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Track days: A cure for the speed demon?

18.11.2014

I’M sure you’re also sick and tired of the big brothers of this world, telling you how dangerous speeding is. I love speed; the rush of pushing a car or bike to its limit; those gravitational forces and the girlish giggle I emit when I’m having a good time.

The problem is, big brothers are right! Speeding is excessively dangerous on our roads and certainly raises the likelihood and severity of incidents in general. But what do we do as enthusiasts then? Racing a car or bike is a very costly exercise and it takes quite a bit of your time, too.

That’s why I’ve recently gotten into the track-day scene. It’s big business in Britain as their traffic laws are even more stringent than ours. So I encourage the budding racer to give it a chance. While not exactly cheap at around R500 to R1 000 per day, the event certainly is more affordable than owning and racing a dedicated competition machine.

The fee gives you access to the track for the entire day. However, this doesn’t mean you can lap for eight consecutive hours. There are normally 15-minute sessions divided into four classes, namely, beginner, intermediate, advanced and racing, which means you get one session per hour.

The benefit of this is having the ability to drive at your own pace with fellow drivers who have similar skills and experience so as to limit the intimidation factor, thereby allowing the driver to focus on learning the track and ultimately, enjoying themselves.

A few basic items needed for a track-day include: Comfortable, closed shoes (you’ll thank me later), a helmet, which can be open or closed-face, a long-sleeve top or jacket, as well as some kind of action/dash camera. The camera isn’t a necessity but I found that watching my footage after the fact, helped me improve my times. Ensure that you have a socket set, which will allow you to work on basic items on your vehicle.

Remember a torque wrench. This allows you to check that your wheel nuts are tightened after each session. Also remember a tyre pressure gauge, which helps you monitor your tyres and finds the best pressure to minimise wear and maximise grip. Also take along a jerrycan with fuel in it, as well as some spare brake fluid and engine oil. A hydraulic jack, or standard wheel jack, is also needed to help you change tyres.

In terms of the vehicle used for track days I’m tempted to say that any car will do. However, there are a few things that I’ve noticed. The less performance orientated vehicles tend to be more of a chore to drive around the track and things like the tyres and brakes on these vehicles don’t withstand track driving very well.

I therefore recommend that should you want to take your vehicle around the track - no matter what car it is - you purchase a spare set of wheels and tyres, preferably semi-slick items. When changing your brake pads try to find a more high performance pad that can withstand track driving too. You can get into the world of coilover suspension and hardware/software modification, but let’s assume that this is your daily car, so keep it simple.

 Remember that track driving does mean that your vehicle’s components will wear faster, so expect the vehicle to need new brake pads and discs more regularly and tyres, frequently, should you not buy dedicated track items. Items such as clutches, gearboxes, suspension components and even certain engine components will certainly need replacing sooner as track driving means driving the car hard more than 90 percent of the time.

Some manufacturers don’t support customers using their vehicles on track so be wary of representatives lurking around your vehicle, copying your number plate or VIN number, which may allow them grounds to cancel your maintenance plan/warranty.

Be aware that if your vehicle is insured for the road, it’s not insured for the track. There are insurance providers that have dedicated track-day insurance packages, some of which stipulate a higher excess should be paid in the event of an accident on the track, while others simply charge you a fee per track-day to absorb the risk.

Another piece of advice is, know your limits. I’ve been to too many of these events where drivers run out of talent and end up destroying their pride and joy, which is really not the point.

Article written by Sean Nurse
18.11.2014
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