A guide to track racing your own car
Today’s high-performance cars are quick and getting quicker. Our public roads, meanwhile, are ever more congested and have ever more restrictive speed limits and electronic eyes policing us.
One doesn’t have to be Copernicus to see the contradiction, yet performance cars still sell by the boatload. What’s the point of all that power if you can’t deploy it?
The secret is track days. These increasingly popular events, run either by car clubs or commercial businesses, allow you to enjoy the thrill of driving your car at full gallop. But is it a good idea? Here’s what you need to know before signing up.
Is it a good idea?
Yes. Generations of racing drivers and billions (trillions, gazillions?) of dollars in speeding fines pumped into government coffers the world over are proof that going fast is fun and some of us just can’t help ourselves.
Signing up to a track day is simply recognising your speed-freak tendencies and accepting that it’s better to get it all out of your system in a safe, controlled space than to be a dangerous sociopath speeding on public roads.
Where do I start?
Some track-day events allow you to flog someone else’s nice car as well – for a premium, mind – but we’ll assume you want to let old faithful off the leash.
For the newcomer, an entry-level commercial offering is the best bet. These are a toe-in-the-water experience that asks nothing more of you than a roadworthy, registered vehicle, a helmet and a dose of courage. After a briefing session, you’ll typically be shown around the track with an instructor before being let loose on your own for a specific number of laps.
Don’t assume there won’t be rules. Racing against other cars is typically prohibited, as is deliberately sliding your car or other hoon behaviour. There will be rules for passing other cars and you’ll be expected to drive safely or risk being kicked off the track.
Is my car up for it?
Pushing a road car to its limits for lap after lap after lap is a recipe for wilting tyres, brakes and other mechanicals but your average track-day event isn’t the Bathurst 1000. You won’t be doing more than a handful of flying laps and they’ll be punctuated by warm-up laps, cool-down laps and breaks. A contemporary, properly maintained car is unlikely to have issues.
It’s recommended to book your car in for a preventative service – just like you would before a long road trip, with some extra focus on brakes and other systems that are going to get a workout.
What happens if I crash or my car goes bang?
If you crash, any damage will not be covered by your insurer, so you are potentially exposing yourself to financial woe. But a mistake in a racetrack environment is typically less destructive than on a public road – instead of hitting something solid when you run out of talent, you’re more likely to end up in a run-off area or sand trap with nothing damaged but your pride.
Don’t expect the manufacturer to honour your warranty if your car goes bang, either. Well, not unless you’ve got Hyundai’s new hot hatch, the i30 N, which is famously warrantied for non-competition track use.