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Track-days, you have to try them


AUTODEALER recently welcomed a Subaru WRX to its long-term garage. The idea that we have for this 2.0-litre turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, rally-bred machine, is to take part in track days, various club events and just get involved with like-minded people. Last week Saturday, I did just that.

For those of you who follow us on Facebook or regularly visit our website, you might recall an article that we did regarding the BMW Club of Gauteng. They hosted a club and track day event as well as the Bridgestone BMW Challenge, all of which took place at Kyalami. They also used the opportunity to raise money for charity. After phoning around and calling on a friend for a favour, I managed to nab an invite.

This was my first ever track day. I had the Scooby (our nickname for the Subaru) cleaned and fuelled the Friday before because I had to be at the track at 6.30am for scrutinizing. When I arrived, I was greeted by an array of race-tuned BMWs. The crisp morning stillness was broken by the eruption of the various turbocharged, highly modified racing cars. Race teams were scuffling about getting ready, filling cars with race fuel and getting them off their trailers and there I was, with a bright red Subaru and an energy drink, way out of my element.

Luckily for me, my friend - who has much experience with these types of days - was on hand to assist. After we found a pit for the car and stuck it full of stickers I looked around and noticed that people take these days quite seriously. Some people had a full setup consisting of various toolboxes, compressors, spare tyres, cooler boxes full of energy drinks and a pit crew. We didn't even take chair!

I was there to race. I didn't need any of that stuff. I entered the Subaru into the Time Trials event. The aim was to set a fast lap time; the faster, the better your bragging rights. Everyone was given a little transponder with which to track times. We also received points throughout the day, which carry over to the next event. I figured that because of the symmetrical AWD system I'd be able to make up time in the many technical corners that Kyalami has on offer.

I was placed in Group 2, the “fast but not race-car-fast group.” Now here's the thing… I thought I was going to head out on the track and then, after a few seconds, the next car would be released.

This probably did happen but let's face it, a BMW M5 is a bit quicker than a stock standard Subaru WRX. I rushed out the pit lane and by the time I reached the first corner I had an M5 behind me, a beautiful M3 CSL next to me and a stripped-out BMW race-car going around us all. This just became so real! By the time I reached the back straight - just before sunset corner - I moved as far left as I could and just let everyone pass. I was terrified - to say the least.

When I got back to the pits after a few nerve-racking laps, my friend told me to man up and just race. If a car is faster than you then move over and let it pass. If you get to a corner first then that's your corner. I went out a few more times and slowly started improving my lap times.

After a couple of hours and a tank of fuel later, I became very competitive. I chased BMW Z4Ms and hounded the BMW driver-training cars, scaring the poor people who were experiencing what I was, just a few hours earlier. The only problem was traffic on the track. It takes one slow car to mess up your lap time. When I did manage to get a clean run I improved my lap time by five seconds. The Subaru managed to set a lap time of 2:09:183, with extensive help and training from my friend, of course.

I can honestly say, I had one of the best days of my career. I was around people who love cars as much as I do. I was in the middle of Kyalami’s pits surrounded by some of the best cars ever made; not only BMWs but Mercedes-Benzes, Aston Martins, Ferraris and Porsches.

I loved having to check my tyre pressures - which we pumped to three bars to prevent extensive wear. I enjoyed watching the cars flying past on the main straight during the racing events and then, being able to walk right up to those very cars in the pits.

If you love cars and want to experience something amazing, then join a club. Forget going to the mall to show off your ride. Take it to a race track, do some laps and enjoy your machine. It's actually very easy… Google one of the many car clubs in South Africa, follow the links on the page and sign up. If you don't want to join a club and prefer to go to a track day, now and then, you can. Many of these events are open to non club members.

Yes, there are fees involved to cover costs but it's worth it. Some events, like this one, required a Motor Sports of South Africa (MSA) licence. I bought my MSA licence, which allows me to take part in various events. It was easy to sign up and easy to pay. I’d recommend an extra set of tyres though, they don't have to be new, but that's alright because after a long day at the track they can get pretty worn out.

I’m definitely hooked! I can't wait for the next event. I enjoyed that I had to push myself to achieve a better lap time, to improve my driving style. It's events like these that carry over long after you’ve left the racetrack.

Dedication and perseverance are two qualities that can improve much more than just lap-timing.

Article written by Justin Jacobs
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