Let’s face it; haring round the public highway is both potentially dangerous and increasingly socially irresponsible, which is a shame, as its bloody good fun. Thank goodness someone came up with the idea of track days then. For those of you that don't know, track days are a non-competitive opportunity for you to drive around a set course pushing yourself and your car as hard and fast as you like.....Sounds good eh?
The thing is, if you look around to try and pick your first track day then things can seem a bit daunting, their seems to be no end of available events; but with prices ranging from about £70 to over £300 then which should you choose. Let’s have a look at the differences, and then see what the order of events is by actually attending a track day.
Picking an event
When looking for an event it is recommended to look for an organiser who is a member of the association of track day Organisers. The ATDO logo guarantees that you are dealing with a responsible company, who have proven that they meet strict safety levels, and operate in a truly professional manner.
All Track days can be broken down into two categories, circuits and airfields, this obviously refers to the venues that are used, and although many true circuits such as Thruxton and Silverstone have been developed from disused airfields, that’s about the only similarity. There is no denying that these "real" circuits have far more race style atmosphere and history than pure airfield venues, but do bear in mind that they also have race style Armco barriers and gravel traps to catch out the over enthusiastic. No such dangers at most airfields though, just miles of tarmac and acres of smooth run off areas, but being so totally featureless it can be pretty unemotional, as well as initially difficult to judge your speed and braking points. Of course the up keep of billiard table smooth tarmac doesn't come cheap and as a result circuit days do tend to command a premium.
Once you've decided on your type of venue the only other real difference is "open pit lane" or "session" driving. Open pit lanes allow you to get on and off the track all day long, where as sessions split all drivers up into groups (usually of similar experience) and then lets each group go on track for a set amount of time, often one 20 minute session per hour. Personally I'm a huge fan of open pit lanes; a non-stop 20-minute session is very taxing, for both you and the car, and what if you want to make suspensions tweaks, or overheat your brakes etc after a few laps? That could be your 20 minutes gone.
It has been a long running argument that one type of event is safer than the other as open pits mix a variety of experiences up and faster drivers may end up "tripping over" slower drivers. What if you are a novice with a really fast car or a highly experienced driver in an old snail, which "session" should you go in? Similar speed or similar experience? To be fair, I think that a large number of event organisers have now realised that problems come more from the wrong attitude and lack of consideration for the other attendees, than from any performance discrepancies. Any track day organiser worth their salt will very quickly realise who is driving with the wrong mindset and take appropriate action.
Getting your car ready
Don’t think that you need something particularly racy, almost any car is suitable so long as it is safe and meets any noise regulations laid down by the organisers. Some noise regulations may seem strict, but in reality they shouldn’t concern any car capable of passing an SVA.
On the safety side of things, it may not be a race you are attending, but the same degree of preparation wouldn't go amiss. There is no need to go overboard, but just give your car a bit of a DIY MOT.
Check the tyres for pressure and tread; will you have enough tread to legally drive home after you've been smoking round all day? If in doubt, ask the organisers about how harsh the surface is you’ll be amazed how much they vary. When it comes to tyre pressures, always remember that quoted figures are with cold tyres, so don't drive miles to the petrol station to check them. Accurate digital gauges are only a fiver, and small in car compressors seem always be on special offer at a local petrol station forecourt. A lot of people add a couple of extra pounds pressure when going on track, this will stiffen the tyres so that they don't flex under the impending abuse, (and as a result can save tyre wear). Do bear in mind that (on a light car in particular) changing tyre pressure will have a similar effect to stiffening the suspension so do expect a change in the handling. A harder tyre may not flex, but will then suddenly loose its grip and require the reactions of a cat to save a "moment", where as the standard softer tyre pressure may well squirm and slide progressively albeit at a lower speed.
Brakes - you will be using your brakes harder than ever before, make sure your pads have plenty of meat on them, and that your brake fluid is pretty fresh. Even a light car can cook its brakes within 5 very hard laps; this doesn't mean you need to fit race pads, you might just have to spend some laps cornering as hard as possible, some braking as hard as possible, and some going for flat out speed. Unless you are on an open pit lane event and can take a break, you may just need to vary the bit of the car you are abusing the most. If you are running new pads then take a while to bed them in, going ballistic on new pads will simply glaze them over.
