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Track Days Preparation

Track days are an absolute blast, and are often all the more fun if you do them in your own car. With the ever-worsening British roads and clampdowns on speeding drivers, track days are the only decent opportunity for enthusiasts like ourselves get to give our Esprits a stretch of their legs. They are tremendous fun and allow you to explore the limits of the Esprit's handling in relative safety. The key to getting the most out of a track day is preparation and maintenance. The days are not cheap and if you wish your Esprit to look after you and last the day then you need to look after it. This is especially important for older cars, many of which are beginning to get rather tired. Don't expect to be able to race round in circles all day without even batting an eyelid, you will be sorely disappointed...

This article is written to provide a few sensible pointers as to how to look after your car before, during and after a track day. In order to provide some structure to the article we have covered each area of the car in turn, but not necessarily in any order of importance.

Wheels & Tyres
Before setting-off you need to ensure that your wheels are balanced, otherwise the vibrations you suffer will numb the feedback through the steering wheel and impair your inch-perfect driving. You do not want to start a track day on brand new tyres, as the large tread depth will cause the tyres to overheat. This in turn will eliminate traction and progressive grip. Conversely you need to ensure that there is enough tread left to get you home after a day of serious abuse. 

Check for cracking of the tread and tears in the tyre sidewall. The last thing you want is a blow-out at 80mph. Note that the more complex the tread pattern and the smaller the islands of rubber between the tread the more likely you are to rip chunks of tread off the tyre with hard driving.

Before going out onto the track ensure that you check the torque of all the wheel bolts and continue to do so throughout the day. When at the track, your main concern is to fine tune the tyre pressures. As you abuse the tyres on the track they will get hot and the pressures will rise so you will want to knock them down a bit to compensate (assuming they were set correctly in the first place). The best procedure for this is to do one track session and get the tyres nice and warm, then look carefully at the scuffing on the tread of the tyres. If the scuffing does not extend up to the edge of the tread then you need to lower the pressure by a couple of psi and if the scuffing extends onto the sidewalls then the tyres are too soft and require some more air. You need to consider things like the overall weight and weight distribution of the car (the more weight the more air is required) as well as the dynamics of the track. 

The more air you have in the tyre the stiffer you make the sidewall and so the more responsive the car is. This needs to be balanced with maintaining a flat tyre foot print. Low profile tyres have small (and thus stronger) sidewalls and so require less air than higher profile tyres as they will roll off the rim less.

At the end of the day remember to reset the tyre pressures once the tyres have cooled down and carry out a quick check to make sure you have enough tread to get home and that the tyres are not beginning to fall apart. Do not forget to take a tyre pump or compressor with you. It is all very well letting air out of your tyres to account for hot air expansion but you still need some way of being able to replace the air at the end of the day.

These take a complete hammering on a track day, and if they don't then you are not driving hard enough!

What may seem like good brakes on the road often do not stand up to the rigours of track use without some maintenance. The main problem is brake fade caused by repeated stopping from high speed. You may think you brake hard on the road but I doubt you brake from 80 to 30, 3 times every couple of minutes for half an hour? If you intend to do any track days then we would strongly recommend that you invest in some decent fast road pads as these are far more resistant to brake fade than the standard items.

Braided lines will improve feedback and so help you control your braking on the limit. Make sure you have plenty of life in your pads and discs before setting off. It is not uncommon to get through an entire (or more) set of pads in a day and worn pads and discs will overheat quickly. It is often wise to take a spare set of pads with you just in case.

Throughout the day you need to keep an eye on the brake wear to ensure that they will have enough life left in them to get you home. At the end of each session you should do at least one cooling down lap to allow the brakes to cool slowly otherwise the discs could warp and or crack as they cool too rapidly. When parking between sessions, do NOT apply the handbrake as the hot rear pads can bind to the discs and then disintegrate when you release the handbrake.

After the day it is always advisable to bleed the brakes fully. The brakes will have got very hot and so the fluid is likely to have boiled slightly causing some sponginess.

There is not much you can do in the way of routine maintenance to the gearbox before a track day other than to ensure that the oil is topped up and is the correct grade. Double de-clutching will help with downward gearchanges.

