Track Day 101 - Edition #3
Dropping the clutch and hitting the track. All the things you need to know to be smart, safe, and consistent on your first track day.
For our third edition, we want to provide you with some insights to safely get up to speed and navigate your first track day. When getting started, it’s less about technical skills than one would think. In reality, the focus should be centered around having the right mindset and setting reasonable goals.
The main goal should always be safety; experienced or not this is always the priority. As you prepare to head out on track make sure all of your safety gear is properly functioning. Helmet and belts tight. If you ask any experienced driver many will tell you they have forgotten to tighten their helmet on occasion. Be sure to confirm your mirrors are also in the right position to have good visibility behind you.
As you engage the clutch and knock your car into 1st gear now the fun begins. On your opening lap(s) keep in mind your tires, brakes, and brain are still cold. It takes a few laps to heat up everything including your mind. As you continue with your warm-up lap(s) be sure to acknowledge the turn stations as they are oftentimes manned by corner workers that are there to give you important flag information. It’s essential to identify where all of the turn stations are as they are your guardian angels to keep you safe in the event of an incident on track. They also appreciate a wave on the first and last lap of the session.
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself some cushion on each side of the car. Don’t plan to drive line to line on your warm-up lap(s). Enter the brake zones more in the middle of the surface giving yourself some room on each side of the track in the instance the car doesn’t react so well with cold tires and brakes. Keep an eye on your mirrors and observe who is behind you. Oftentimes as drivers, we can get over-focused on what’s in front of us, but you’re also responsible for being aware of what’s behind you. If you’re fortunate enough to have an instructor, they will advise you on most of these things.
As your tires start to come to life and you’ve had a chance to feel out the racing surface, now you can focus on driving a little harder. Don’t get sucked into the idea of trying to run your fastest time on the second lap. Work up your speed little by little. Continue to use more of the track, brake slightly later, and get into a good rhythm. Lap times should be your last concern.
Consistency is the most important element of becoming a good driver. People can get caught up chasing a certain lap time. The speed will come if you focus on hitting your marks in every corner and evolving your pace throughout the entirety of your session and your track day. Especially as a new driver, it’s important to maintain constant control of your vehicle. If you’re aiming to move up to the intermediate and advanced track groups in the future you’ll want to maintain a good reputation with the observers and organization.
Now mistakes can happen. We’re all guilty of them from time to time, but it’s essential to minimize the opportunity for a big one. Nobody wants to have to call the tow truck after having a run-in with a wall on their first track day. Observe the places where you might be able to push your car a little harder and still have adequate run-off room. On the contrary, there are other places on certain circuits that don’t provide as much forgiveness if something goes wrong.
The key is to focus on setting reasonable and attainable goals. If you’re aiming for a lap time that isn’t achievable on day one then you might find yourself overdriving your car and your abilities. Becoming a skilled and fast driver is a process that develops over time. Without any prior high-performance driving experience reaching your ultimate goals for speed won’t happen overnight. Sometimes early on in one’s driving career, the best mindset is to just focus on being smooth and consistent. With that perspective, you’ll keep your car in one piece and you’ll be able to make continued progress without feeling pressed or disappointed about not hitting that fast lap your buddies are running. Stay patient and the pace will come!
In our next edition, we will focus on some tips and concepts that will help make you a smarter and more skilled driver to shave time off your laps.