As for other fluid levels, check the oil and water levels and take some spare of both. It's quite normal for you to use a bit of oil and remember that overfull can be as bad too low. When checking the water consider the summer coolant / anti freeze, a hard driven track day in the middle of even a British summer will warm any car and your engine will appreciate any help it can get to stay cool. With cooling in mind, ensure that any fans fitted work effectively, I learnt this the hard way, my fan seemed fine, but the forward pressure of the car stopped the blades from spinning and left the drive spindle rotating away until the car nearly boiled.
Also remember to check wear and tear on steering and suspension bushes, bearings and other key driveline components.
With the car sorted, all that's needed now is a bit of personal preparation, make sure that you have a valid driving licence and take it with you, obtain yourself a well fitting crash helmet (tighten the chin strap and see if you can remove the helmet over the back of your head). Some Track day organisers do loan or hire helmets out but if this is to be a regular thing you ought to get your own. A helmet can be purchased for £50, but one good enough to allow you to even enter national races at a later date can be obtained for only £80...and what price do you put on safety? Get the best you can afford; as for other apparel, thin-soled trainers or even driving shoes are a major aid, as is anything that keeps you comfortable, some THIN gloves for example are always a good idea.
Take plenty of clothes to keep warm, circuits are incredibly open places and seldom warm if there is the slightest breeze. I managed to miss the first hour and a half of one event as I couldn’t feel my feet in the February cold and just couldn’t warm up enough to drive! Choose clothing that keeps your arms and legs covered, some organisers insist on it, and whilst your on with it consider cotton items as it's less flammable should the worst happen. Speaking of flammable, what about fuel? Have you got enough? Is there is petrol station nearby that you can keep nipping out to? Expect your MPG to be a third of what you get on a Sunday run, and you could well be doing 100 miles or more.
With your car gassed up don't overlook your own fuelling...unless the rumours are true and Schumacher really is a robot, then every driver needs to eat, find out what facilities are available, or go prepared.
The big day
With all of the above information thoroughly taken 'on board’ I felt ready to go and booked in at a "Javelin Track days" open pit lane event at Elvington airfield and was raring to go.... Well actually I wasn't exactly raring to go as I was fairly tired, the excitement meant that I'd hardly slept a wink, plus the fact that I was up at 5.30 am just to get there in time for the 8:00am signing on; but it was nothing that a bacon butty and pot of tea from Javelins catering van can't cure.
After signing up as present and correct, Javelins founder, Colin Jebson gave a welcome; this was followed by the serious business of a Safety briefing by Chief Marshall Bob Willatt. The safety briefing covers marshals’ flag colours, what to do in the event of an incident, and instruction on overtaking. As with all track days you can only overtake on one specified side, never mid bend, and only after the car ahead has acknowledged your intention by either easing off, pulling over, or just waving you through. If you have any questions, then this is the time to ask, I’ll guarantee that if you're wondering about something then so will someone else, so don't be too nervous to ask.
Once we all knew what we were doing, I was keen to find out where we were going; everyone returned to their cars and lined up to be lead on 3 slow "sighting laps". It was only when we all lined up that I really got to see the variety of vehicles present on such a day, a Westfield or two, Fisher Furys, Locosts, a Marlin, a Cobra replica and a very impressive looking Banham RS200 that caught my eye....."Gentlemen, start you engines" Whoa! Hang on; that's not the sound of your average maestro based Banham 200 firing up, this thing sounded like the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding by, and with good reason, this was no replica, but rather a genuine ex works rally car out for a blast, I couldn't believe it and honestly thought I'd died and gone to automotive heaven.... This was going to be a VERY good day, even if I just stood at the trackside and drooled.
Back to the real world and it was helmet on and visor down; this is the point when the butterflies really start for me, I don't no why, there's no pressure on track days so I suppose it's more excitement of the impending fun rather than anything sinister. The purpose of the sighting laps is to show the drivers the layout of the track by slowly driving behind a lead car, I haven't yet come across a company that doesn't do sighting laps, but be warned, the lead car is not always there to show you the correct racing lines but simply the layout, this varies from organiser to organiser, so do check.
