So, you've just picked up your new project track day car, and you're planning on taking it to the track for the first time. Regardless of track, whether it's Silverstone, brands hatch, Knockhill, Oulton park, or any of the others, there are a few things you want to check and change before taking your car for its first track day.
This article will give you the best shot at being safe, competitive, and getting the most seat time possible! Keep reading to figure out the first five things you should be doing with your car before hitting the track.
When taking your car to a track day, you are allowed to drive your car a lot harder than you would on a public road. You’re more at risk of having an accident as you’ll be pushing the car to its limits and travelling much faster than usual.
Take the time to go through your car and check every safety aspect you can. Make sure the seatbelts or harnesses are in good condition and are fixed suitably fixed to the vehicle (no show cages) and that there are no fluid leaks from anywhere on the car.
Ensure your tyres have plenty of life in them, so they can perform well on track, get you home, and are still in date (yes, they go bad when they’re old). Ensure your braking system is in good condition, so you should check the discs, pads, lines, and cylinders to ensure no leaks.
Get a good helmet that is ECE 22.05 certified.
It may be tempting to buy a cheap motor cross style helmet, as it doesn’t cost much and generally looks cool. But for just a bit more money, you can make sure whatever helmet style you go for is ECE 22.05 certified, giving you the best chance of not being injured in the case that you were to have an accident.
Buy a fire extinguisher and mounting device.
It might seem like all of this is adding up to more than you’d want to spend just before your first track day, however stopping a small fire before it becomes a big fire alone can save you thousands if you were ever to have a fire. A decent mounting bracket for your fire extinguisher is essential also. In the event of a crash, if you didn’t have the extinguisher strapped down, you’ve then got a loose projectile in the car that could do enough damage on its own!
Following on from having the safety aspects of your vehicle up to standard, we can move on to the braking system on your car. The quicker you can slow down, the sooner you get back on the throttle.
Brake Pad choice
Along with making sure the braking system is safe, it might be a good time to upgrade them as they are working much harder on the track than they are on the road!
You're not just looking for brakes that stop you quickly, but also brakes that can take lots of heat and hold up to long track sessions.
Pad choices for brakes can be pretty overwhelming as there are so many to choose from. Before you click buy on a new set of pads, you need to think about why you use the car. Is it just a track dedicated car? Or is it used on the road for daily use as well?
For cars that are solely driven on the track, it's okay to go with a pad that doesn't bite quite as well from the cold as, within a few corners, they should be up to temperature.
However, if you plan on driving the car on the road, you want a pad that can perform appropriately from cold, ensuring you stop in time in the case of an emergency.
Most reputable pad manufacturers will have a friction coefficient graph showing how the pad performs at different temperatures.
For example, Ferodo's graph compares the DS2500 pad and the DS300 pad. You can see that the DS3000 pads are far superior in the hotter ranges from about 250degrees and up; however, the ds2500 will have more stopping power anywhere under the 250degree field, making them more suitable for road use.
Discs have a more negligible effect on the stopping power of your car than the choice of pad material. However, swapping essential discs out to a grooved/drilled or c-hook style set will help the pad bite into the disc whilst keeping the temperatures down on your brakes for longer.
Look at these RPB discs, for example. The grooves of the face of the disc will give the pad more grip whilst removing brake dust from between the pad and the disc giving a more consistent braking feel.
More importantly, the discs have a high carbon content to be able to perform well with your brand-new brake pads. These will stand up to the more aggressive pads and are less likely to warp or deform.
These are vented between 2 layers of the disc, fighting to keep the brakes cool under harsh braking conditions.
By far, the easiest and cheapest track preparation you can do for your car is to remove any unnecessary weight. It’s not just the power to weight you’ll be gaining here, as many people focus on; it’s also the ability to slow down faster and turn into corners quicker.
If you’re starting with a factory road car, there will instantly be many kilos you can strip out, extra seats, carpet, radio etc. But there are a few things to consider before removing every item from your car.
Weight at the top of the car is worse than weight at the bottom. You want to have a vehicle with the centre of gravity as low as possible to help reduce roll during cornering.
Stripping your car out will inevitably make it much louder inside the cabin, so if you’re planning on driving the car every day as well as using it on the track, it might be worth leaving some of the carpets and sound deadening in there.
