In view of the upcoming VCMC track day at Mission Raceway in less than a month, I would like to post a bit of history and also a list of things that all track event beginners should read.
The last time VCMC organized a track event was around 15 years ago. Prior to that the club had a poor average of members writing off their cars, at the rate of one per year for a few years, at those events. Granted, those were the days of Westwood, and the track was known for being un-forgiving. Also, the format used in running track days has changed substantially over the last 10 years, making them somewhat safer than before. The main difference is that most modern track days try to identify beginners and get instructors to provide the necessary instructions and guidance to minimize potential accidents. However, as vehicle speed increases, the risk level generally raises with it. As Carroll Smith once said “…the price of men in motion is the occasional collision….”. Our goal, as event organizer, is to provide a fun event and minimize the risk for our participants. This is only possible if the members themselves recognize the risks and conduct themselves accordingly while on track, as well as ensuring the car is safe prior to arriving at the event.
The following are some recommendations, as well as some pointers, for all of you who will be running your first track event.
For the car:
1) For track usage, the most important component on the car is the braking system. If you haven’t changed your brake fluid in the last three months, you should (actually, “must” is a better choice of word here) do it before going to the event. The best is to use a fluid that is rated for 500+ degrees. Motul 600 is probably one of the most popular and I know PDM Racing usually has a good stock. Next is to check and make sure you have enough material on the brake pads. Mission can be really tough on brakes. Pads with a higher temperature limit are better if you plan on driving hard and don’t want to live with pulsating brakes afterward. If you choose to drive on stock pads, that’s OK too, just use a longer braking distance to spread out the heat generated. However, new brake fluid is a must.
2) Tires must have enough thread to ensure you don’t cord them while at speed, which could lead to a sudden lost of grip at one end of the car. You don’t really need R-compound tires, you only need to recognize the limit of your tires and drive accordingly.
3) If you have set up your car perfectly for autocrossing, meaning the car would rotate easily (aka minimal understeer) at low speed corners, it might just turn into full blown oversteer when the cornering speed is elevated. Typically, you would want a bit more understeer for stability as speed increases. Therefore, for you FWD owners, you might want to lower your front tire pressure so that there is less difference between front pressure and rear pressure. RWD might also need front pressure dropped to ensure the front tires slide first. Also, since you will be running for a much longer time than autocross, your tires will heat up and pressure will increase. Your initial pressure should be lower than your typical autocross pressure. In most cases, you could be seeing 6-8 psi increase in the driving tires during the session, and up to 4-5 psi increase in the non-driving tires. Some of the higher performance cars like to run with factory recommended air pressure at the track. Most economy cars would benefit with 4-10 psi higher than the factory recommended setting. If you don’t know where to start, please ask. Hopefully, we have some other members who have experience with the same type of car.
For the Driver:
1) Remember this: A TRACK DAY IS NOT A RACE. It’s entertainment, it’s recreation, but it’s not a race. There is no prize money, there is no trophy, there is not even results showing lap times at the end of the day. However, there could be broken cars and broken bones if we are not careful as drivers. Please don’t forget what I mentioned earlier about VCMC’s previous track record in hosting track days. Go to a track day with the right attitude and you will have a great time for sure. Go there with an ego or contempt, and the track will eventually find a day to punish you. As I said earlier, recognize the risk and drive accordingly. Mission has run off room for certain areas while other areas are lined with concrete walls. Pick your corners if you insist on testing your bravery, but please don’t do it with other cars in front or behind you, which lead me into my next point.
2) Don’t follow the car ahead of you too closely. If he/she spins, you will most likely collect it while both of you go off the track. There are specific areas where you can pass safely and we will go thru passing procedures and techniques in the morning lecture.
3) Use your mirrors, and be aware of where you are relative to other cars, just like you would driving on the streets. No, you are not allowed to talk on your cell phone while on track. Besides, it’s hard to listen with your helmet on.
4) Remember what Velocity Driving School had taught you. Precision, smoothness and control. These three things become more important as speed increases, especially the “control” part.
5) If you see a car in your mirrors that wasn’t there on the previous lap, then it must be a faster car (or driver). Let them pass at the next passing zone. These passing zones are usually on the straights. Just lift slightly so that the passing car can complete the pass before it runs out of room. Drag racing the passing car down the straight to see if you can stay with him will only create a hazard when both of you get to the braking zone.
6) Pay attention to flag stations when you drive by them. It’s the only way we can communicate with you. Your instructors will show you where these stations are on the initial laps.
7) Although it is not a requirement, I highly recommend all drivers to wear long sleeve shirts and full length pants rather than shorts and t-shirts. Wear gloves if you have them. Basically, cover yourself from head to toe. Potential fire hazard is extremely low, but it exists. Also, wear pure cotton or wool rather than synthetic materials. The only synthetic material that won’t burn or melt onto your skin is Nomex.
I might add onto this list, as we get closer to the date. If any experienced members can think of anything I have missed, please feel free to post. Details on flags, passing procedures, track/corner specifics and running format will be covered in the morning lecture.