Although the sighting laps are slow, the first time I did one I honestly couldn't imagine ever going quicker, so make sure you go at your own pace and build up.... I know people who have spun on the sighters! (Whilst driving my car may I add.)
After the sighters came a mad dash to be the first on track and blow away those cobwebs. As a kit car owner you would be well advised to let any "tin tops" do a lap or two to clean the surface, there by offering you more grip and removing any small stones from the racing line that could damage delicate fibreglass. So hang fire for a few laps if you can possibly resist the temptation, this will also give you time to watch what lines the more experienced are taking and learn where mistakes are regularly appearing. When you do eventually venture out your progress will be immediately halted at the pit lane exit, where a marshal will visually check your helmet and seatbelt are secure and you'll usually have to display a wristband confirming you are a paid up attendee who has had a safety briefing. When the marshal is happy and the track is clear, you will be waved onto the track, remember to take it steady, build up your speed gradually and don't feel pressured by anyone else. If you find yourself in a situation where someone wants to pass then wait until the next straight, ease off the throttle and wave them through, don't make any sudden changes to direction or speed just for their benefit.... They won't be grateful when it causes you to spin in front of them.
After a few gentle laps confirming the layout and warming the car up I decided to return to the pits and give the car a once over, nothing leaking, hanging off, smoking etc? This could be considered a bit OTT for a road car that you regularly use, but this is a "shakedown" for a car I didn't know and had never turned a wheel (with me), so there's nothing wrong with being over cautious. All was fine, so it's time to get serious, I'm waved onto the track behind one of the very fast regulars and it was tempting to floor it and give chase. In situations like this it's all too easy to race after people, the red mist takes over and you can over drive the car into a spin; a spin is simply embarrassing, but what if the person you're hunting down spins? Have you left enough room to avoid a crash? This is why track days are none competitive, and anyone seen racing will be pulled up by a marshal for their own safety. If you want to know if your car is quicker then theirs then fine, just don't sit on anyone’s bumper and don't race, just drive your own laps at a safe distance and if you just happen to gain on someone then well done. With all this potential excitement on track, its quite surprising to discover that just as much fun seems to be had in the pits, with some people doing an incredibly small amount of driving. Track days are a great social gathering as you can be certain of mixing with fellow petrol heads who will be only too keen to show you their pride and joy, and talk cars. It’s also not unusual to see people hopping in and out of the passenger seat of some cars whose driver is freely giving out "hot laps". At this point I'd like to thank Colin Casey who has previously scared me silly in his 5.7 litre Ultima and more recently in what must be the only 4x4 WRC cosworth Focus. Thanks Colin, you're a star. The action never stops for some people though, and only the chequered flag for lunch or the end of the day gets them back to the pits, and who can blame them? It was an excellent day and there's smiles all round, lessons have been learnt and friendships have been forged and above all that's what track days are meant to be; having fun, and meeting like minded individuals. Oh, and the chance to tear around on a great expanse of tarmac feeling like a superstar racing driver is pretty good too.
If you've been toying with the idea of a track day for some time then take the plunge and give it a go....but be warned, speed is a drug, and I think I'm addicted.
Frequently asked questions
How can I find a good Track day organiser?
Look for the ATDO symbol, the ATDO refers to the Association of Track Day Organisers and was set-up in 2000 to give the track day participant some benchmark when choosing an organiser.
What are the noise restrictions at events?
Most venues don't have noise levels strict enough to worry any kit that's passed the SVA, but if you're particularly worried about failing the test then go along prior to your event for a free noise test from your chosen organiser.
Is my car suitable?
Most likely yes. Almost all vehicles are welcome on track days (I know of a black cab doing the rounds!) just so long as they meet safety and noise emission requirements. As a general rule, your car needs be to MOT standard of safety. Some circuits do have special rules, and one of the most common is that special track prepared cars that do not have wings over their wheels won’t be allowed.
Am I insured?
