into the arch. For instance semi-trailing arms such as on most BMWs increase wheel camber as they move up, at extreme travel this can reduce traction because the tyre is running on its edge all the time. Its worth trawling the forums and specialist web sites to get a feel for what is a good ride height.
Although I have suggested the engine should not be tuned there is something to be said for fitting sporty exhaust and intake, this may make a very small improvement to power but a single box exhaust will weigh less and a cold air intake kit can reduce the chance of detonation and tidy up the engine bay a bit. And of course we should not forget that a track day car is there for your own enjoyment so the increase in tone can be quite pleasing and if nothing else make it sound faster!

Caged Monsters.
Collisions are very rare on track days but many people fit a full motorsports roll cage, but this in itself brings new dangers. If the car is in a collision having hard steel bars next to your head can result in sever injuries unless you are very tightly secured in the seat and wearing a good crash helmet. In fact the cage must be considered one part of a system which must also include the seat, harness and helmet. If the car is ever going to be used on the road and without a helmet then a cage should be avoided. Cheap aluminium 'show' cages offer no crash protection and can fold into lethal razor sharp edges, if you are going to fit a cage then use one that is FIA approved. Either way the tubes near the drivers head must be fitted with the correct motorsport cage padding, this is a relatively hard rubber to cope with the very high forces involved in a big shunt, using soft foam or pip lagging is utterly useless. The padding must cover quite a lot of the cage because in a heavy shunt your neck will stretch and you could hit parts of the car that seem very far away. As an example I had a shunt a few years back resulting in the car hitting a large tree (trees don't move by the way!) which shortened the front of the car by well over a meter, my crash helmet was damaged where it hit the steering wheel very hard, but sitting in the car when it was back in the workshop and wearing the helmet and harness I couldn't get the visor to within a hands width of said steering wheel, it was all down to stretch, no wonder my neck hurt for weeks after.
The fact that the body stretches and moves further than expected should be born in mind when making any modifications to the interior, avoid hard or sharp parts anywhere near your body, and don't forget the possibility of your knees hitting the underside of the dash (those under-dash trim panels serve a purpose too).

The big day.
As the nerves build before your first track day you might find that you get bombarded with conflicting advice, so just to add to the confusion here is some more.
1.Service car before hand, belts (including cam belt where fitted), oil, coolant, gearbox and diff oil As well as brake fluid should all be fresh and at the right level.
2.Depending on the car it may be best to run the oil level towards the low mark on the dip stick to prevent oil pull over, or towards the top end if the engine is prone to surge where the oil in the sump sloshes away from the pick up pipe. Again check for advice on your particular model. Either way check the oil level after each run, consumption will be higher than for normal road use.
3.Keep an eye on the temp gauge and if it starts creeping up then ease off and investigate the cause in the pits.
4.It is vital to do a cool down lap before coming in (High gear, low speed and don't touch the brakes) to loose the stored heat in the engine, exhaust and brakes.
5.Never put the hand brake on. On hot brakes it warps the disc and can bond on quite resolutely.
6.After a run has been completed open the bonnet and let the heat out, all the metalwork will be hot and will soak into fuel lines and electrics whilst parked up. Whilst there check everything is still attached and not leaking.
7.As soon as you come in carefully (because it might be scalding hot) check the temperature of the tyre tread with a pyrometer, you are looking for differences from the outer edge, middle and inner edge. If the outer edge is much hotter than the middle try upping the pressures in 3psi stages.
8.Don't take loads of spare parts, what ever spares you take you wont need, what ever spares you need you wont have. Best not worry about it. But do take fluids.
9.Take drink, a hat and sun glasses, tracks are strangely drying places, keep hydrated otherwise your concentration will fade faster than your brakes.
10.The first few laps will be a bit bewildering, most people feel lost. This is normal and nothing to worry about. Just take it easy and build your speed gradually, you have all day and after lunch you will be much faster.
11.Chat with the other participants, find someone with a bit more experience and get them to sit in. But bear in mind that anyone who says they are experienced is usually a deluded, the best guides are the quiet ones who don't boast.
12.After lunch pick someone who has a car that should be as fast as yours, follow them and try to keep up, don't worry if you cant.
13.Keep a safe distance to other cars, particularly breaking for corners. Build a bit of space by hanging back on the straights so you can safely go flat out through the corners, where the fun is located.
14.When you spin off, stay calm. Stop for a few seconds and collect your thoughts. Follow the marshals directions, check all around for other traffic and indicate when you re join the track. Your tyres will be full of mud so don't go too fast and stay off the racing line until they clear, it will sound like a hail storm as the grit is thrown into your wheel arches but don't let this concern you.
15.Take pictures. Lots of pictures. Take friends who are good with cameras. Video is even better but you must get permission from the circuit and also from the event organizers first.
16.Enjoy yourself. Don t push too hard, there will be other track days and the chances are on the first outing you will find niggling faults on the car anyway, preserve the car and yourself.

After your first track day you will probably be hooked, ideas for improvement to both yourself and the car will start pouring in and you will find it impossible to talk about anything else. When friends and relatives become tired of your endless ranting, just take them along to the next track day, that will shut them up.
Remember motorsport is dangerous, and highly addictive. If you start down this rout the chances are your life will never be the same again. Good luck.

No mods needed for first run.
Avoid a full rebuild initially.
No racing allowed!

©Ralph Hosier