Removing weight from unsprung components (components not supported by the body, i.e. hubs, wishbones etc.) is worth a lot more than pulling your seats, so lightweight alloy callipers will help not only in braking but in unsprung mass.
Rotational mass is even more of a benefit than unsprung mass, the energy required to rotate a heavy wheel and tyre, stop it, and accelerate it. Shaving 1kg off a wheel could be as much as running with 10L less fuel weight!
We have now released this blog, so head over there for a complete guide in weight saving!
Changing the fluids in your car will make more of a difference than you could imagine! Not only could it make the car feel smoother to drive, but it will also help the longevity of any moving parts that will be under a lot of stress during track time.
During the time on the track, your engine will see some high temperatures and sit your engine at a higher RPM than on the road; this will start breaking down your oil quicker than usual.
When picking the best oil for your car, it's usually best to go with what the manufacturer recommends in terms of what weight to use, and if the oil will be fully or semi-synthetic.
Where possibly though, it is a good idea to get oil that is designed for high revs and high temperatures, just like our selection of Millers oils; these have been specifically designed for racing and track applications.
Also, don't forget temperatures; if you run the oil too hot, it will break down and could cause a failure; consider a thermostatic oil cooler to keep your temperatures in check!
The coolant in your car doesn't need to be anything aimed explicitly at racing; however, you want to make sure the coolant you have in your vehicle isn't too old and that the system is bled correctly. Failing to do so could create an airlock, potentially overheating and damaging your engine.
Be sure never to use tap water, as the minerals it contains can rust your coolant system from the inside, which would be detrimental to your water pump and the cooling efficiency of your system.
Make sure you don't overlook this part. Gearboxes and differentials have many moving parts; failing to keep suitable condition fluids in these will create a lot of wear between the gears, making your drivetrain less efficient and potentially causing damage that could be expensive to get fixed.
It's best to try and keep on top of this, and it can dramatically extend the lifespan of these parts!
The brake fluid in your car potentially has never been changed before! In time these fluids can absorb moisture from the atmosphere. The effect of this will be a more spongey brake pedal feel; this will stop you from being consistent in braking zones as air doesn't compress as brake fluid does.
When selecting new brake fluid, it's sensible to get something aimed at track day use; this generally has a higher boiling point than regular brake fluids.
During heavy braking, the heat generated from your brakes is transferred up the lines to your fluid. If the liquid gets hot enough to boil, that will dramatically reduce the stopping power of your brakes, and worst case, could cause an accident.
We recommend going for something like the Motul 660 fluid, which we use in our cars.
Last but certainly not least, we have tyres. This part really shouldn’t be overlooked as they are the only point of contact between the car and the track.
With such a vast range of tyres available to the public, it can be hard to decide what is most suitable for your application. So, here’s a list of a few things to consider when purchasing new tyres.
If the car is only to be driven on a track, you can find tyres more specifically designed for racing, which might be illegal to use on the road.
The best example of this is a fully slick tyre; however, if you go for a slick tyre, you might want to bring a spare set in case of rain.
They have no way to disperse water without tread on them and can cause severe aquaplaning.
The very best tyre for one type of motorsport isn’t the best tyre for every motorsport. If you plan to go drag racing and run drag slicks, you will have a horrible time trying to go around corners on track as they have super soft sidewalls.
For tyres, it is best to spend as much as you can. Yes, okay, if your car is low horsepower, then it might be overkill to spend £300 a tyre; however, they play such a vital role in the car that you want to ensure you have the best that you can afford.
If you already have a set of tyres on the car that you think you are happy with, then the last things to check will be the dates on the tyres. It’s not very well known, but they do have a lifespan.
Rubber degrades over the years, which affects the compound of the tyre and can even lead to cracks in the rubber, which could cause a blowout at speed!
There we have it, the top 5 tips for getting your car ready for the track. Follow this guide, and you will be able to spend more time out on the track getting seat time instead of in the pits trying to figure out why your car is overheating or your brakes are failing.
You can find more blog posts on our website explaining other aspects of motorsport, tips and trick, and parts guides.
Thanks for reading; good luck on the track.