No one wants to crash at the track. No one wants to damage their car and no one wants to trailer their blown engine home. This is your track day success guide.
Your car is your baby. We get it. You want it to come home safe. Here's a definitive guide to getting the car home safe.
- Make yourself predictable. You are driving your own track day. Do not make erratic movements in traffic. Choose one side of the track and stay on it at all costs. Even if it means going kinda slowly, around the outside of a long sweeping straightaway, when you're letting cars pass you or overtaking, you need to choose your side of the track and stay on it. When it's safe, resume normal driving. But, when you're in traffic, the ability to be predicted means the difference between being crashed into and staying safe. It's as simple as that. Stay on your side of the track, just the way you stay in the lanes when you're driving to work.
- Car preparation! Oil levels, tire pressures, gearbox fluids, brake fluids and brake pads are so frequently overlooked that we have to bump this up in priority to #2 so people don't have brake failures. Track day instructors like the Melons' Better Driving team cannot stress the importance of car preparation enough. All you need is fresh fluids and good brake pads! Stop spending $3000 on coilovers without touching your brake pads and brake fluids. Also, make sure to remove loose items. Not only does it make the car weigh less and make your lap times faster, but it also keeps you safer on track! Most track day organizers will have a baggage check-in type thing, if you're worried someone will steal your stuff.
- Recce laps! A good driver doesn't ever set a new record lap on his first attempt around the track. You can't even do that on an oval with two left corners. You really can't do that on a track like the Driver Development Course at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, which has up to 16 corners, depending on layout. You can't memorize 16 corners without 20+ laps. So, drive within your comfort level on those first 30+ laps. Try to create the perfect racing line for the first sets of laps without going crazy, so that you know the course layout, with several different variations of unique lines through each corner. Maybe in traffic, you will use a late apex when you enter into a passing zone, to make passing a little easier. Knowing how to do that, and where the tarmac is, will really help you stay safe and run fast laps.
- Don't drift with other cars nearby! Melons' Better Driving instructors love some good drifting just as much as anyone else. But, drifting is slower most times. Drifting in front of other people is rude and selfish behaviour! You're having fun, but the people behind you can't get past you, because your car is now twice as wide and very, very slow! This means that you get a bunch of cars following right behind you, so if you spin or make a mistake, you're likely to get rear-ended. At some track days, there are dedicated rules about when and where you are allowed to drift, too, so drifting in the wrong spot and at the wrong time can see you expelled from the event. But, we love drifting so we encourage any aspiring drifters to ask about when and where drifting is allowed!
- Corner rights! At track days, the car in front at the turn-in point has the corner rights through the entire corner section. This means that you should not be passing a slower car on the inside of the corners. Beginners shouldn't even pass in the corners at all, and experts should only pass around the outside if possible. Diving into a corner on the inside of the driver ahead of you at the turn-in point, (otherwise called "dive-bombing") is unacceptable behaviour!
- Check your personal self-preparation. Are you mentally and physically prepared? Getting a good night’s sleep before a track day is vital to success, as well as having had your breakfast, and any necessary washroom breaks and stretches to ensure you’re in the best physical and mental shape you can be in. Remember to use your mirrors to check for faster traffic and to always look for flag marshals.
- Never brake later than you think you need to. Later braking points come with experience, knowledge and sometimes coaching. If you think that you’re about to brake too late, you may be actually about to brake too late. It takes a lot of experience to know how to control a car that went into a corner with too much speed. Even experienced drivers should begin slowly and ramp their speed up, as tire temperatures and pressures come up to the optimal range.
- Consider a driver coach. Melons’ Better Driving offers a driver coaching program to all track day enthusiasts. Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth, you can benefit from a little coaching. The personalized approach ensures that you get relevant information as it’s needed. Melons’ Better Driving’s driver coaching program will help you to stay safe and shave lap times.
- You’re not racing the car next to you, behind you, nor in front of you. Focus on driving your own laps - and ignore what the other drivers are doing. Just because they’re fast, that doesn’t mean that they’re a better driver than you. Their car might be better prepared for the circuit, with racing slicks, racing brakes and racing suspension. It’s safer to assume that another driver could be equally as inexperienced as you in the first few track days, until you can spot the talented drivers and learn from them.
- Bonus points! If you feel so inclined, it's never a bad idea to have a securely mounted fire extinguisher and first aid kit "just in case." No one has ever been hurt at a track day while Melons' Better Driving was present, but it's a safety precaution to make sure that you enjoy your time to the maximum!