First-Time Track-Day Attendees’ Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

You have a car, you have a helmet, and you want to go fast—so where do you go? Why, a track day, of course! But not so fast. If you’ve never been to a track day, sit tight, because there’s a lot more to it than hopping onto a circuit and punching the gas. Your street-driving habits—even if they’re good—will need to be massaged or ignored entirely, because the track is a different environment. Here are some of the most common mistakes and bad habits to avoid on your first track day:--This content is part of Dodge Racing School.If you’re going to a track day, most likely it will be an all-day event, and it's likely to be warm out. Long hours in the heat add up to dehydration. So bring water, and lots of it, along with snacks, sunscreen, and a folding chair and a pop-up tent for between sessions.High speeds and an out-of-tune, unexamined car don’t mix well, so be thorough and ensure your car is ready for the track. Check your tires’ pressure and wear levels, your alignment, and your brakes—especially your brakes. It never hurts to perform a brake bleed and pad and rotor inspection before heading out for a day of hammering on those very parts. And many first-timers forget to check even basic safety equipment like seatbelts, particularly those on the passenger side. Track-day instructors will not get into a car that has a loose seatbelt mount—it can happen if a car previously was in a collision, not uncommon among cheap used cars—and you shouldn’t cinch yourself into a loose seat with a loose seatbelt, either. Make sure everything clicks in where it should and fits snugly and that your helmet’s Snell rating is compliant with the track-day host’s requirements.Before you take your own car to a track day, it's never a bad idea to tag along with a friend or just go hang out at an event at that track. You can familiarize yourself with the course layout, pick up tips from more experienced drivers—for example, where subtle bumps exist on the track, or particularly tricky turns to watch out for—and, if you’re lucky, even hitch a ride to see the place firsthand and get a sense of the racing line.We all think we’re hero drivers, that we know what we’re doing in a car, and so on. Still, if you’re showing up to a track for the first time, pay close attention to the rules laid out at the drivers' meeting. Brushing off safety meetings as boring sounds tempting (even if you’re an experienced track rat), but it’s very important that you attend. Flags, emergency protocol, passing rules, and corner-station locations differ from track to track, and you don’t want to be the guy who didn’t know which color flag meant what and caused an accident as a result.If you’ve never set a tire on a given track—even if you’ve torn up other venues—grab an instructor and ask to be shown the proper line. Some track-day events will start off beginners with a few lead-follow laps for the same purpose, but it helps to have a knowledgeable co-pilot in the car with you pointing out braking points, apexes, and the like. Once you have the line memorized, practice turning in consistent laps following that line. As you become more comfortable, don’t immediately go into balls-to-the-wall mode—gradually build speed and shorten braking zones.Everyone goes to track days to drive fast. It’s sort of the point, but first-timers can easily be distracted by their speedometer or succumb to tunnel vision as speeds rise. Keep your head up, look down the track, and don’t get caught gazing intently at the apex five feet in front of your car. You want your eyes looking where you want the car to go, not where the car is at that very moment. This not only helps you place a car more smoothly on the track and set up properly for subsequent corners, but it gives you plenty of time to react to obstacles or flags. Always know where the track’s corner stations are and keep an eye out for the corner workers occupying them so you can see flags right away.Don’t use your mirrors on the street? You had better use them on the track, because you'll need to know where other cars are in relation to your vehicle at all times. This tip really is an extension of bad vision habits in the previous slide; don’t let yourself slip into tunnel vision or focus only on following the line. Yes, you want to trace the racing line, but only if it’s safe to do so. Is a car approaching fast from behind? Prepare to move over, and point to pass. Similarly, if you’re approaching another car quickly and its driver doesn’t seem to see you, assume he can’t, and leave plenty of space.The cut and thrust of daily driving tends to instill habits of jerky movements, quick bursts of acceleration, and hard, last-minute braking. While that might sound similar to on-track driving, it isn’t. Jerky or on-and-off steering, throttle, and brake inputs can upset a car at speed, so focus on smoothly guiding the car. It’s okay to be deliberate in getting on the brakes, but slowly drawing your foot off them as you enter a turn takes getting used to. Try to get a feel for your tires’ breakaway characteristics and your brakes’ responsiveness.It’s easy to think of a track day as some kind of race. After all, you’re on a track, with other cars, and no one likes being passed. Sure, but especially if it’s your first time, don’t be surprised if some hero in a Honda Civic is keeping up with you in your sparkly new Corvette. Constantly watching your mirror for a potential dogfight puts you at risk for missing a braking zone or overdriving your car. Either way, the results won't be pretty. The whole point of a track day is to push your car and your skills to their limits, but safely and as an individual exercise, not a race. And if you’re resistant to instruction, well, you’ll never get faster or get over those other pesky bad habits.While on track, keep tabs on the firmness of your brake pedal. Is it taking more force or travel to slow the car than on the previous lap? This is called fade, and it’s the result of heat building up in the braking system. Everything from the rotors to the pads to the fluid in the lines can get hot, and when it can no longer dissipate the heat, you’ll have a big "oops" moment. If your pedal starts to go soft, dial back your speed, and take a cool-down lap to let things simmer down. The same applies to your tires: If they’re feeling greasy and less grippy, they may need some time to cool as well, or you may need to replace them.If there’s a beginner’s bad habit to own all others, it’s the midcorner panic brake. On the street, if something isn’t shaping up the way you want it to, you simply brake. On a track, that can have numerous bad consequences, and,  often, jacking the brakes isn’t actually necessary to avoid going off the track. Braking midcorner can, however, upset a car even further, particularly if you're braking in reaction to under- or oversteer; you could make a bad situation worse by exacerbating or even inducing a spin. Are there sphincter clinchers that deserve a both-feet-in approach (mashing the clutch and the brake)? Certainly, but the mistake many beginners make is resorting to this plan unnecessarily or as a means to quash minor under- or oversteer. Remember the importance of smoothness? Knee-jerk reactions don’t qualify. It’s best to stay composed and ride out any mishaps. In most cases, this means looking ahead at where you want the car to go and steering toward that direction. Braking first is a tough habit to break, but if you practice making smooth throttle and brake applications in the face of "oops" moments, you might even expand your skills and find new limits at the ragged edge of grip.Awareness on the track is critical, but so, too, is your awareness during down time. Between run sessions, check your oil to make sure nothing metallic and shiny is in there; inspect your brake rotors for excessive grooving and your pads for extreme chunking. Ditto your tires—is there still usable tread left? Is rubber chunking away? Double check that all of your lug nuts are still torqued down properly, and check tire pressures.In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget the consequences of pushing your limits too far. First timers who drove their cars to the track can forget that the same car needs to take them home at the end of the day. Furthermore, you need to be comfortable with the possibility that your car could be totaled on a track or suffer mechanical damage. Most insurance companies won’t honor claims from track events, while many automakers won’t fix blown engines under warranty if the failure occurred on a track. Track-day insurance is available, but it’s often expensive. Long story short, if you can’t afford to wreck or total your car, you probably shouldn’t track it.If all of this track-driving stuff sounds ominous, it really isn’t. Most track days are filled with like-minded folks eager to have a good time, and you should be ready to enjoy yourself! It's also about learning, so use your time on track to chip away at bad habits, recognize mistakes, and do it better next time.
from Car and Driver Blog http://www.caranddriver.com/flipbook/first-time-track-day-attendees-common-mistakes-and-how-to-avoid-them

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s