This is a seriously grey area. I know someone who got paid out when he wrote off his TVR, and rightfully so, track days are Non competitive events and his insurance simply said NO MOTORSPORT...he had a battle though and risked losing £30,000! So all I'd recommend is that you should check with your insurer or get extra insurance from the track day organiser, oh, and even if your insurer says that you are covered then ask them about the excess, mine shot up to £2000 on a track day!!! Also consider personal accident insurance; track day accidents are very rare, but if you decide to take your car on to a track, you must be aware that you are accepting the risk. You will also be required to sign a further declaration at each event. This is usual on any track day.
Can I use my Video Camera for "in car shots?"
Making an in-car video of an event is usually allowed but the camera must be mounted solidly to the car and the marshals must check the mounting. You usually cannot hand hold any type of camera while on circuit. The one thing to bear in mind with cameras is that they seem to be the kiss of death, and can almost guarantee a spin, although at least you get to watch it back later.
Can I time my runs?
Track days must be non competitive for insurance reason, the use of timing equipment is therefore not allowed.
I've never driven on a track before and I would like some pointers, will there be instructors there?
If your organiser is a member of the ATDO then they will be able to organise instruction from track day veterans, or even DSA or ARDS qualified instructors, they won't teach you to be a racing driver, but will give you plenty of pointers to keep you on track. Don't discount any advice from experienced track day goers, they have usually learnt the hard way, and have all been first timers at some point.
I am concerned I will be `too slow`, and more experienced drivers will be inconsiderate.
With a decent organiser, any driver not being "considerate" to others should be removed from the track by the marshals using a black flag. They are the ones in the wrong. Speed is not necessarily an issue.
What happens if I have an accident?
Although a track day is generally a very safe time and place to try the limits of driving, in reality accidents can and sadly do happen. Should the unfortunate happen, rest assured that the attending marshals and medical cover will be fully able to cope and that full and proper procedures would be followed.
DO NOT Try to help unless directed to do so; you are more likely to get in the way.
What about spectators?
Spectators are always welcome so long as they keep themselves safe and adhere to any rules the organisers lay down.
What about passengers?
It's great fun to take a passenger out on track to share your experiences; some organisers do charge a nominal fee for passengers (£5-10 per day).
Can I share the driving?
If you want to share your car with a friend or partner then this isn't usually a problem, but the cost should be considered. Some organisers require you to make 2 full price bookings, where as others include 2 drivers in the price. Probably a good idea to agree who foots the bill if the worst should happen though.
The most important thing is the right attitude.
You need to be aware that all motoring events of this nature can be dangerous.
Follow the rules; they designed to keep you and others safe.
Helmets are compulsory for all people intending to drive or passenger.
Warm clothing, venues can vary from warm and sunny to wild and windy.
Bring some electrical or gaffer tape along and tape up the lights before going on circuit.
A tool kit may well be handy to have.
Fire extinguishers are not compulsory, and indeed if there is an incident the Fire Marshals will take care of any fire. However, it’s recommended that you purchase an in-car fire extinguisher to keep in the cabin of the car. Make sure it is secure in it’s mounting though and will stay firmly fixed in the event of an accident.
Company Profile: Javelin Track days.
Javelin Track days was formed 3 years ago by Husband and Wife team Colin and Sue Jebson. Both have had a long-standing relationship with motor sport, with Colin having been the Clerk of the Course overseeing numerous rallies around Binbrook airfield in North Lincolnshire. When the Airfield runways came under the threat of being dug up for hardcore, Colin and his dedicated team realized that rallies alone wouldn’t be enough to make to destruction cease. In an attempt to increase the viability of the airfield, and to get more people enjoying their cars it was opened up to track days. Colin soon realized how much fun everyone (including himself) was having at these events and soon found more venues such as Cadwell Park, Elvington Airfield and even the Lotus test track at Hethel were available to him. Even with such expansion, Javelin seem very true to their roots, and still offer non - elitist days and excellent value, with airfield days costing only £89 for 2 drivers, and with them being ATDO members you can be sure that no corners have been cut to keep the prices low.
Javelin Track days can be found at
12a Mulberry Close
Telephone 01469 560574