:: TrackDay Preparation - Part Two ::
:: Engine ::
This will take a fair caning during a trackday and so it is important to keep it well maintained. It goes without saying that you want to ensure the engine is set up correctly before embarking on a track day, otherwise you will be down on power and losing some of the car's potential. Ensure that the timing is set so that there is no pinking present and if possible run the car on super unleaded during the day to completely eliminate any pinking. Pinking will cause the engine to overheat (locally) and thus suffer damage if allowed to continue. Ensure that the oil is in good condition and topped up to the max mark (this last bit is important). If the oil is old then do a quick flush and change. If your engine is high mileage then do not use fully synthetic as it will be too thin and will slip past the piston rings and valve guides causing the engine to smoke. Also, if the engine is new, do not use synthetic oil until it has done at least 15k and is well run in as synthetic oil can get squeezed past the piston rings and glaze the bores up. Ensure that the oil cap is secure on the engine as it is not unheard of for these to blow off as the oil pressure rises with engine revs.
Take a bottle of oil with you so that you can keep the engine topped up to the max mark. If you have a re-usable air filter then give it a wash and re-oil and carry out a basic visual check in the engine bay for loose items such as heat-shields, battery, mounting brackets etc. Check the timing and alternator belt tensions and condition. During the track day the engine will run a few degrees hotter than normal and so it is wise to make sure the cooling system is in tiptop condition. We would recommend flushing and cleaning the system before refilling with some fresh coolant, as this will just knock a few degrees off the running temp. Ensure that the coolant is topped up correctly and take some spare water with you in case it needs topping up trackside. If the engine runs quite hot then it would be worth fitting a lower spec fan cut in switch, which turns the fan on earlier.
During the day, keep an eagle eye on the temp gauge and if you drive a GTi model then keep the MFA switched to oil temp so you can watch for any overheating. Do not race straight onto the track with the engine cold but do a few warm up laps to get the oil up to temperature. The tolerances in any engine are specified for hot running and so will be 'out' when the engine is cold.
The oil also does not work properly until it is hot, as it thins with temperature. After each session you should do a cool down lap to bring the temperature down slowly and prevent any contractive cracking of any parts in the engine. As metal heats up it expands and thus when it cools, it contracts. If it cools too quickly it will crack. If you find the temperature creeping up then back off slightly on the back straight to lose a few degrees. This will also allow faster cars past on the safest part of the track for overtaking. Obviously ignore this last comment if you are on a competitive day and are being timed. When parked up between sessions it is often prudent to leave the bonnet open to allow the engine bay to cool. This is more for the sake of the ancillaries rather than the engine itself. The latent heat from the engine will keep all the ancillaries very hot, which could damage them or at least impair their performance, the electrical items especially.
If you do regular track days then we would recommend that you change the oil between each event. It may sound over the top but your engine will last a lot longer for the sake of a £15 can of oil and a £4 oil filter. You may find that the oil pressure warning light flickers on during prolonged hard cornering. This is due to the engine oil being forced to one side of the engine and away from the oil pump pick up (one reason why it is essential to have the oil filled to the max mark). Check that you have plenty of oil, but if the problem persists then a baffled sump is the best solution.
:: General Points ::
Before setting-off make sure everything is in good condition. Any slightly warn parts want changing before and not after the day such as grumbly wheel bearings, wobbly ball joints etc. It is wise to take a few spares and tools with you such as gaffer tape, brake pads, jubilee clips, tie wraps, oil, water, and any other odds and sods you can think of as well as a good selection of useful nuts and bolts. Take some CV joint grease as these often loose grease on a track day (lots of steering lock and load can loosen the boots a bit) and require topping up to prevent damage. If you suffer any wheel/tyre clearance problems under normal driving conditions then do not do a track day until you have sorted this out. You would be surprised at how much more body roll you get when hooning round a track and mild rubbing on the road becomes dangerous tyre slicing on the track.
If you are concerned about your paintwork then you can apply masking tape to the leading edges of the panels and other prone parts of the car to prevent stone chips, as well as to the head lamps and fog lamps etc. The bottom line is that if you have just had a full respray and do not want any stone chips, do not do a track day, as stone chips are a fact of life on the track. This is more of a concern if you are sharing the track with open wheeled cars or slick shod cars as they tend to kick up more stones.
Before taking to the track you should if possible remove any lose objects from the car and secure anything else from moving around. These items need to be secured firmly as they will be subjected to some serious Gs. We tend to completely remove the spare wheel and all tools, parcel shelf, rear seats, sub, amp, and anything else that will come out easily. This is done both to reduce weight and to prevent things from flying around the cabin whilst on the limit. The last thing you want when trying to out-brake yourself into a corner is for your thermos flask of coffee to wedge itself under the brake pedal. If we are not taking a passenger round the track (or supervising a mate whilst he/she tries to kill the car on the track) then we would remove the passenger seat to save weight as well. This obviously assumes that there is somewhere to put all the clobber. It is always wise to take a tarp with you so that you can cover any of your stuff up whilst it is sitting in the paddock area.