This will take a fair caning during a trackday and so it is important to keep it well maintained. It goes without saying that you want to ensure the engine is set up correctly before embarking on a track day, otherwise you will be down on power and losing some of the car's potential. Ensure that the timing is set so that there is no pinking present and if possible run the car on super unleaded during the day to completely eliminate any pinking. Pinking will cause the engine to overheat (locally) and thus suffer damage if allowed to continue. Ensure that the oil is in good condition and topped up to the max mark (this last bit is important). If the oil is old then do a quick flush and change. If your engine is high mileage then do not use fully synthetic as it will be too thin and will slip past the piston rings and valve guides causing the engine to smoke. Also, if the engine is new, do not use synthetic oil until it has done at least 15k and is well run in as synthetic oil can get squeezed past the piston rings and glaze the bores up. Ensure that the oil cap is secure on the engine as it is not unheard of for these to blow off as the oil pressure rises with engine revs.

Take a bottle of oil with you so that you can keep the engine topped up to the max mark. If you have a re-usable air filter then give it a wash and re-oil and carry out a basic visual check in the engine bay for loose items such as heat-shields, battery, mounting brackets etc. Check the timing and alternator belt tensions and condition. During the track day the engine will run a few degrees hotter than normal and so it is wise to make sure the cooling system is in tiptop condition. We would recommend flushing and cleaning the system before refilling with some fresh coolant, as this will just knock a few degrees off the running temp. Ensure that the coolant is topped up correctly and take some spare water with you in case it needs topping up trackside.

During the day, keep an eagle eye on the oil temp gauge so you can watch for any overheating. Do not race straight onto the track with the engine cold but do a few warm up laps to get the oil up to temperature. The tolerances in any engine are specified for hot running and so will be 'out' when the engine is cold.

The oil also does not work properly until it is hot, as it thins with temperature. After each session you should do a cool down lap to bring the temperature down slowly and prevent any contractive cracking of any parts in the engine. As metal heats up it expands and thus when it cools, it contracts. If it cools too quickly it will crack. If you find the temperature creeping up then back off slightly on the back straight to lose a few degrees. This will also allow faster cars past on the safest part of the track for overtaking. When parked up between sessions it is often prudent to leave the bonnet open to allow the engine bay to cool. This is more for the sake of the ancillaries rather than the engine itself. The latent heat from the engine will keep all the ancillaries very hot, which could damage them or at least impair their performance, the electrical items especially.

If you do regular track days then we would recommend that you change the oil between each event. It may sound over the top but your engine will last a lot longer for the sake of a £35 can of oil and a £12 oil filter. You may find that the oil pressure warning light flickers on during prolonged hard cornering. This is due to the engine oil being forced to one side of the engine and away from the oil pump pick up (one reason why it is essential to have the oil filled to the max mark).

General Points
Before setting-off make sure everything is in good condition. Any slightly warn parts want changing before and not after the day such as grumbly wheel bearings, wobbly ball joints etc. It is wise to take a few spares and tools with you such as gaffer tape, brake pads, jubilee clips, tie wraps, oil, water, and any other odds and sods you can think of as well as a good selection of useful nuts and bolts. If you suffer any wheel/tyre clearance problems under normal driving conditions then do not do a track day until you have sorted this out. You would be surprised at how much more body roll you get when hooning round a track and mild rubbing on the road becomes dangerous tyre slicing on the track.

If you are concerned about your paintwork then you can apply masking tape to the leading edges of the panels and other prone parts of the car to prevent stone chips, as well as to the side lamps and fog lamps etc. The bottom line is that if you have just had a full respray and do not want any stone chips, do not do a track day, as stone chips are a fact of life on the track. This is more of a concern if you are sharing the track with open wheeled cars or slick shod cars as they tend to kick up more stones.

Before taking to the track you should if possible remove any lose objects from the car and secure anything else from moving around. These items need to be secured firmly as they will be subjected to some serious Gs. Completely remove the spare wheel and all tools and anything else that will come out easily. This is done both to reduce weight and to prevent things from flying around the cabin whilst on the limit. The last thing you want when trying to out-brake yourself into a corner is for your thermos flask of coffee to wedge itself under the brake pedal. If we are not taking a passenger round the track then we would remove the passenger seat to save weight as well. This obviously assumes that there is somewhere to put all the clobber. It is always wise to take a tarp with you so that you can cover any of your stuff up whilst it is sitting in the paddock area.

Check your lights before and during the day (just cos they worked when you set off is not a guarantee that they will be working later in the day) as you would be surprised by how often they are needed. The indicators are essential in signalling to other track users that you are pulling over to let them past or pulling into the pits. The brake lights will prevent people going into the back of you as many people wait until the guy in front brakes before they jump on the middle pedal (not recommended), and the headlights are essential in murky weather to help people in front see you as you close in on them. It is wise to take a box of spare bulbs with you as stones can often fly up and damage your lights (especially if you are sharing the track with any open wheeled cars). We would also recommend carrying a fire extinguisher in the car, which should be secured within reach of the driver (We regard this as essential equipment for road use as well). Sounds OTT but you never know when you might need it.

