Posted: 2nd December 2010
Category: Track Days
Once your latest creation is finished, through IVA, and has a few country miles under its wheels, it must be very tempting to book-up a trackday session to see what it will do. If any of your mates have similar cars, it will be difficult to avoid being drawn into a sort of unofficial race and this could have potentially disastrous consequences.
Those of you with previous competition experience; races, sprints, hill-climbs etc, will probably be used to how a car feels when on-the-edge. For newcomers, in a freshly built car and at a strange venue, there may just be too many variables to cope with. So, lets see if we can get the odds on our side a little.
I suppose I should be used to it by now, but, it still scares me when I see the settings that come into us sometimes on cars that have been used on the road for quite a while. It is not unusual, for instance, to see positive camber on one side and negative on the other. Caster settings are often reversed or in opposition (this really scares me!). Mix in some toe in and toe out on the same axle, a bit of bump-steer, and non-standard Ackerman and you will have a nasty car on your hands. The solution is simple, have the car professionally set up using the correct equipment. A short conversation will soon sort out the tyre fitters that will only do the Tracking and launch it and the Motorsport oriented specialists. These days, set-ups should be done with computer scales and laser-alignment gear. It is possible to do it with lesser equipment, but it is difficult to get the required level of accuracy.
Your car / kit should come supplied with recommended manufacturers settings these might not be the ultimate track settings for your car but they should provide a good, safe, reference point for you to start with. If you have bought a special, of unknown origin, then, I always recommend a full computer suspension and dynamics analysis to determine baseline settings, spring rates etc. This will not be cheap, but it is a better option than a hospital bed, which brings me nicely onto safety.
Please, please, please do not compromise on this your life is far too valuable to scrimp on a few pounds worth of decent safety equipment. Firstly, have a good quality hand-held fire extinguisher on-hand in the cockpit. Plumbed-in systems are fine but they can fail. If you are ever trapped upside down in a car with fuel leaking onto you and a hot exhaust by your elbow, I will leave you to fill in the rest!
Next up is brake fluid. Standard road fluid will rarely contain the sort of temperatures that your brakes will see in just a few brisk laps. Dot 5,or equivalent, is the sort of spec. to run. Remember that as brake fluid ages it absorbs moisture and this will degrade performance. If in doubt have it out! Finally, never venture out onto a track without a proper roll-cage. CDS or T45 steel spec is preferred, but, as a minimum, it should be above an extended line drawn from your head to the dash /scuttle do not think that the windscreen will protect you, it will not. Nylon socks, never wear them in the car. If you ever see what they do to ankles in a fire it is truly grotesque. For track use, good quality Nomex is the racing standard, failing this; a well-washed pair of light wool socks is a good substitute. I really should not need to mention a properly fitting safety helmet? Hardly any good tracks will let you out without one.
Are you going to run your normal road tyres? If so, choose with care. Expect square-shouldered designs to be sensitive to camber settings. Make sure that you have a nicely scrubbed set of tyres suitable for wet conditions which have an adequate depth of drainage channel left in them
Some tracks are more demanding /intimidating than others. For example, Hullavington and Llandow are both suitable for beginners having fairly generous run off areas and no real gradients to catch you out. Leave Cadwell, Oulton Park and the Nurburgring, until you have a few more track miles under your belt.
As you first get onto the track, usually in a train following the orginisers Pace car the tarmac seems immensly wide. It soon gets narrower as you speed up.The correct racing line through a corner or bend is the safest, fastest and most satisfying way to go. All Trackday promoters have tutors to sit beside you to guide you through the correct placing, braking and accelaration phase of each Corner.
In the early days, you will probably find that there is more time in yourself than in the car. Later on, as lines and driving rhythm become more natural, you can start experimenting with damper settings and anti-roll bars. This is where you will often find the racer's edge.