Getting On Track For The First Time (After Lockdown)
We hear a lot about track days, you know, when circuits aren't hosting races they're open to the public. It's the only place you should be taking your car to the limit, and the safest place to do so. It can also quite daunting the first time you go to one - with that in mind, here is what you can do to get ready for June 1st when tracks start to reopen again.
As I've mentioned before, I am not a racing driver, nor do I come from a racing background and I don't have a variety of cars that I can pick and choose from to hurl around a circuit. So for those who haven't been on circuit before, here's a few basic hints and tips - from personal experience, along with advice I've picked up over the years and other things you might not have thought about. So, here we go - in some lovely bitesize chunks.
We spent the day at Bedford, with lots of lovely run off space and flat corners.
BOOKING YOUR DAY
Pretty obvious one really, you can't just rock up at the track and expect to go on. You'd be surprised at the number of people that just turn up expecting to pay a fee and go straight on the track. Places are booked up relatively quickly online, so make sure you're checking back regularly. There are various track days available too - some which may allow open wheel cars (Caterham / Atom etc), and some that won't.
YOUR SET UP FOR THE DAY
While we're on the subject of booking, you may be given the choice of booking a garage. If there are a few of you sharing a car, or a couple of cars going along, it's best for going for the garage option. It'll provide an area to stop and relax, as well as keeping your cars out the way of other drivers. If you're going it alone, go for the more basic options.
No, not Need For Speed, or Horizon titles, I'm talking about the simulator-esque stuff that feature proper race circuits. My personal recommendation is Project Cars 2. It's an opportunity to learn the track, understand the layout and feel a little more familiar with your surroundings. Remember though, no matter how good you are at a game or simulator - it isn't the real deal.
Honestly, I think this is really the best place to start. MSV offer some brilliant experiences that show you how to handle a car at speed. Those who know me know who I work for, however their Caterham packages are very good value for money. You can learn the basics with a professional, and you can have a little more confidence on track with a second set of eyes watching out for you. Don't bother with the 'Drive a Supercar' or 'BOGOF Ferrari Experience' deals - they aren't worth it, you won't get to know the car, you'll get about five laps and you won't go particularly quickly. Brutal, I know, but it won't help you on a day of track driving.
YOU ARE NOT A RACING DRIVER
I'll say it again. YOU ARE NOT A RACING DRIVER. You also aren't a stunt driver. You're not The Stig. You're going along to a track day, don't expect to break any lap records and to slide around every corner. Go along and enjoy it, pushing too hard will definitely see you being black flagged, and could cost more than a new car. If you have a friend with experience, or even know someone who races, consider bringing them as a guest - they can be your second pair of eyes.
MY CAR ISN'T FAST
Who cares, really? Track days are meant for everybody, it's a true 'Run What Ya Brung' atmosphere. At no point have I ever been on a track day where I've felt out of place. My Mini isn't a track car - but I'm here to see exactly what it can do, just as everyone else is. From 90's Fiestas, to McLarens, MX-5s to Mustangs, everyone is welcome.
DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING
While we are on the subject of cars, make sure you've checked your tyre pressures and condition - most road cars should be fine here, however remember you'll be putting a lot more pressure on them (and the brakes) than normal. If you have a more specialist vehicle its worth getting your local retailer to take a look ahead of the track day you have peace of mind it's in good condition.
Please, for the love of god, just make sure you've taken out track day insurance. You are allowed to go on track without it - just if something does go wrong, you won't be covered under your normal terms. It's an essential safety net.
WHAT TO WEAR
Probably didn't expect this to pop up did you? This is something to keep in mind, make sure you read all the rules and regulations on the website when you've booked your track day. As a rule, usually you're expected to wear a long-sleeved top and trousers. You'll also need a helmet, however most track day providers have some available to borrow for the day. Think about your shoes too, soft soles that you can easily feel the pedals in are recommenced. It's a track day, not a fashion show.
TRACK DAYS ARE FOR EVERYONE
As I've mentioned, you're not there to race. You are there to learn. Don't try too hard if you haven't much experience on track, the last thing you'd want to do is be responsible for writing off someone else's car, as well as your own. Take your time to get to know the track and go at your own pace - so don't expect to be screeching the tyres, if you start sliding about or driving dangerously you may be asked to leave. There are a mix of people at a track day, some who are racers sharpening their skills, others who are rookies that need to give the ol' girl a spin.
NOT TOO NOISY
Cars are loud. Shocker. Thing is, most UK tracks are based close to villages and rural communities, meaning that they may fall victim to noise limits. So if your obnoxiously loud Saxo with an aftermarket exhaust is your weapon of choice, good luck getting it past the scrutineers.
TIME YOUR DRIVING, NOT YOUR LAPS
To make sure you A) don't wear yourself out, B) stay alert and C) don't wear the car out you need to keep an eye on the mount of time you're on circuit. If your car doesn't have a clock it's worth investing in a timer. Alternatively, try mounting your phone somewhere where you can see a timer. In the past we've stuck to around 10 - 20 minute sessions depending on the circuit. Now, you aren't technically allowed to time your laps on track days as it could be classed as competitive driving. Remember, you're not there to break records.
REMEMBER, IT'S NOT A RACE
Important one this, track days are able to operate because you aren't racing. So keep that in mind no matter how annoying the driver of the M3 is, there is nothing the prove. Trying to overtake or block someone will see the marshalls coming over to have a word, if someone is faster, let them past, if you're quicker then general rule is for you to pass on the left-hand side in a safe place. Also, don't try to match another car on the circuit, you don't know the experience of the other driver and a track-day sports car is going to handle differently to your hatchback. (And if you're me you'll take a 420R out and decided to try taking corners as fast as possible, spinning it fully on your last session of the day).
LET THE ADRENALINE WEAR OFF
Honestly, a track day is probably the most amount of fun you can have with your clothes on. Once you finished haring round the circuit, stop in the cafe or have a drink of water before getting back on the road. Chillax, dude.
You'll need to attend a briefing before going on circuit, and particularly for the first time you're on track, you'll need to listen carefully. They'll run you through all the rules of the circuit, the meaning of various flags and lights and the various session times. Of course you're eager to get out, but if you break the rules you could be heading home faster than anticipated.*
*side note. Always attending the sighting lap too, they take everyone round to get to know the circuit at a relaxed speed.
Pretty obvious one really. Make the most of it and have fun.
So there you go, hopefully this has helped the first-timers and track day virgins. If you have any more tips, chuck them in the comments below and lets help get our fellow petrolheads on track.
Tyre weren't the only victims on this particular day.