Make sure you own and take with you a suitable helmet or can hire one at the track. Wear a long sleeved top and trousers as well as shoes that you are comfortable driving hard in. Racing gloves often help if you are using a standard steering wheel which is not the grippiest, as your palms will sweat when driving hard making the problem worse. Check with the organisers before setting off to see if there are any other stipulations for participation such as presenting your driving license or a noise limit.

Make sure that you have plenty of petrol for the day, as the nearest filling station may be miles away from the track. Do not start the day with a full tank though as it can slop out of the tank on some cars when cornering hard, and will most certainly get you black-flagged.

Also you'll need to check your insurance documents, as very few cover track days. Track Day insurance is available, but costly. So look into this before the day.

Before setting off on the track make sure that your mirrors are all properly adjusted. You would be surprised by how much you use them and should always check them before turning into a corner. Although people should not be overtaking on a bend there is always some Muppet that has a go and you do not want to turn into him whilst he is engrossed in his red mist. Always keep an eye on the mirrors so you can see who is coming up behind you and are able to let them past at an appropriate moment. You may think that your Esprit is the fastest thing on earth, but be sensible (and realistic) cos the chap in the Caterham Superlight R will go past you as if you are stationary. It is not good etiquette to get in his way as you will find out for yourself when you try to get past someone who hasn't seen you and is taking all the wrong lines. Most tracks run clockwise and so you should overtake on the left and remember that it is a definite and dangerous no-no to overtake in a corner or under braking.

With the exception of timed runs, a track day is not a race and should not be treated as such. Idiots will be black flagged and banned from further sessions. Be aware of what each flag means and keep an eye out for them as they are there for your safety. Yellow means danger ahead, do not pass. A waved yellow requires you to slow right down as well. Often the organisers do not differentiate between waved and stationary yellows, either of which should then be taken to mean slow right down. You never know what might be ahead. A blue means that you have a faster driver behind you so get out of the way as soon as its safe to do so. A red means end of session and a black means you must come off the track. You may get shown a black for driving like a Muppet or because someone has spotted a leak or mechanical problem with your car. 

Pay attention to the organisers briefing and their rules and regulations as they are there for your benefit, and pay attention on the sighting laps to the layout of the track, the track surface and any hazards. Usually the organisers mark out braking points, turn in points, apexes and exit points on the corners so use them. Build on them and use them as a reference to fine-tune your driving to get the most from your car. They are not hard and fast markers but you can use them as indicators.

If you wish to add anything to this guide, please email the address below.

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V8 Friendly UK Tracks and Noise Restrictions
by Neal McDonnell 98 V8-GT

I have the sports exhaust & std cats.. Okay, my car with hollow cats and straight through pipes runs around 105dB @ 3/4 rpm and 1/2 metre. The V8's tiny turbos do a remarkedbly good job at damping - try removing the cats and silencer on a NA car and you'd be running say 120db - and decibels are a logarithmic scale! But with your setup I'd guess you have 101-102db which is marginal for a lot of circuits.

You' be well advised be buy a sound level meter - these start at £40 for an analogue one and £75 for a digital one. It's a lot cheaper paying £150+ for a track day, driving to it only to fail the test and be sent home without a refund!

I've only tracked my Westfield but in a way that tells me what would be good for a V8 - where the Westfield was running out of puff! So we're talking long, fast circuits where you can really stretch its legs. So I'd recommend:

1. Silverstone (GP or international circuit - but not the national one) - 105dB
2. Brands (GP only, the indy circuit is way too short) - 105dB
3. Rockingham (various configurations but they'll all pretty long all and include part of the banking :-) 108dB
4. Donington (either GP or national) - 'noisy day' - 108dB
5. Bedford Autodrome (Gran Turismo circuit which combines the four smaller ones) but only 101db.

Ones to be wary of:
1. Castle Combe - 100db
2. Thruxton - 98dB
3. Goodwood - 98dB (they do 105dB noisy days but these are serious limited - 25 cars max with only 5 out at any tme)
4. Hethel!! - 100db. Stupidly dangerous - no run offs, the back straight has pheasant running across it and the home straight is two cars widths and tree lined. I wrote off my Westfield there and another guy wrote off his BMW on the same day. I don't think they do track days there any more for this very reason.

Circuits I've not been to (mainly due to distance) but are long enough and look interesting:
1. Cadwell Park - 105dB
2. Croft Circuit
3. Oulton Park - 105dB


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