Check your lights before and during the day (just cos they worked when you set off is not a guarantee that they will be working later in the day) as you would be surprised by how often they are needed. The indicators are essential in signalling to other track users that you are pulling over to let them past or pulling into the pits. The brake lights will prevent people going into the back of you as many people wait until the guy in front brakes before they jump on the middle pedal (not recommended), and the headlights are essential in murky weather to help people in front see you as you close in on them. It is wise to take a box of spare bulbs with you as stones can often fly up and damage your lights (especially if you are sharing the track with any open wheeled cars). We would also recommend carrying a fire extinguisher in the car, which should be secured within reach of the driver (We regard this as essential equipment for road use as well). Sounds OTT but you never know when you might need it.
Make sure you own and take with you a suitable helmet or can hire one at the track. Wear a long sleeved top and trousers as well as shoes that you are comfortable driving hard in. Racing gloves often help if you are using a standard steering wheel which is not the grippiest, as your palms will sweat when driving hard making the problem worse. Check with the organisers before setting off to see if there are any other stipulations for participation such as presenting your driving license or a noise limit.
Make sure that you have plenty of petrol for the day, as the nearest filling station may be miles away from the track. Do not start the day with a full tank though as it can slop out of the tank on some cars when cornering hard, and will most certainly get you black-flagged.
Before setting off on the track make sure that your mirrors are all properly adjusted. You would be surprised by how much you use them and should always check them before turning into a corner. Although people should not be overtaking on a bend there is always some Muppet that has a go and you do not want to turn into him whilst he is engrossed in his red mist. Always keep an eye on the mirrors so you can see who is coming up behind you and are able to let them past at an appropriate moment. You may think that your Golf GTi is the fastest thing on earth, but be sensible (and realistic) cos the chap in the Caterham Superlight R will go past you as if you are stationary. It is not good etiquette to get in his way as you will find out for yourself when you try to get past someone who hasn't seen you and is taking all the wrong lines. Most tracks run clockwise and so you should overtake on the left and remember that it is a definite and dangerous no-no to overtake in a corner or under braking.
With the exception of timed runs, a track day is not a race and should not be treated as such. Idiots will be black flagged and banned from further sessions. Be aware of what each flag means and keep an eye out for them as they are there for your safety. Yellow means danger ahead, do not pass. A waved yellow requires you to slow right down as well. Often the organisers do not differentiate between waved and stationary yellows, either of which should then be taken to mean slow right down. You never know what might be ahead. The last track day we did a golfer decided to wander onto the infield and play a shot despite being miles out of bounds. A blue means that you have a faster driver behind you so get out of the way as soon as its safe to do so. A red means end of session and a black means you must come off the track. You may get shown a black for driving like a Muppet or because someone has spotted a leak or mechanical problem with your car.
Pay attention to the organisers briefing and their rules and regulations as they are there for your benefit, and pay attention on the sighting laps to the layout of the track, the track surface and any hazards. Usually the organisers mark out braking points, turn in points, apexes and exit points on the corners so use them. Build on them and use them as a reference to fine-tune your driving to get the most from your car. They are not hard and fast markers but you can use them as indicators. If you have spent good money on adjustable suspension then adjust it as you would be supprised how different the car will handle with different set ups. Most of the time it is a case of trial and error so see what different set ups do for the handling, but remember, what is good for the track is not usually good for the road so don't forget to soften things up before your drive home. If you stiffen up the back end relative to the front you will induce oversteer and if you stiffen up the front relative to the back you will induce understeer. The principle also applies to your tyre pressures.
It doesn't matter what car you drive, track days really are fun for all. They are measured by the size of your grin rather than your lap time. If you expect your 15 year old hatch to keep pace with the latest M3 then you are naively mistaken, but that does not mean that you will not be having as much fun as the M3 driver. Most older model VWs make ideal track cars as parts are cheap and abundant and the cars can be uprated to cope/suit inexpensively with relative ease, in fact you can get a half decent running Mk2 GTi for what it would cost to re-shoe some of the top spec Porches. Due to the low initial cost you can also be a bit more blasé about the inevitable stone chips and scrapes they may pick up. The earlier cars were a lot lighter and so more chuckable and sprightly whereas the later cars tend to lug a bit more weight around. This does not mean that they should not be taken round a track but bear in mind they will eat through parts quicker and be that bit more expensive to run without necessarily giving you any more grin factor. You will also be more concerned about dinging them as they will be far more expensive to repair.
Finally......if you have never done a track day and are even half-keen then do it ! It is great fun and you will realise what driving hard is all about ! Check out the link below for a company that organises such days. We have used them ourselves and can recommend them, - they will also do you some extra free tuition if you mention Matey-Matey when booking !