Track Prep 101
As track season grows nearer, the itch to get out to the race track becomes unbearable. Preparation is the key to a successful day of lapping, so before you head out with your buddies to set some lap records, here are a few items to double-check:
While it may seem blandly routine, proper and up-to-date maintenance is the first step in making sure your vehicle is track-ready, long before you ever plan your first track day. A properly (see: overly) maintained vehicle will ensure a long, reliable life both on and off the track. Items such as fluids, filters, bulbs (turn signals and brake lights are both important on the track), and wiper blades keep your vehicle safe and reliable on the road, but when overlooked can spell catastrophic failure on a lapping day. If you bring your vehicle to a trusted speed shop, let them know your intentions so they can point out potential issues before it's too late.
Your tires are the only connection between your car and the ground, so don't underestimate the role they play in keeping you shiny-side up. Make sure the tires you've chosen are track-appropriate and have the correct ratings to deal with the excessive heat and speeds they'll be seeing on a closed course (all-season tires need not apply). If you're planning multiple track days in a year, consider investing in a good set of high performance tires from a well-known manufacturer like Michelin, Continental, or Pirelli.
DOT - Each tire is labelled with a 4 digit date stamp on the side of the tire (usually the outside on asymmetrical tires). Remember to check the dates on your tires each season; if your street tires are 4-5 years old it may be worth swapping out for a new set before hitting a lapping day. Tread depth isn’t everything, and old tires may send you off the track at the most inopportune time.
If you've checked your tire pressures recently, check them again. Better yet, pick up a small tire pressure gauge to keep with you in your car at all times. Closely monitoring and adjusting your tire pressures will allow you to maximize your vehicle's setup, and may make the difference between fast lap times and a track-side blowout. Adjusting your pressures throughout the day will provide you with assurance and more consistent lap times.
Closely inspecting ALL of your vehicle's systems for leaks is not only critical for the survival of your ride, but also the safety of everyone on the track. Imagine for a second barreling into turn 5 at Mosport and losing it on someone's Mobil1... not good. This point relies heavily on item #1: maintenance. Keep up with your services and you should have little to worry about in this area.
Making sure your engine oil, coolant, and driveline fluids are in good condition and up-to-date will help to prevent overheating and mechanical failures on the track.
Brake fluid is an extremely important and often overlooked component. Brake fluid is extremely hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb moisture from the air at a rate of roughly 2% per year. It doesn't seem like much, until you consider that after the first year, your fluid will have lost roughly 75 degrees C off of it's boiling point. After 3.5% moisture, this number increases to almost 100 degrees C. Brake fluid boiling when the brakes get hot will quickly turn into a complete loss of braking ability. Skip the drama (and the math) and flush your brake fluid out before each track day. Consider a higher boiling point alternative like Motul RBF.
*Be careful to note your factory brake fluid requirements and never mix silicone-based fluids such as DOT 5 with non-silicone fluids. Check with your shop if you're unsure*
4. SSB (Steering, Suspension & Brakes)
So you've got your fresh new set of coilovers and sway bars installed, but how is the rest of your suspension? These 3 little letters are what is responsible for keeping your tires pointing the right way and making sure you can stop, so running a triple-check of your steering, suspension, and braking systems should not be skipped. Things to look for include free-play in your ball joints/tie rods, tearing of steering and suspension bushings, and uneven brake wear. Your brakes will also be under an extreme amount of stress when compared to daily driving, so consider swapping out your pads/discs for a set of uprated parts.
If you're not sure how to properly check your setup, bring your car in to a licensed technician who can quickly find and eliminate any potential issues or weak points in your suspension.
5. Got Junk?
Before heading out for a day of spirited driving, take a few minutes to clear the car of anything that does not absolutely need to be there. Anything loose in the vehicle is a liability, and anything tied down is extra weight.
6. Tool Up
A good, compact tool kit is invaluable at the track. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Torque wrench
- Tire pressure gauge
- Wrench set
- Pliers (adjustable means less tools to bring)
- Socket set with ratchet and/or socket driver
- Electric impact gun
You should also consider if your vehicle requires any special tools, such as hexalobular and/or Torx (looking at you, Mercedes & BMW owners). A good set of tools may end up getting you out of a jam, or simply allow you to make any needed adjustments track-side. If you're not the hands-on type, bring your vehicle to an experienced speed shop near you to ensure you have a long, rewarding day of driving.
It's important to remember that track days are all about having fun, getting to know your car and improving your skills as a driver. Be safe, take it at your own pace, and enjoy some time in the sun with a group of like-minded individuals.